Childminding. Childminders. Choosing a childminder. They’re words to excite most new parents, as it’s often a time to celebrate a leap into the next stage of a new family – returning to work perhaps, or getting back into the swing of a daily routine with other children at school. But making the choice, working out which childminder is the right one – or even if a childminder is the right solution for you at all – can also bring concerns. With that in mind, here are some things worth thinking about…
What’s the deal, legally, with childminding?
A childminder is someone who’s registered to look after one or more children under the age of eight, to whom they’re not related, on domestic premises (at home), for reward – for more than 2 hours in any single day.
Childminders aren’t supposed to look after more than six children under the age of 8 at a time, and of six, only 3 may be 5 years old or younger: that includes their own children. The rules are there to help ensure that children’s’ health and safety is prioritised at all times, and it’s important to understand what the definition is, because the rules around paying for childcare are also well defined. Anyone receiving money or money’s worth for looking after children has to be registered, and then meet 14 standards set out by the Department for EE.
It all sounds very regimented. It is. But there are upsides to all this formality: a registered childminder has to have public liability insurance in place, which should you give more peace of mind about your rights. And if you choose a registered childminder, you’ll also have the reassurance of knowing they’ve been on a local authority approved childminder’s pre-registration course and completed a first aid course that includes training in first aid for infants and young children.
In addition, there are criteria that each childminder knows well and aims to satisfy on a daily basis: things like encouraging children to be confident, undertaking structured listening and valuing their opinions, organising resources, and imparting information that stimulates children to use their imaginations. All registered childminders are trained to follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) that leads naturally into the early years curriculum of a primary school. This provides a great start for children from birth to five years old.
How much does a childminder cost?
Childminders are self-employed, so they’re taking care of their own tax and National Insurance payments – you don’t have to worry about that. But the truth is, costs vary depending on where you live and how much demand there is for childminding services in your area. And, on top of an hourly rate (which could be as little as £3.50 to £4 per hour), there are other expenses to consider – such as commuting backwards and forwards; and expenses for individual equipment, trips or additional activities – as well as variations in fee according to the age of your child. But in return for the costs, there are distinct advantages to choosing a childminder.
The advantages of childminders
First and foremost, if you’ve chosen a registered childminder then you’ll have the reassurance of a formal, professional working relationship: there are standards, expectations, and set guidelines you can expect the person to follow while they’re looking after your child – and that makes life a lot easier, if you ever have concerns or you’d like to ask questions about a certain aspect of care. A registered childminder will have had an enhanced CRB check, be health checked and homes have to be inspected to ensure they’re safe for children.
One of the other advantages is that your child will be among other children. And in general, childminders offer care among mixed age groups, which closely mirrors the environment you’ll find in family life. So – particularly if your child doesn't have any siblings – it’s a good opportunity to develop those all-important social skills in preparation for school.
If you can find a childminder close by, it may even feel like an extension to being at home: that proximity works both ways though. Some children do benefit from moving out of one distinct environment, back into another. With that in mind, childminders can often be quite flexible about the timing and arrangements you’d like to make for picking up or dropping off your little one.
And of course, if you’re eligible for tax credits then you may be in a position to get help with childminders’ costs; childcare vouchers can also be used as a financial contribution to this type of childcare.
And the disadvantages of childminders
Some opinions are that a childminder could favour their own children, even without realising it, and focus on them first. It’s something you’ll need to bear in mind and make a judgement call about, if you have any cause for concern. You may not have complete control over specific components in a diet or organised activities, as a childminder will be balancing the needs of more than one child – usually on their own, and there may be fewer ‘automatic’ processes in place (although you should expect things like ‘bumps and scrapes’ notices, and concerns about behaviour to be issued as standard).
In addition, everyone needs a Plan B but while childminders have to provide a plan for back-up childcare, there may be circumstances beyond even your control that wouldn’t arise in a nursery. That could mean you’re picking your children up and re-arranging work at short notice. Things like family affairs; holidays, or even circumstances affecting the home itself could affect ‘normal’ arrangements. You also need to be aware, childminders do have limitations on services they can provide, and that includes providing care for children who are ill.
Making the choice for childminding
Having set out the pros and cons of childminding, the best advice is still to employ common sense: always make a decision you’re comfortable with, and if in doubt, start with a short-term working relationship to see how things go. A ‘taster’ session is a good idea (although you need to bear in mind, it does take some little ones time to settle in to a new routine).
Talk to friends and family about your choices, and consider talking to the childminders’ neighbours and other parents using the service too. It’s important to work through the practical aspects of your childcare arrangements first, always, and make the decision with your head not your heart…