Choosing care for your baby is a difficult and time-consuming process. And so it should be – after all, you’re choosing the person who will act as ‘you’ when you’re not around.
First, decide your requirements in a chat with your partner. Do you need help all the time – perhaps if you’re going back to work or have a full schedule? A live-in nanny or au pair might suit. Or would part time help be more suitable, so you could perhaps consider a nanny share? If you only need occasional help, a family member or childminder might be the best option.
Who: Kind, friendly and reliable, everyone imagines Mary Poppins (or Royal Nannies) when they think of this traditional carer. But today’s nannies are as likely to have a black belt in karate as they are in nappy changing.
How to Find: Register with a couple of good agencies. There will be a fee but they will carry out all background checks and save you time. If you decide to go it alone, carry out the same checks an agency would and talk to the nanny’s referees – don’t rely on reading her CV.
Benefits: Most will be highly trained with qualifications from a nanny agency and possibly also in first aid and self-defence. Meet candidates and discuss details before employing. A spokesperson for Norland Nannies says: “Explain your approach to parenting and the boundaries you set for your children. Consistency is very important for children, so it’s vital they adopt the same approach as you would do.”
Dos and Don’ts: Your nanny isn’t a cleaner – they look after the kids’ clothes and perhaps rooms but she’s not there to clean your loo. Treat her as one of the family but ensure you all get your own space. Set ground rules on issues like smoking, having friends round, if you’d like a confidentiality agreement, driving your car and so on. The Norland spokesperson concludes: “All our nannies undertake training and complete a qualification in Early Years, for knowledge of children’s development and well-being. Nannies should care for your children’s nutritional, emotional and physical needs. They also need an up to date DBS (see page 53) and a First Aid certificate.” If you don’t need a Nanny all the time, you might consider sharing one with another family. Be sure you agree with the other employers what you both need. You would not usually offer them accommodation. Agree to a decent wage with your agency and expect to pay annual increases.
Who: An au pair is typically a young woman from abroad who wishes to work in the UK by living with a family and taking care of the children as well as household chores. They may not have childcare qualifications and are essentially untrained but most have a genuine desire not just to live and work in the UK but to look after children.
How to find: You can find them through online agencies or word of mouth. Try to meet them before offering them a job, even if it’s just a Skype chat. Find one via the British au pair Agencies’ Association, www.bapaa.org.uk. You can also check on the Government’s website about laws on employing an au pair www.gov.uk/au-pairs-employment-law.
Benefits: You have continuity, as she will live in your home and be there to care for the children when you can’t be. They are ideal if your work schedules are erratic – for example if you work part-time or have a busy social schedule that means you are often out at bath and bed time.
Dos and Don’ts: An au pair should be willing to look after the children, shop, cook and clean but you should also ensure that you pay the going rate and that they have some free time. They work out cheaper than a Nanny but may not have the same skills; for example, they may not have first aid training or be able to drive. They do bring a different language and culture into your home and if you want your kids to be bilingual, it’s great if she speaks to them in her own language.
Who: If you live near your or your partner’s parents, or have another relative nearby who might be able to help you out with childcare, this might be the perfect solution for you.
How to find: No need to look far, this may be your own mother or your partner’s – or perhaps an aunt or cousin.
Benefits: This arrangement works best if finances are tight, as Grannies tend not to charge and welcome the opportunity to spend plenty of time with their grandchildren.
Dos and Don’ts: There can be problems and misunderstandings, though these can usually be avoided by talking things through thoroughly and reassessing everything regularly. Don’t take your family members for granted and be sure that you drop off and collect the children when you have said you will. Offer compensation for out-of-pocket expenses or have an agreement that you provide a float for things bought for the children. What can cause most disagreement is different styles of parenting – for example, disciplining children, allowing them to watch the TV and so on, so make sure you all talk this through.
Who: A nursery is a formal centre for care of children from as young as six months. It employs qualified carers.
How to find: When looking at nurseries, there are several things to consider. Is it on your way to work so you save time traveling? Does the nursery look clean, well cared for and is it well equipped? Are there adequate facilities for your child to play and rest? And does it offer a properly balanced nutritious menu suitable for the ages of the children it takes in? It helps if there are children there of a similar age to yours. Search a list of nurseries near you at the Government’s website, www.education.gov.uk. You can also check what’s near you by using the website of the National Day Nursery Association, www.ndna.org.uk. They have a fact sheet which can help you choose where your baby is going to spend her time and an accreditation scheme called e-Quality Counts. Ask if your nursery is signed up to this.
Benefits: For families who work nine to five, full-time childcare can prove expensive and may not be flexible enough for you. A nursery may offer a solution, provided you ensure you choose one that suits your views, the age of your child and your pocket.
Dos and Don’ts: Once you have found somewhere you like the look of, go for a visit and ask about the nursery’s policy on discipline, diet and its door entry policy. You’ll want to be able to walk away confident in the knowledge that your child will be well fed, cared for in a nurturing manner and that only authorised people are allowed in and out. The staff should be well qualified for their roles and with the adequate background checks and training needed to look after a group of children of mixed ages and needs.
Who: Childminders look after a group of children in their own home. They need to have background checks and certain qualifications and need to be registered with their local authority. Many have years of experience in looking after children and some women choose to do this when their own children are older.
How to find: The NICMA, the Childminders’ Association, can offer tips and advice to help you choose. When you’re looking for a childminder, ask around among friends or especially if you know people with children at your local school – you may find a family who have used a great childminder but whose children are now old enough not to need collecting from school or nursery.
Benefits: The care is of high quality but is flexible and affordable, with families being able to use vouchers for part of the payment. Children receive individual attention in a home-from-home setting.
Dos and Don’ts: As with anyone looking after your child, ensure they have background checks and that their home is clean and tidy and well equipped with safety items – door locks, stair gates and so on. Childminders must look after no more than six children under eight and no more than three of those can be younger than five. This must include the childminder’s own children. They must have public liability insurance. Most childminders will work between 8am and 6pm, although you might be able to negotiate other hours.