Choosing childcare

What you need to know about the different types of childcare

Going back to work opens up an exciting new chapter in your baby’s life, but it’s natural to feel nervous.

Here’s some advice on choosing the best childcare to suit you, and how to settle your baby in.

At a glance

  • Do your research
  • Trust your instincts
  • You many be entitled to Childcare Vouchers or Tax Credits

You may have been dreaming about suits and boots for months or you may be dreading going back to your job. 

Whatever your feelings about work, you’ve probably still got that tight little knot in your stomach whenever you think of leaving your precious baby in someone else’s hands.

You've got several different options to choose from when finding good childcare for your little one.

Here’s a simple list of the main options in rough order of cost:

  • Nanny - a formal arrangement (live-in or daily) where you employ them
  • Registered childminder - someone who looks a small group of children in their own home
  • Day nursery - care and education with lots of other children
  • Au pair – a young person lives with you, helping with the children and around the home
  • Playgroup or pre-school – short sessions of care and education
  • Nursery school - care and education for 3-5 year olds at school (school hours and terms)
  • Informal childcare arrangements - parents share childcare with friends. So while one of you works, the other one looks after the children, then you swap – perhaps doing fixed days each work
  • Grandparents – your parents look after your children.

Find local options

Your local Family Information Service is the best place to get information on registered childcare providers in your area. You can search for them online or ring 0800 234 6346.

Childcare to suit your family

Think about what you want and the needs of your child too. For example, are you planning to work full time or part time, study, or even run a business from home? And what about your child – do you want them cared for quietly in your own home or playing with other children? Do you want them to be simply cared for or educated too?

Early education

If you’re interested in early education, it’s worth knowing all schools and early years providers follow a structure of learning, development and care for children. This is called The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and means your child is learning while they play.

Ofsted registration

All childminders and day-care providers caring for young children under eight must be registered by Ofsted on the Early Years Register (or in Wales, by the Care Standards Inspectorate). So make sure they’re registered and check out their reports.

Start visiting

It’s always a good idea to visit a range of childcare providers yourself. Inspections and accreditation are helpful, but they’re no substitute for your gut feel.

What to look for

Have a look round and see if the children seem happy and the carers calm and kind? What about things like food, sleep and discipline? Does it feel a nice environment – is it clean, cosy, light and pleasant? The bottom line is, will you be happy to leave your child here in the morning and head off to work, knowing they’re in good hands. There’s a lot to weigh up, and several organisations can help you do your homework, like the Family and Childcare Trust.

Choosing an au pair or nanny

As nannies and au pairs don’t need to be registered, so it’s up to you to make sure you choose someone suitable!

Good places get booked up fast, so it’s worth starting your research early and securing a place as early as you can. Some super well organised mums even do it before their baby’s born.

Making a choice

In the end it’s likely to be a balancing act between what you want and what you can afford. The good news is there are many ways to make childcare more affordable with tax credits and childcare vouchers potentially knocking hundreds off the cost.

If your child is aged 3 or 4 they are eligible for 15 hours free care per week.

Find out more

Visit MoneyHelper for a more detailed breakdown of childcare costs.

At a glance

  • Do your research
  • Trust your instincts
  • You many be entitled to Childcare Vouchers or Tax Credits
If your child is aged 3 or 4 they are eligible for 15 hours free care per week

Choosing childcare