Deciding on childcare is a big decision for any parent. There are a number of factors that will make an impact on your final decision. These include:
It is important to discuss with the childcare service provider your child’s needs and the service they can provide. You should check that staff are qualified and the provider has appropriate childcare policies and procedures in place for example, child protection, behaviour management and accidents. It is also important to check fees, hours, and holiday periods. Make sure to visit when there are children present, so you get a feel for the atmosphere. The Child and Family Agency has published a useful list of tips on choosing a pre-school.
By law, pre-school childcare facilities must notify and be inspected by the Child and Family Agency. You can access the Child and Family Agency inspection reports on childcare services. More detailed information about the regulation of childcare services is available from the Child and Family Agency - see 'Where to apply' below.
Your City or County Childcare Committee can provide a list of childcare providers in your area. They can also put you in touch with your local early years/pre-school inspector -see 'How to apply' below.
Some childcare options may be distinguished simply by their opening hours or management structures, and others by the curriculum of education that they use. You can read more about early childhood education. Staff training can also determine the type of service available, as can the general needs of parents in your area. Different types of childcare services include:
Full day care
This is a structured care service for more than 3.5 hours per day. Providers care for children from 3 months to 6 years. Some may also include an after-school facility. In full day care, sleeping arrangements and food preparation must meet standards laid down by the Child and Family Agency. Providers include day nurseries and crèches.
These services offer a planned programme consisting of up to 3.5 hours per session (such as a morning or an afternoon). Generally, they cater for children between 2 and 6 years of age. These services may also be provided for younger children. In order to provide a sessional childcare service, a recognised childcare qualification is required. Sessional services include:
Childminders care for children in the minder’s own home. A childminder can care for up to 5 children under 6 years of age (including the childminder’s own). The service is usually offered for the full working day or for different periods during the day. Parents and childminders arrange their own terms and conditions.
As part of the National Childminding Initiative, childminding development grants and guidelines for childminders (pdf) are available to childminders from their local City or County Childcare Committee (CCC). In addition, there is a childminder’s tax relief for people who look after up to 3 children in their own home.
An au pair is a young person who is treated as a family member in exchange for certain services, such as a limited amount of light housework or help minding children. It is a voluntary arrangement between a private household and a private individual. The objective of the arrangement is to enable the au pair to experience a different culture and improve his or her foreign language skills.
There is no specific regulatory framework covering au pairs. An au pair is not a professional nanny or child minder. Au pairs are not employees and there is no contract of employment between the host family and the au pair. The au pair is usually given room and board and paid weekly pocket-money. There are specialist private agencies that can assist you to source an au pair.
A drop-in centre offers a service for short periods during the day. These centres are often provided in shopping centres, leisure centres and accommodation facilities. The service is provided as part of a customer or client service and children are looked after while the parent is availing of a service or attending an event.
Services for schoolchildren can include breakfast clubs, after school clubs and school holiday programmes such as summer camps. Depending on the service, there may also be homework supervision, planned activities or a nutritious meal.
Affordable childcare is intended to provide childcare for families on lower incomes, and also to support parents to return to work or education. This type of service is called a community childcare (not-for-profit) facility. For more information on affordable childcare services in your area, contact your local City or County Childcare Committee - see 'Where to apply' below.
Community Childcare Subvention Programme: Under the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) Programme disadvantaged parents and parents in training, education or low paid employment can avail of childcare at reduced rates. The childcare is provided by community-based (not-for-profit) childcare services who are participating in the CCS Programme.
After-School Child Care Scheme: The After-School Child Care Scheme (ASCC) supports low-income unemployed people to return to work. The scheme provides subsidised after-school childcare places to people with children of primary school age who find employment, increase the number of days they work or take up a place on an employment support scheme.
Childcare Education and Training Support Programme (CETS): If you have applied for a vocational training course provided by an Education and Training Board and you need childcare, you may qualify for a childcare at reduced rates under the CETS Programme. CETS can provide full-time, part-time or after-school childcare places.
Community Employment Childcare (CEC) Programme: The Community Employment Childcare (CEC) Programme provides childcare places at reduced rates for Community Employment (CE) applicants who need childcare so that they can take up a place on a CE scheme.
Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme
The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides a free year of childcare and early education for all children of pre-school age.
Childcare costs depend the type of childcare you choose, the number of hours and the level of staff training in that facility.
There is no charge for the year of pre-school education provided under the
Early Childhood Care and Education scheme.
Your local City or County Childcare Committee will have a list of childcare providers in your area. You can also apply to the early years/pre-school inspector for information about childcare services locally. Public health nurses will often be familiar with local services and childminders within your area and can be contacted at your local health centre.
There is a list of national
voluntary childcare organisations which promote quality in childcare.
Contact your local City or County Childcare Committee.
Contact the Child and Family Agency.
Contact your local health centre.
Contact your Local Health Office.
City and County Childcare Committees
The City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs) develop and implement a co-ordinated strategy for the provision of quality, affordable and accessible childcare within each county. The CCCs help communities identify gaps in current childcare services and develop new services to meet these needs. They provide information on funding and grant applications and facilitate a co-ordinated approach to childcare training at all levels.
The new Children and Young People’s Policy Framework, which will succeed the previous National Children’s Strategy 2006 -2010, will set out the Government’s high level policy priorities for children and young people for the next 5 years. It will be followed by more detailed Strategies for Early Years (0-6 years), Middle Childhood (6 years -12 years), and Youth (over 12 years). More detail is contained in the report Right from the start (pdf).
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.