Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Childcare - it's a minefield

Childcare has been one off our biggest worries, even before we got pregnant.  It is one of the reasons we waited before trying to get pregnant, however sometimes you just have to take the plunge and muddle through.  Neither Mr M or I have any family nearby, my grandparents live about an hour away but as they are in there mid 80's I wouldn't dream of asking them to look after bump.  My parents live 2 hours away and Mr M's live 5 hours away.  Mr M's dad retires from the RAF next November and his parents will have to find accommodation, we did ask them if they wanted to move closer to us but they didn't so that was that.

Not being from the area we weren't really sure what was on offer or where to start looking.  Did we want bump to go to nursery or childminder?  After talking to friends we found out the nursery places in the local area go quickly, there are nurseries further a field but we needed something close by as Mr M can't drive.  We also signed up to Childcare.co.uk to look into local childminders.  Mr M works Monday to Friday 9-5 but my job includes weekend cover, nurseries aren't that keen on shift workers, would we be able to find a nursery who could accommodate us?  Following further investigations some childminders were as inflexible so we decided that we would not put bump into childcare on a Monday and we would alternate taking a Monday off each.  Both of our workplaces operate family friendly hours and flexible working so we could do this without losing hours and without using leave - great!! 

Some people thought we were a little mad looking into childcare just under a year before we would need it but I didn't want to leave it then be rushing trying to find somewhere near the end of my maternity leave and all the good places be gone.  Some childminders on childcare.co.uk were quite dismissive of us being proactive - they went into the "No" pile.  Others however were understanding and knew they would have places so we arranged to go and see them.

One of my friends was having issues with her nursery, the first had been closed down and the current one she was using she wasn't happy with, something just didn't feel right for her.  She discovered that the best nursery in the area was opening a sister nursery and having an open day.  Mr M & I went along with her to check it out.  We were really impressed, not only by the nursery but the staff.  They took us on a tour and had a really good conversation with us.  They told us not to decide after seeing their nursery but to go and see all the nurseries in the area.  They also said not to book an appointment but to turn up, they stated this is a good way of seeing the nursery during its day to day running.  If the nursery tell you they can't show you round then they obviously don't have enough staff, would you want your child there?  Also it means they can't tidy or hide things in preparation of your visit.  Really good advice for any parents out there!!

We picked a day and went to see all the nurseries in the area, which was 5.  There was one that we were really impressed with, the original nursery of the one we had gone to see for the open day.  It was the only nursery in the area that has received an outstanding Ofsted report and the manager was an Ofsted inspector.  The staff were lovely and the children seemed really happy.  Bump could also stay there until he goes to school.  We also spoke about the new nursery that was opening, they were planning on taking the same prinicpals to the new nursery and all staff would be trained at the original nursery so they knew the standards and philosophy, all sounded great.

We went to see the childminders we had made appointments with, they were all lovely people but neither Mr M or I got the same feeling we did when we went to the nursery.  Each childminder had fewer children than the nursery so bump would get more intimate working and they all went to Baby and Toddler groups and fed home cooked meals.  Childminders were cheaper than nursery by £5 a day, which adds up, but our gut instinct was telling us we preferred the nursery.  We decided to go back to the nursery and have another look around

After our second look around we decided to book bump a place.  We were able to get a place at the original nursery as that was our favorite but we would have been happy to take a place at the new nursery.  The nursery stated they will contact us nearer the time and arrange drop in sessions so bump can get used to nursery before I go back to work.  The staff were understanding that this will be an anxious time for us and bump but gave us lots of reassurance.  They also stated they would keep us up-to-date with newsletters and that bump could go and meet Santa when he visits, if bump had arrived by then.  This made us feel much more at ease and part of the nursery family. 

Both of our employers are part of a childcare voucher scheme, these vouchers were accepted by both the childminders we saw and the nurseries.  Basically these are a salary sacrifice scheme, the money for childcare goes from your wage to the childcare provider before tax, meaning you will get taxed less.  According to the HMRC website this would save us over £1000 each year, which is a lot of money!! There is lots of information on the website about tax credits as well as voucher schemes, definitely worth looking at, you might be surprised how much money you could save!

I would recommend parents to go and have a look around as many places as you can.  Whether you choose a childminder or a nursery you will get a gut feeling about somewhere or someone and just go with that instinct.  You know what you are looking for for your child and you have to be happy to leave them.