How to sort out childcare
You're expecting a child and you've got everything prepared. Birth plan - check. Overnight bag packed - check. Stacks of teeny weeny nappies in the bedroom - check. How organised are you! Or are you? Have you got the whole childcare thing sorted out yet? Even though maternity now extends to a year with nine months of that covered by statutory maternity pay, that doesn't give parents a lot of time. Many nurseries, for example, have incredibly long waiting lists and require you to register before the birth of your child. What should you do to prepare?
Don't leave it till the last minute. Human resources experts say many women leave it till the last minute to arrange childcare and this can cause untold problems and stress and make the return to work that much harder so get in there early.
Consider what's right for you. The first thing to consider before you look at childcare is what you as parents would feel comfortable with and what is the best childcare to suit you, your child and the way you work. For example, do your working hours vary? Is flexibility important? What can you afford? What age is your child? Are they open to new experiences and ready to interact with lots of other children or would they prefer a more homely environment?
Mix and match? If cost or concerns about putting your child into the care of someone who is not a family member are an issue, you might be able to mix and match childcare. For instance, a couple could both work flexibly [say, four days a week each, leaving two days to look after the children] to cut down on childcare costs or a grandparent may be able to help out several days a week or a few hours a day, with the child going to nursery in the mornings.
Do your research. Once you know what you need and whether you need professional childcare, you can research the main types of childcare available. They are nursery, childminder or a nanny or nanny share. A good place to begin is with your local children’s information service. In addition to providing a list of local childcare options, it also gives advice on what to look for and questions to ask when you are investigating the best childcare for your child.
Do you need flexible care? If flexibility is key and you have early starts or sometimes finish late, a childminder or nanny/nanny share might be a good idea, but you should check if they are willing to do extra hours on odd occasions. Nannies can care for your child in your own home or you can share nanny care with another local family to reduce costs and your child would then go to that family's house for some part of the week. For nanny shares it is important to try to find a family that is compatible with your own. Try sites like Best Bear. As a nanny's employer, you will also have to pay their tax and National Insurance contributions, plus holiday and sick pay and you will need to pay for them to go on your car insurance if you want them to use your car. Nurseries have become more flexible and many offer school days or later evenings. On the other hand, they tend to offer care most weeks of the year and don't take holidays, as a childminder might.
Go for a visit/ask the right questions. As part of your research, you can check registered childminders and nurseries out via the Ofsted website. Ofsted inspects for quality of care and safety. Nannies do not come under Ofsted. Ask to visit the nursery and have a look around. With all childcare options, it is important to make sure you know what you want so that you can ask the right questions either when you are interviewing a childminder or nanny or when you are going around a nursery. It is worth asking, for, instance, about the ratio of carers to children – nurseries should have three children to a carer for under twos, four children per carer for over twos and eight children per carer for older children. Childminders are allowed to care for six children under eight, but no more than three can be under five. This includes their own children.
Other options. Another option is au pairs. These are young women or men who come from overseas. As such, they are not usually trained to work with children and are not appropriate for very young children. They can work up to five hours a day and should be paid around £50 a week, plus given their own room and meals. They must have two days off a week.
Find out about childcare for older children. After school clubs and holiday playschemes are regulated by Ofsted and are offered by an increasing number of schools. Most before and after school clubs cover from 8am to 6pm. Many provide children with breakfast or an afternoon snack. Costs vary from between £5 to £11 a day for after school care with breakfast clubs charged at around £1 a day. The government wants all schools to offer extended services from 2010. Holiday playschemes [covering sport, art, drama, etc] usually operate along school hours and cost around £75 a week. There are also private holiday playschemes available. These tend to cost more and run at about £150 a week. They can opt to be part of the Ofsted Childcare Register. Places are often scarce, depending on the area you live in, so it is worth applying early.
Research financial support. Childcare costs are often one of the biggest factors in deterring women from going back to work. However, there is help available through subsidies for three and four year olds in private nurseries and free part-time places in state school nurseries. There are also tax credits [http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/taxcredits/]. Your employer may also operate a voucher scheme. These usually mean a slight reduction in your salary, but you do not have to pay tax or National Insurance contributions on the first £55 a week you spend on approved or registered childcare. However, vouchers may affect your entitlement to tax credits so check this out on the HMRC's website.
Have a back-up plan. With all childcare preparations, remember always to have an emergency back-up plan in case your child gets sick and cannot go to nursery or your child carer is ill or otherwise indisposed.
The important thing is for you to be happy with your decisions and to ensure that your childcare fits the way your family works. Good luck.