It's a problem that most couples will encounter early in their parenthood: getting hold of a good-quality childcare provider for a price that doesn't break the bank. If you work and have young infants who are in need of care, but want to find the best and least expensive solution out there, take a look through the following tips and things to look out for – they're sure to help with childcare costs. Alternatively, if you're planning for a baby then take a look at this baby cost calculator.
There are a variety of different childcare options available to parents, with each benefitting different children, parental circumstances, and budgets. Day nurseries, for children up to five years of age, are usually run by the local authority, community based, or privately operated. Private nurseries will cost most, community nurseries often charge on a sliding scale, while local authority nurseries are usually reserved for those that are referred by a health or social worker.
Workplace and community crèches are also an option for working parents, and what's more, they're regularly either free or relatively inexpensive places to send children. Nursery schools, usually located near or in primary schools, also a great option, and will get young children more accustomed to the educational environment. Government-run Sure Start centres are available to provide useful, inexpensive healthcare, although be aware that your area may not benefit – many of these centres have closed due to government cutbacks.
Child minders are a good local option, with these picking up children from school and looking after them until their parents are able to collect them. You could also employ a nanny, either part-time or living in your home. These are an expensive, albeit all-encompassing, solution to childcare issues.
Finding a provider
When it comes to finding reputable and high-quality childcare providers for your children, there's no such thing as doing too much research. Use the internet, local directories, and word of mouth to find out where your nearest childcare providers are, checking reviews online to filter out those that have a bad reputation.
Next, draw up a list and note how far away from your home, workplace, and – if they are old enough – your child's school the providers are, leaving fields where you can write in any pros and cons that appear when you visit the premises.
It's also important to check that the provider is registered with the correct authorities, and that they are inspected regularly by either Ofsted (England), HM Inspectorate of Education (Scotland), Estyn (Wales), or the Department for Education (Northern Ireland).
Checking the quality
Visiting your chosen providers is absolutely key to getting the best provider possible. Although online reviews, word of mouth, and acclaim are all very useful tools when it comes to picking a provider, to truly get a sense of the quality of an establishment you need to visit in person.
When visiting, make sure to talk to parents of children currently visiting the nursery, and ask as many questions as possible about what activities the children will be doing, how strict the illness policy is, how flexible the organisers are, and how the nursery deals with emergencies. An outdoor play area, lots of wall decorations, a good variety of mealtime options, and a focus on learning through play are all also very important things to strive for when choosing a childcare provider. An overreliance on television, films, and computers should all be avoided.
Staff should be able to answer all of your questions, but should also take an interest in your child too, asking questions regarding their diet, health, and how they are cared for. Some carers work in different ways to others, so don't be taken aback if their methods of caring for children are different to your own – there are a lot of different childcare providers out there.
Staff ratios should also be noted: one adult to three children aged two and below; one to four if children are between two and three; and one to eight younger ones aged between three and five.
In order to understand if you've found a well-priced child minder, nanny or nursery, it makes sense to understand how much these services usually cost. According to the Money Advice Service, the average cost for child minders of kids under two is £197 per 50-hour week. For nurseries, the price is £212 per week, and for nannies the costs are either £360 per week for live-in nannies, or £512 per week for live-out nannies, plus room and board, tax, and National Insurance payments.