Choosing childcare

Good quality childcare and early education isn’t just good for children’s attainment. Research has shown that it brings greater benefits to children’s all round development.

It gives parents more time to work, study, volunteer or prepare for employment. But juggling work and bringing up children can be a challenge. If you're struggling with this, you're not alone.

Finding good quality childcare can be a difficult task for parents. There are different types of childcare and lots of things to look out for. If you'd like to talk to someone about your options and find out what childcare's available in your area, our Families Information Service can help.

We provide free and impartial information to parents and carers of 0-25 year olds on anything to do with family life, including childcare. We help lots of people looking for childcare in their area and hold information about all Ofsted registered providers.

Our Families Information Service can tell you about:

  • different types of childcare
  • which childcare is available near to your home or work place
  • how to contact providers
  • childcare costs
  • support available to reduce childcare costs
  • opening times of settings
  • the Ofsted inspection grade of registered settings

We can talk you through every part of your journey and answer any questions you have.

You can also look for Ofsted-registered childcare using our Family Service Directory.

Childcare costs

Childcare can be expensive, but there's help available towards the costs. The Childcare Choices website has information about government childcare offers. 

You can find out more about free childcare schemes on our early education funding page

Finding good quality childcare

Finding good quality childcare can be a big step for you and your child. There are lots of differences between types of childcare, early education or pre-school services. Individual childminders, nurseries, playgroups and out-of-school clubs also differ from one another.

Try to give yourself enough time to visit several childcare settings to get a good idea of what could suit your child. It can be a good idea to take your child with you to see how staff engage with them.

There are lots of things to look out for and to remember to ask when you visit a childcare setting. The five steps to choosing childcare by Coram will help you prepare.

Types of childcare

There are lots of different options to think about when choosing childcare. It's up to you as parent or carer to choose what you feel is right for your family and child. Once you've decided what type of childcare you're looking for, check the Family Services Directory for details of all Ofsted registered childcare.

Registered or not registered childcare - what it means

Some types of childcare are regulated and inspected by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). This means that Ofsted have checked that a set of standards have been met and that a childcare provider is suitable to look after children.

Some childcare is unregistered, which means that checking how suitable the care is rests with the parent or carer.

Childminders

Childminders are trained, self-employed, childcare practitioners who look after children in their own homes.

They're registered with Ofsted and both the childminder and their home are regularly inspected.

A childminder can work with up to two other childminders or childminding assistants. The exact number of children a childminder can care for is regulated by Ofsted. The maximum number one childminder can care for is six children that are under eight years old.

Childminders work across a range of hours. Do some exploring if your working day doesn’t fit the 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday pattern. Also check if you have children of different ages and you want them to be looked after together.

Childminders often drop children off and pick children up from school. Some offer funded places alongside paying for childcare.

Day nurseries

Day nurseries are for children between the ages of six weeks and five years. Many offer out-of-school care for five to 11-year-olds.

Opening times are generally from 8am to 6pm on weekdays. They're open all year round during school holidays and offer flexible options. You can either have half or full day sessions over a few days, a full week, term time only, or all year round. They offer funded places alongside paying for childcare.

Out of school clubs

Out of school clubs are open before and after school and all day during school holidays.

They offer a quiet space for catching up with homework, as well as plenty of fun activities for children from three to 14-years-old (and up to 16 for children with special needs).

Some breakfast and after school clubs are linked to schools. They offer a variety of activities on top of the normal school day. These include things such as music, art, sport, or study support.

Some out of school clubs will drop off or pick children up from local schools. Talk to your child’s school to find out if they offer an out-of-school club.

Nursery schools

Nursery schools offer funded places for children between the ages of three and five. They're open during school hours, normally only in term time, for full or half-day sessions.

Babysitters

Babysitters look after your children in your home for short periods of time, usually to allow parents to socialise in the evening, or to attend an appointments during the day. Babysitters aren't regulated because they're looking after children in your home and often have no formal childcare qualifications.

