A whole host of emotions are usually swirling around when you start making childcare decisions for your little one. From work demands, parental guilt, school readiness and a whole host of other factors – it can be hard to know where to start.
But, fear not, we’ve enlisted some expert advice to help you find the best childcare to meet your family’s needs.
Sydney nanny, Nancy Schroder has worked with children aged from birth to 12 for more than 25 years as a qualified childhood educator both in Australia and her home town in Canada.
While a large part of her career has seen Nancy become an extended member of the family for the clients she has worked for as a nanny, she has also worked in childcare centres and explored the requirements of running a family daycare centre.
Here’s a list of ten things she recommends parents consider when choosing childcare.
1. What type of childcare do you want?
Nancy says when choosing the type of childcare you want, it is important to look at what best suits your family needs.
“There are lots of different things you can do. For example, you can have someone like a nanny come into your home,” Nancy says. “You could have an au pair, which is a person who is like an addition to your family but is usually someone quite young so your children might look at that person as a sibling.
“The care they provide is very different from a nanny or childcare centre because they don’t have huge responsibilities and they can watch kids for a few hours at a time but they don’t always have a great deal of experience.
“Or you could go with daycare at a childcare centre or a family daycare, which is a completely different situation again because you are taking your child out of their comfort zone at home and looking for a suitable place that is safe and clean, with quality staff who have qualifications and experience working with children.”
2. What hours and days do you need/want?
Do you need odd hours, evenings or weekends to fit in with shift work hours? Nancy says this is often the biggest deciding factor behind what type of childcare families choose.
“After parents have chosen the type of care they’d like to have, I’d definitely suggest they think about the hours and days of care they need,” she says. “Do they need days, or evenings, through the week or weekends? They need to make sure the place or person they’ve chosen can fulfill this.”
3. What location is most convenient?
If choosing a daycare option, Nancy says location is another big factor to consider.
“Parents need to decide if they want it close to their home or work,” Nancy says.
When making this decision, it is important to work out who will be mostly responsible for pick-up and drop-off within the hours of operation for the centre.
4. What qualifications and experience does the centre/carer have?
No matter what type of care you opt for, the standard has to be high when it comes to entrusting your precious little ones into childcare.
“It is important to make sure they have all of the certifications that they need, that they’ve gone through their safety checks and they are registered,” Nancy says.
“Whether it is a nanny, au pair, family daycare or childcare centre, carers need their CPR and first aid certificates.
“Check to see what training and education they have, do they have an Early Childhood Education and Care diploma or maybe they’re studying for a degree in teaching.
“Police checks, past jobs, and any experience they may have had with special needs are also things you can ask about.” They definitely need to have a Working with Children check done.
5. What is the overall philosophy of the centre/carer?
Nancy says asking straight out what the carer’s philosophy is can be a great way to work out if they will nurture, love and care for your child the way you would like them to.
“If you are a nanny going into a house and the parents choose one way of behaviour management or they have a particular routine, that’s not the same as the nanny’s, it can turn out that it’s not going to be a good fit,” she says. “If it’s not a good fit for the parents then it’s not going to be for the kids either.”
6. What forms of communication do they use with you?
Communication is key. It may sound cliche but Nancy says having an open dialogue with your child’s carer is crucial.
“How is that person, or are those people, going to communicate with you about your child each day? Is it through email or messages or a day book?” she says. “There are lots of different ways to communicate these days.”
She says face-to-face contact is also important.
“If you are going into a childcare centre, you want to be greeted by staff, you want to see staff interacting positively with children, you want to see that children look comfortable where they are,” Nancy says. “Of course, just because you walk in and see a child crying doesn’t mean it’s a bad centre, it could mean someone has gotten a toy taken off them or they’ve fallen outside.”
7. How do you feel about the centre/carer?
Nancy says how parents feel about a centre is a good indication of how their child might feel going there.
“Once you’ve met whoever it is, how do you feel? Do you feel comfortable? Do you feel happy” Nancy says. “Does the place look clean? Is there a variety of different kinds of toys and things to be creative with? Is it cluttered and dirty and musty – you want a nice open room, a playground or somewhere to play and be outside.”
When it comes specifically to choosing a nanny, Nancy says parents are right to expect a more personal approach.
Nancy says. “A nanny is very personal and in your house, and that person really becomes another adult for those children to love and trust and appreciate, and be friends with. Children see the nanny as a part of their family.”
8. Give yourself options. How do they compare?
With so many different educational programs offered by various childcare providers, Nancy says it is important to give yourself options and time.
“There’s the Montessori Programme, which is run differently from just childcare, and there’s Steiner schools – there’s so many different programs and parents need go out and look around to see what’s available,” she says. “Make those appointments in the childcare centres or the family daycares, interview different nannies and au pairs – give yourself three or four options and give yourself time to really consider them.
“There is nothing worse then trying to make a decision about something that is so important after only going to see that one person that one time when you don’t really know what else is out there.”
9. Is this form of childcare financially sustainable for your family?
Just as with most things in life, finances need to be considered when choosing childcare.
Nancy says the upheaval children may have to experience if you have to let go of a nanny they have become attached to or pull them out of a childcare centre they are settled in due to finances, is best avoided if at all possible.
She says it’s important to be realistic about how much of the family budget can be dedicated to childcare.
While paying more doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of care given, Nancy says it is important to weigh up what is most important.
“People often complain about the cost of childcare, and I understand it has to be affordable but you also have to think about what your child is getting out of wherever they’re going,” Nancy says. “If they are getting a lot out of it, if they are loved and nurtured and they are happy then you know they’re in the right place.”
10. Take a closer look. What concerns do you have?
Finally Nancy advises to look beyond what you are being told by the carer and follow your instincts.
If it’s a daycare centre, what is the staff turnover rate like? Do staff seem happy to be there? What do other people have to say about the centre?
If considering a nanny or au pair, be sure to check references. Are any red flags raised?
Nancy says parents should also introduce their child to the centres and carers they are considering and see how they are greeted and how they react.
“At a daycare, just having your child invited in for morning tea with the other children can be a nice way to see how welcoming they are,” Nancy says.