Choosing childcarefully

Apologies for the lateness of this post, I have no excuse beyond it’s summer!

Now I am officially within three months of returning to work, it seems the time had come to retrieve my head from where it was firmly wedged in the sand and work out what on earth we are going to do about childcare for Elphie.

Photo credit: The Telegraph

So the options are nursery, childminder, nanny or a combination of the above.


This was my starting point and for a long time my ending point. I went to a couple of local nurseries on their “open days”, held on a Saturday so you could look round. Don’t do this – there is nothing more depressing than a nursery sans children: their artwork fluttering on the wall, row after row of empty cribs, the “home corner” with pictures of parents. Reader, I was holding back the tears (not very well I might add).

Traumatised by these visits, I thought I would ignore the whole thing for a while but my NCT pals persuaded me to look at some more with the babies there and that actually this made it better not worse.

So I ventured forth to visit some more and it was certainly better, although those tables of baleful baby eyes did sometimes get the better of me.

Nurseries tend to be set up so you have rooms of 10-15 kids of approximately the same age and about 5 staff looking after them. Activities are built around the government prescribed Early Years Foundation framework and like all government prescribed things this seems to involve a lot of paperwork. The aim is that by five years old, this framework will set the kids up to achieve certain thing like:


Nurseries tend to be pretty routinised with timetabled structured sessions like story time, singalong or sensory play; unstructured playtime; outside time; meal and nap times. The thing I thought was great about nurseries was some of the structured activities were pretty inventive and not something I would do automatically at home – such as shaving cream or baked bean sensory play, cooking or even a bunch of chicks hatching from their eggs (quite a sight to behold!).

The downside of nurseries is less personalised one-on-one care and love, the likelihood of illnesses being passed around (and the time off work required to cover them – for diarrhoea and vomiting they aren’t allowed back until 48 hours after their last bout), and their inflexible hours often finishing at 6pm.


Childminders have similarities to nurseries in that there are a number of children under their care and they also follow Early Years, but beyond that it’s a very different kettle of fish.

Bearing in mind that in a nursery for one year olds, the ratio of staff to babies has to be 1:3. In England at least for childminding the ratio is quite different.

“Each childminder may care for:

– a maximum of six children under the age of 8;
– of these six children, a maximum of three may be young children, (a child is defined as a “young child” up until 1st September following his/her 5th birthday).
– no more than one child may be under the age of 1.” (Pacey)

So a 1:6 ratio and the kids will all be of different ages, like a large family. In fact the family vibe continues because childminders tend to be based in their own home and sometimes will have their own kids as part of the group being cared for, since childminding can be a source of income for stay at home mums.

The Nanny

Nannies work in your home and will tend to work longer hours than nurseries, often 12 hour days and will likely be more flexible over caring for your child if they are ill etc. In theory, they can also be more flexible about the approaches they take to caring for your kid – following your instructions for how you want your child to be brought up. They are not regulated, however, so will come from a range of backgrounds, qualifications and training – some ex-nursery nurses, some babysitters who made it into a full time career, some with a PhD in Education. They can voluntarily become Ofsted registered which can provide peace of mind over their qualifications, up to date first aid training, CRB check and allows you to pay for them using childcare vouchers. If they are not already registered then you will likely need to pay for them to do this (and register it as a benefit in kind on the tax return – yay!).

In most cases with a nanny, you are the employer and need to register as such and pay your nanny’s tax and national insurance for them. All the fun of the fair!

A common scare story on nannies is that you need to pay their maternity pay if they get pregnant – while this is true, you can also reclaim it in full from the government as a small employer, but you do have to keep her position open if she wants to come back and pay for antenatal appointments.

Nanny Shares

Nanny shares are where one nanny works for more than one family – this can be in parallel where they work for both at the same time in one of their houses or contiguously where one family has them x days a week and the other the remaining y. In the latter case you are basically getting the benefits of a nanny for a reduced number of days a week and may be using a nursery etc for the rest. The parallel type is more economically attractive as the nanny’s rate per hour will reduce and you get the benefit of socialisation with another baby. However, there will be added complications around having a kitty for food and other expenses and if it’s in one home rather than the other then the wear and tear that will involve. And the tax is more complicated as two employers share one nanny, one getting the nanny’s personal allowance and paying more of the salary and the other paying more tax and less salary – even more fun!

So which are we going for? The jury is still out: the nanny share sounds like a nice compromise but you need to find the right nanny and the right other family, and then there’s all the tax loops to jump through. It would be lovely to have a nanny of our very own but that would involve more money and an ability to choose the right person. Then nursery or childminding is the fall back – I found one nursery I liked!

All in all it seems a crazy complicated and expensive system, and I imagine many women can’t afford to go back to work and pay for childcare. I wish I could keep my head firmly in the sand and not have to contemplate how four days away per week will impact on Elphie but sometime in the next six weeks, a decision must be made: I just hope it’s the right one.

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