There is no law in England or Wales to stop anyone of any age from babysitting, but a person under the age of 16 can't be charged with neglect or ill treatment of a child left in their care. Parents remain responsible and can be charged themselves if their child is harmed in any way. The NSPCC recommend 16 as a minimum age for babysitting.

As a parent, you should make sure you're happy and comfortable with who you choose as a babysitter. It's a parent’s responsibility to make sure their children are safe. You do need to think about what would happen if something went wrong.  Make sure the babysitter knows where you are and has a contact phone number for you or a relative or close friend who lives nearby.

Leaving children at home on their own - the law

The law doesn't state a minimum age at which children can be left alone. However, it's an offence to leave children alone if it places them at risk. As a parent, you can be prosecuted for neglect if you leave a child unsupervised 'in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health'. The NSPCC offers guidance to parents on leaving children alone and advises that:

  • children under the age of 16 shouldn't be left alone overnight
  • children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for more than brief periods of time
  • babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone.

Check the NSPCC website for more information.

Home child carer/nannies

Home child carers, also known as nannies and au pairs, provide care for children in the parent's own home. They don't need to register with Ofsted, but may choose to register on the voluntary part of the Childcare Register.

Home child carers provide flexible childcare, fitting in with unusual working hours such as shift patterns and weekends. They'll usually hold a recognised childcare qualification or have nursery nurse training, but this isn't compulsory. There are no legal requirements regarding who is employed as a home child carer, but it's your responsibility to make sure that whoever you employ is suitable to look after your child.

Home child carers are employed by the family. You'll be responsible for:

  • paying their wage
  • their tax and National Insurance contributions
  • sick pay and holiday pay
  • providing them with a mobile phone in case of emergencies
  • adding them to your car insurance if you need them to drive the family car

As an employer, you'll need to take out employers' liability insurance. For your peace of mind, you should also check that your home child carer has public liability insurance.

Wages for home child carers can vary depending on their experience, the number of hours they're expected to work, and whether or not they live in your home.

You can find a home child carer by using a specialist home carer agency. Please note, agencies may charge a finders fee.

Childcare for children with a special educational need or disability (SEND)

Good quality childcare is beneficial for all children. It can play a hugely important role in your child's development. It allows them to become independent, mix with other children and to learn new things. But choosing the right childcare can be a difficult decision for every parent, particularly if your child has a special educational need or disability.

Check this useful guidance about childcare for children with SEND.

The Local Offer is a way of giving information about childcare settings and how they support children and young people from birth to 25 years with SEND. Look for the Local Offer flash on the childcare record. It means the childcare setting record includes information on how they'll meet the needs of children with  SEND. The Local Offer is part of the Family Service Directory.

Childcare brokerage

If you need help to find childcare, the Families Information Service may be able to help.

This could include:

  • getting an understanding of your childcare needs
  • looking at different options and contacting providers on your behalf
  • supporting you on a visit to a provider to give impartial support and advice
  • working with other services to see what can be done if the provider needs training or support to offer the best possible care for your child

The Families Information Service is impartial and never recommends one provider over another. We can't guarantee to find a solution to your childcare needs, but we'll explore every option with you.

Childcare sufficiency

A Childcare Sufficiency Assessment (CSA) is an analysis of existing childcare provision in the borough and maps the demand and supply of childcare.

Ofsted role in quality childcare

Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. They inspect and regulate services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skills for learners of all ages. Ofsted inspections check that a provider is meeting the national standards.

You can get a copy of a childcare provider’s latest report:

  • by visiting the Ofsted website  
  • from the childcare setting record on the Family Service Directory
  • by asking the childcare provider for a copy of their latest inspection report

How to make a complaint

If you're concerned about anything you see or hear at an early years or childcare provider, you should raise this directly with the setting.

If you can't resolve the matter in this way, or if you have safeguarding concerns, please contact Ofsted on 0300 123 4666 or via the Ofsted complaint page.