Are you preparing for a return to work at the end of your maternity leave or following a career break? Are you researching the numerous childcare options that are available? Overwhelming, isn’t it? A childminder can bring many benefits – they are generally more affordable than a nursery or a nanny, and ‘at-home’ care with a small group of other children can provide a gentle transition into childcare for little ones. You’ll need to drop your child off at the childminder’s house though, so location is key.
Check out our handy guide on the questions to ask and things to consider when choosing a childminder for your child.
The basic questions to ask:
- What hours does the childminder work?
- How much do they charge? Do they accept childcare vouchers?
- Is a trial period possible?
- How long they have worked as a childminder?
- Do they work in partnership with others?
- What attracted them to the role in the first place?
- How will they keep your child safe when in their home and out and about?
- What qualifications do they have? (All childminders should follow the Early Years’ Foundation stage programme – a Nationally agreed framework for learning – but some may have gone on to gain extra qualifications that may benefit your child).
- What they do if a child misbehaves? It’s important that you are comfortable with their disciplinary style.
- Who else will be in the house when the children are there? E.g. a partner, lodger, older children? Can you meet them?
- How many other children does the childminder look after and how old they are? (maximum numbers and ratios are decribed here.)
- What food do the children eat while with the childminder, and what do they do about snacks/drinks?
- How are meal times managed?
- What are you expected to provide? Nappies? Food? Snacks? Anything else?
- What sort of activities will they do with the children?
- How flexible are they about taking on extra sessions? Or drop-off and pick-up times? What happens if you are late back from work and simply can’t get there on time for pick up?
- What are the holiday arrangements? Is there any alternative cover in place for when the childminder is on holidays? How much notice will you be given for the childminder’s holidays?
- What arrangements are in place, or what happens, if the childminder is ill, or if the childminder’s own child is ill/off school for any reason?
- What transport do they have? Some childminders have prams that can fit four children, or use a trailor to pull them along (very cute!) If they drive, are they insured for transporting your child? (It is unlikely a househouse car insurance policy would cover them, for example).
- What opportunities for outdoor play will your child have?
- What’s their policy about payment if your child is sick or you are taking them on holiday?
- Where will your child sleep if they need a nap in the day?
- How will they help your child transition into this new setting?
- Thinking ahead – would they able to collect your child from a local nursery or school when the time comes?
Check qualifications and documents:
- All childminders (and any adults who they work with or share their home) must have an Enhanced DBS certificate – i.e. have been checked by the Disclosure and Barring Service, the DBS (which replaced the Criminal Records Bureau). Ask to see their original documents. DBS certificates don’t come with expiry dates – check when it was issued and decide for yourself if it’s sufficiently current or not? DBS check applicants are encouraged to use the DBS Update Service which means their certificate is held online and can be checked at any time by a potential employer.
- All childminders caring for children aged 0-5 years must be registered on the Ofsted Early Years Register and for children aged 5-7 years, on the Childcare Register. Their homes and processes are inspected regularly by Ofsted. You could ask your childminder for their reference number to help you find their latest inspection report on the Ofsted website, or ask them for a copy of the latest report (they may be happy to forward you a copy).
- Who do they have their public liability insurance policy with? Ask to see a copy of the policy certificate and check it is still current.
- Are they qualified first aiders? Ask to see any qualification certificates and note the dates.
- What plans are in place, and what support would be available, in the event of an emergency? (e.g. an injured child needs to go to hospital, what happens to the other children?)
Little things to watch out for:
- How does the childminder speak to your child: are they engaging with your child in a way that you like? Does your child seem happy and relaxed in their company?
- The quality of the toys: are they in good condition and clean?
- How clean the house is: make sure you ask to look around the premises.
- How will you transport your child to/from the childminder’s before/after work?
- If you plan to walk with the pushchair, can you store it at the childminder’s house?
- How easy is it for you to get to/from work from the childminder’s house?
- If you plan to drive, what is the parking like, are there any restrictions at different times of the day?
Finally, probably the most important of all:
- Trust your instincts
- Ask for the names and phone numbers of at least three parents (at least two of them still current clients of the childminder) who you can speak to for a referral.
There are many phenomenal childminders around and many of them get together regularly for playgroups, activities and park excursions creating wonderful, caring and supportive community groups. It may be possible for you to drop in on a playgroup to meet the childminders and observe them in action.
Good luck with your choices – and do let us know if you have further suggestions to add to this checklist. And check out our other articles where we share our top tips for an easier return to work following maternity leave and how to make mornings run more smoothly.