Childcare: How do you choose?

Family, Au-pair, nanny, child-minder or creche – no matter which option you go for, choosing the right one for your family can make the world of difference to easing the potential stress of going back to work. I was very lucky to have family to take care of my guys; they were happy to work around my erratic hours and refused any and all offers of money! It certainly made going back to work so much easier for me. However, that is not necessarily the right fit for every family.

I have worked as an au-pair, nanny, and nursery nurse. I worked in childcare in the dark days before regulations and have seen it change through the years to become a highly-regulated and structured system. Unfortunately, as last years Prime Time exposé highlighted, regulations do not always equal good child care.

So how and where do you begin the search for childcare?

There are pros and cons attached to all the different types of childcare on offer. With family, for example, you can trust them completely but it can be awkward to discuss something you are unhappy with. With a nanny, your child is being cared for by a professional at home but they are not necessarily getting to socialise with other children. Au-pairs are inexpensive but only work limited hours and generally don’t stay longer than a year. With a child-minder, your child is in a nice homely setting, usually not too expensive but you generally have to work around their holidays. Creches offer full-time professional care but are expensive and your child is away from home all day.

It is really about finding the right type of care to suit your family’s needs. If you have a long commute, for example, a nanny or child-minder close to home might be the best solution. If you work part-time, an au-pair might just do the trick. If you work full time, nine to five, and want to guarantee that your child is getting lots of social interaction, then a creche may be the best option.

With nannies and au-pairs it can be pot-luck who you get and you generally wont know how it will work until you are in the situation. My advice would be to stay as open-minded as possible and lay down the ground rules from day one.

If you decide on child care outside the home, make sure you ask the right questions:

  • How many children attend? They should know the breakdown instantly.
  • Is there outdoor space? How frequently is the garden used? Should be every day.
  • What is child:staff ratio? Should know instantly.
  • How long have staff been there? High staff turnover is NOT a good sign.
  • What time do the kids get their meals? Lunch at e.g. 11.00am is not acceptable
  • How often are fees reviewed? The last thing you want to do is make your plans on expected costs that are not accurate.
  • Ask about their sickness and holiday policies – some creches include two weeks of holidays in the payment plan.
  • How do they handle cleaning? You don’t want a scenario where the children are sitting down unattended whilst the place is cleaned.
  • Are staff trained /experienced? Experience far out weighs training in my opinion.

Ignore appearances to some extent:

  • Beautiful, brightly-coloured walls and furniture can mean that not much play is allowed.
  • Everything in its place can mean quite restrictive rules for the children.
  • Neatly-stacked bookshelves, filled with perfect untorn books may suggest that kids don’t have access to them. Is that what it is like at home?
  • Messy playroom means focus is on play.
  • Food all over the place can mean that the children are encouraged to feed themselves at their own pace.
  • Armless dolls and three-wheeled toy cars mean that the toys are well used.
  • Awful looking artwork all over the place means the childrens efforts are praised and acknowledged.
  • Dirty clothes equals emphasis on fun.

Some other important tips are :

  • Seek other parents’ and friends’ advice – word of mouth is the optimum way of finding good childcare.
  • Visit a few different places.
  • Drop in unannounced – they may not be able to show you the ropes there and then but how you are received will give you a good impression of how things are run.
  • Talk to the children there whilst you are visiting.
  • TRUST YOUR GUT – if for no apparent reason you walk away less than 100% happy with what you have seen, then that is not the place for you.

Once you decide on where and when, then comes the how. Building up a good relationship with the people caring for your children will go a long way towards easing your mind when you are at work. Don’t shy away from asking questions about your child’s day. Talk, talk, talk to the staff! Treat them with respect. Trust their opinions and advice. Childcare is a vocation and nine times out of ten, you will grow to like and admire the people who are dedicated to taking care of not only your child, but all the children in their care!

Thanks for reading


I love feedback, please leave any thoughts and comments below.






4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Yasmina Lenahan
    Apr 17, 2014 @ 15:58:26

    Great advice Aisling and I could relate to alot of this and your advice of’ ignoring appearances to some extent’ is very helpful! I remember going to an immaculate creche, I left feeling the poor kids never got to play as everything was too organised! Very helpful for mums starting out on this journey.


  2. Trackback: Women’s Work | BabySteps
  3. lighthouseece
    Dec 23, 2014 @ 10:08:46

    Hi Aisling, you’ve covered some great points. If I can just add a few of my own.
    Firstly, I became involved in ECE after our first child as we went through literally 2 years of constant grinding daily struggling with trying to find some place that cared. We tried centres, home based, nannies, au pair everything!
    Finally, exasperated, we bought our own centre and then spent the next 2 years and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the centre to make it how we wanted it to be for our other 2 children.
    Which all our experiences, I would like to pass along the 2 following lessions we learnt:

    1. Look to see if the children are happy

    If the children at the centre or at the home are happy, outgoing, inquisitive and inviting then you have a winner. It means that the children are well looked after, well attended to and have their needs met.

    2. If it’s a centre does the owner send their child to the centre?

    If an owner send their children to the centre as we do, then that means the owner is willing to pour money into the centre to make it a happy place for the children there. In our case our preschool makes next to no money as we have very high teacher/children ratios and we constantly pump new resources into the centre.
    An owner who runs a centre for profit will absolutely not do this.

    The other extreme is stay well clear of childcare centres on the stock market. These centres are run 100% for profit and their CEOs are tasked with the bottom line. Be very careful as despite the best intentions of teachers and managers in these centres, they will have very little real ability to run the centre to their liking.

    I hope this helps new parents looking for quality. Early childhood is such an important time for any child’s life.

    If anyone is in Auckland, New Zealand and would like to see how a good centre is run, they are more than welcome to drop by our centre for a visit. (we have a 10 months waiting list normally, so please be assured this is not a plug 🙂 )
    we are


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