Choosing childcare

You know your child best and know what kind of childcare will suit them and meet your family's needs. There are many types of childcare and all - except nursery schools and nannies - must be registered with Social Services.

Some points to consider:

Your childcare needs:

  • what hours do I work and are they regular?
  • would I prefer childcare located close to home, work, school?
  • how will I pick up and drop off my children?
  • are my needs likely to change soon?

Your children's needs:

  • how will I make certain my child's routine isn't disturbed?
  • what is best for my child's emotional and physical needs - as well as their social and educational development?
  • what type of childcare allows my child to build a relationship with a carer who they can trust and feel comfortable with?

There may be a waiting list of several months for the childcare you choose, so start looking as soon as you can.

Step 1: Draw up a list

You can find registered and approved childcare providers in your area on the Family Support NI website. Save time by phoning several places and asking a few key questions.

Step 2: Make appointments

Visit at least two or three examples of your chosen form of childcare and be sure to go during times when the carer is looking after other children.  This will allow you to see how the children behave there and how the carer responds to them.

Take a list of questions and discuss with the carer the daily routine and issues you feel strongly about, such as diet or discipline.

Step 3: Time to choose

Once you have a shortlist, double-check that the options meet all your requirements - suitability, cost, availability, location - and that you've done a dummy run to check it's really going to fit into a tight deadline. Don't be afraid to go for a second visit if you have any misgivings - a good child carer will welcome this.

Step 4: Confirming your decision

Double check all the the arrangement and secure the place by paying any deposit, if it is required.

Step 5: Get it in writing

You should use a contract or formal written agreement containing details of costs, hours and conditions to make sure there is no room for disagreement in the future. Nurseries will usually give you an agreement to sign, so read it carefully.

Do's Don'ts
Think about your childcare needs sooner rather than later. It may take time to get what is right for your family or there may be waiting lists. Don't be rushed into something you are not happy with. Try to be clear about what you need and look at all the options.
Talk to other parents about what has worked for them. Your Health Visitor and Early Years Team can provide advice about childcare options in your area. Don't let cost prevent you from exploring an option. Remember that quality and flexibility are important. If you use registered or approved childcare providers, you may be able to receive financial help towards the cost of your childcare.
Plan ahead. Think about possible changes in your circumstances and childcare needs so that you can plan ahead to make sure your children have stability and continuity. Don't worry about asking questions. Quality childcare providers will be happy to answer your questions.
Put discussions with possible childcare providers on a professional footing. Draw up a list of questions to ask. Don't agree to any arrangements that you won't be able to keep. You need to be honest about your hours and other requirements so that people know what to expect.
Trust your own judgement and instincts. You understand your child's needs best and know what will suit your family.  

Family Support NI

Family Support NI holds the Northern Ireland public register of all registered and approved childcare providers in Northern Ireland. You can use their website to search for registered and approved childcare in your area.

Childcare partnerships

Childcare partnerships are operated by the HSC Board to offer information and support to childcare providers, parents and employers.

More useful links

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