Family Therapy UK

Finding The Right Childcare



Choosing who will look after your children when you work can be a difficult decision.  It is important for you and your child to make choices you are both happy with. If you are thinking of having a baby or have a very young child and want or need to return to work, begin searching for a place as soon as you can.  This way you will have time to make the best choice for your child.  Some companies have their own nurseries or subsidised places in local nurseries.  Ask your personnel department about this.

Your local social services department will be able to give you a list of childcare facilities in your area.  They will tell you which of them are approved by social services.  Childminders should be registered with the local authority. Asking other parents is a good way of finding out what is available and which facilities are known to be good.

There are lots of different childcare services available.  These range from traditional childminders, relatives, play-groups, out of school clubs, private nurseries and nurseries run by social services.  Places in social services nurseries are not usually available to parents unless there are other difficulties.  Social services children's centres offer a range of services including parenting classes and benefits advice. You can ring social services up to see which services are available in your area.

Visit a number of childcare facilities

Before you place your child, visit a few childcare centres first. Try to do this when there are other children there, during the normal working day. If you have a partner, take them too.  Take your child with you and observe how they fit in. Whatever the childcare facility, always make sure you are comfortable with the personnel who run it. Check the facilities, the atmosphere and that your child feels comfortable there too.

Ask lots of questions.  It is a good idea to write them down before you go.  A good childcare establishment should expect you to ask lots of questions, so don't hold back. If you don't know the staff ask about their qualifications and how experienced they are with children. Ask how they would deal with difficult situations, such as an illness in your child or an accident.  Is anyone trained in first aid?

Make sure you are clear about the fees, if they are charged, and what the arrangement are about holidays. Many parents are surprised when they place their children at a nursery or childminder that holidays are charged for too. 

Have a good look around the facilities.  Is it a safe environment?  Is it clean?  Are food preparation areas suitable?  Are the toilets clean and child friendly? What are the sleeping or rest arrangements for children? Look around at the toys and play equipment - do you think they are appropriate, clean and in good condition? Check that outside play areas (if they are available) are safe for children and safe from strangers. Ask about levels of supervision. Are there periods of the day when this drops?  How many staff accompany children when they go on trips to the park?

What is the philosophy of the childcare facility?  How do they deal with difficult behaviour and generally look after the children?  How do they organise the child's day? How are activities organised? How important do they consider giving feedback about your child?

When you visit, look at how the staff interact with the children.  Are they attentive and caring?  Do they listen to and respond to the children's needs.  Do the children appear happy and engaged?  Are the children being managed well?

Pay attention to how the staff feel about the facility.  Do they sound and look happy and interested in their work?  Are the staff paying attention to your concerns and questions?

If you can, ask other parents what they think about this childcare establishment.

Your decision

You have to weigh up all these things before making a decision about where to place your child.  Remember, it is your decision. Pay attention to your gut instincts about a particular facility. No one knows your child as well as you. Try not to be rushed into making a decision because you have little time or because there are few places for children in your area. If you are not happy with the placement you will end up worrying when you leave them there.

Once your child is placed

Once your child is placed listen to what they tell you about the placement.  If your child is very young, pay attention to how they react when you leave them or how they are when they get back.  If they are become unhappy or irritated or angry or become very clingy when you leave them, discuss this with the staff.  If they come back with cuts or bruises always raise this with the staff.  If they do have accidents, staff should always inform and discuss this with you. You might ask them how they will prevent this happening again.

Remember that some children do find the initial separation from their parents quite difficult, particularly if you are anxious or worried about it yourself.  You will have to determine whether this is normal for them, or due to them feeling uncomfortable or not being properly looked after in the childcare setting.

If your child is ill don't send them to the childcare facility.  This is not fair to the other children and staff.  If they require medication and the staff are willing to give it, make sure your instructions are very clear and that your child knows someone else is going to administer their medication.  Try to be punctual if you have arranged a specific time to pick up your child.  This is to avoid creating anxiety in your child and any nuisance to the childcare facility.  If arrangements have to be changed try to give the childcare facility plenty of notice.

If you have worries

If you have worries about the setting always bring this up with relevant staff first.  Ask to speak to the person in charge if you are not happy with their response.  If you are not satisfied with their response and have concerns, you can contact social services.  If things get very bad between you and the childcare provider, consider moving your child.


Dennis Neill

Family Therapist

Family Therapy UK

Family Therapy UK

7th September 2009

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