Finding and choosing childcare
Finding local childcare
Family Information Services (FIS)
Your local Family Information Service is the best place to get information on registered childcare providers in your area. They hold lists of registered childminders, nurseries, out-of-school and holiday clubs, pre-school/playgroups and children's leisure activities. Some Family Information Services may also be able to provide you with information about unregistered childcare, such as nannies or parent and toddler groups. You can get contact details for your local Family Information Service by using the 'Find your FIS' function or searching in your local phone book. For details of your local FIS in Wales, contact 0300 123 7777.
Talk to other parents
Other parents' experiences of a childcare provider can be very useful. However, remember that what works for one family, may not work for another. Also, although personal recommendations are helpful, you should always take up references.
You may find details of local childcare providers on noticeboards at local schools, community centres, libraries, or shops. Always remember to check references!
Looking for nannies
If you're looking for a nanny your local telephone directory should have listings of nanny agencies. Magazines such as 'Nursery World' available from most newsagents, also hold details of nanny agencies and individual nannies looking for work as do many relevant websites. See our factsheet, 'Finding and choosing a nanny' for further information.
Choosing a suitable childcare provider
Most parents wonder what to look out for when they start looking for childcare. Here are some of our tips.
Five steps to choosing childcare:
1. Draw up a shortlist using information from your local Family Information Service - check the hours that they can provide childcare, the hourly/daily/weekly cost and if they have places available for your child.
2. Visit several settings and ask questions about the childcare provided (see below).
3. Make the big decision - it might help to take a friend and/or your child on the visits to help you decide.
4. Take up references from other parents who have used that service.
5. Book your child's place (you may need to pay a retainer fee to keep the place open until your child starts) and arrange details like hours, start date, who is allowed to pick up your child.
Your child may take some time to settle into any new childcare setting that you start them in, so allow them time to adjust to their new surroundings, especially if this is their first time in childcare. Remember that most childcarers, such as childminders, will offer a ‘settling in period', where you have an agreed length of time to assess whether the setting is the right one for your child and that they are happy there.
Visiting childcare settings - what to look for:
- Trained and experienced staff, ready to learn and respond to your child's individual needs.
- Busy, but relaxed, children who seem happy and purposeful.
- Safe and clean premises - welcoming and friendly with outside play space.
- Cultural sensitivity and responsiveness to children's home life.
- A staff team and group of children who reflect local ethnic and cultural groups.
- Fun activities planned each day - childminders, nurseries and out-of-school clubs all need to plan their days with children's interests and enthusiasms in mind. Exercise and quiet times to relax are important.
- A big welcome for you and your child.
Visiting childcare settings - what to ask:
- What is the ratio of staff to children? How many children do you care for?
- What qualifications and/or experience do you have?
- What are the daily routines and how can you incorporate my child's and other children's routines?
- Do you operate a key worker scheme (whereby one member of staff has main responsibility for your child)?
- What are your policies on discipline and how do you manage children's behaviour?
- Do you provide meals, snacks, nappies etc or will I need to provide them?
- Where can my child sleep or rest?
These are just some of the questions you should ask, download our factsheet, 'Visiting childcare providers: How to find high-quality childcare' for more questions. Remember to also think about the things that matter to you and make sure you ask about them.
Take up references
It advisable for you to take up at least two references. Childcare providers should be happy to give you names of other parents to speak to about the service they provide.
What will your child enjoy? These are the things children said were most important when Daycare Trust visited nurseries and asked children for their views:
- Friends - check a stable group of children attend so your children can have fun with friends.
- Food - check mealtimes are relaxed and fun and ask if children can help themselves to drinks and snacks.
- Fun outside - check the outside area is well planned, spacious and safe - children love playing outside.
- Finding out - make sure there is plenty of opportunity for children to learn new things with varied, carefully planned things to do.
- Feeling safe and loved - check that the staff are able to respond to individual children's needs, to comfort and encourage them and to keep them safe.
Find out more about finding and choosing childcare by downloading our free factsheets, including:
- What are my childcare options?
- Visiting childcare providers: How to find high-quality childcare
- Finding and choosing a nanny
Find out about help to pay for childcare at our Paying for childcare website.