Choosing a Childminder, Home Childcarer or a Nanny
Deciding between a childminder, home childcarer or a nanny is an important decision. It is best to get as much information as possible before deciding what is best for you and your child.
Childminders are self-employed carers who work from their own homes. They must be registered with their local HSC Trust if they look after children to whom they are not closely related for more than two hours in any day, for reward.
Childminders can care for up to six children under the age of 12 (including their own), only three of these may be under the age of five and usually only one under the age of one (exceptions may be made in the case of siblings, for example twins).
Annual inspections are carried out by Social Services on both the home and the childminder to assure the standard of care provided to children. In addition, the police check all those aged over 10 who live in the childminder's home.
Many childminders are members of Northern Ireland Childminding Association (NICMA) and have access to guidance and training from this organisation.
The advantages of using a registered childminder are that they:
- are registered and inspected annually by social services
- usually have their own public liability insurance
- can be flexible about the hours that they work
- are usually experienced mothers
- provide care, fun and learning in a home environment
- children of different ages can be cared for together
- ideal for babies and under twos, who need to develop a close relationship with an adult through one to one care
- often offer a school pick-up service
- develop a close relationship with families as children grow up
- are eligible for the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit
Questions to ask childminders
- how long have they been childminding, how long do they intend to continue and can they give you the name and telephone number of other parents they provide a service for so you can follow up their references?
- what are the ages of the other children they look after - including their own - and which ones will be there at the same time as your child? (book one of your preliminary visits when these children are there, to see how well they mix with each other)
- what is the childminder's routine? How often and where do they take the children out? What age-relevant activities will they do with your child?
- what kind of food do they provide and is it included in the fee?
- what other adults will be in the house and how do they feel about the arrangement? Who would the childminder call on in an emergency - for example, if they had to take one child to hospital, who would care for the others?
- what is their attitude and policy on key issues like sleep, potty-training and setting boundaries on behavior? Discuss and agree on the approach to be taken with your child
- how does the childminder fit in household chores? Do they shop, or take other children to school while your child is in their care? How often and how will it affect your child's day?
- ask the childminder or your local Early Years Team to see the last inspection report
The Northern Ireland Childminding Association (NICMA) is a charity and membership organisation which works to support childminders, parents and children by the provision of quality childcare and education in registered home based settings.
NICMA run a free information and vacancy service for information on NICMA registered childminders.
Childminders are usually paid on an hourly basis, at a rate negotiated with the parents. NICMA can advise on recommended rates. Discuss hours, holiday pay and other terms and conditions with the childminder.
Home childcarers and nannies
There is no legal requirement for childcare that takes place within a child's own home to be regulated.
From April 2006, however, a scheme came into operation providing for a form of approved childcare - the home childcarer.
The Home Childcarer Approval Scheme provides recognised status for individuals providing childcare in a child’s own home. Whilst this type of childcare is not required by law to be registered, the checks undertaken by HSC Trusts provide a basic level of assurance for parents and enables more parents to access tax credits and employer supported childcare vouchers.
A nanny is employed by you to look after your child in your home and can 'live in' or come to your home for set days and hours.
Many have nursery nurse training or childcare qualifications, though this is not compulsory.
Nannies are not inspected or registered by Social Services unless the nanny cares for children from more than two families, so you are responsible for interviewing and checking all the relevant references of nannies.
There is no help for costs of childcare provided by nannies through the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit
Nannies can be convenient and flexible, will allow you more say in your child's routine and are ideal if you have more than one child.
However, you have the responsibility of employing someone and sorting out their detailed contracts. It may be difficult to build a lasting relationship as there is always a chance that the nanny will move on. There is no help with costs from the Working Tax Credit and checking and vetting procedures are often not done or reliable.
Things to check with nannies
- references - even if an agency has already done so. Contact by phone at least two previous employers
- that the nanny has a first aid certificate
- other qualifications
- that they are registered with Social Services if they are looking after more than two families' children
- that the nanny understands your expectations (hours, job description, length of employment). Draw up a contract to cover these details
Questions to ask nannies
- what qualifications and experience do they have and how is that relevant to your child?
- why do they enjoy working with children and why do they want the job you're offering?
- how would they organise your child's day?
- what are their attitudes to key issues like sleep, potty-training and discipline?
- how will they spend off-duty time if living in?
As the nanny's employer, you must pay their tax and national insurance as well as wages. You must also have employer's liability insurance. The Inland Revenue can help work out the tax and divide for nanny shares.