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14th Feb 2015

Oh, the woes of choosing childcare: how to navigate your options

The agonising hunt for the best childcare

Regina Bushell, a veteran of the childcare profession guides us through the childcare choices and what to look out for.

Your new baby is the most important thing in your life right now, so it’s daunting to think of someone other than you or your partner taking care of your beautiful little bundle. But, the right childcare can be a really positive experience for both your baby and you, and careful planning can make the transition a lot easier for everyone.

Before returning to work it’s important to have an honest discussion with your employer. Sound them out about work/life balance. If you’re self-employed, think carefully about how many childcare hours you need before investigating the different options available.

So where do you start?

1 Grandparents:

This may be an option for some families, however for others, grandparents may not be living nearby or it may not suit them to take on the responsibility. While they love you to come and visit, five days a week might be too much for them depending on their age and health. If you are working part-time, a couple of days a week or half days, it might be a different story.


A child-minder could be a relation, a friend or neighbour, either registered with TUSLA (the child and family agency), or not. Talk to other parents and take soundings from locals to find out what kind of reputation and experience they have, how long they have been caring for children – and babies in particular – and how many children or babies they care for. Make sure you visit. I really believe in gut feelings – listen to what your intuition is telling you.

A Crèche:

Your local CCC website will provide a list of registered crèches in your area. All crèches, nurseries and Montessori schools are regulated by the Childcare Regulations 2006. Reports by TUSLA inspectors as to how services live up to these regulations are available at It is important that you review the report of any crèche you’re considering.

First things first, you need to give some consideration to a local service or, is there a suitable crèche near work or along your commute?

You may also need to consider your child’s opportunity to make friends with children in your local area if you decide on a crèche outside your locality. However, this can be overcome by enrolling your child in sport/dance/drama/art classes at weekends.

Choosing the right crèche:

If you decide that a crèche is the best option, make a list of your needs and what is important to your child and family. Take a note of questions you want to ask so you can make sure all your queries are answered when visiting a potential crèche.

You need to think long-term: consider services that are offered past the baby stage – will your baby be able to avail of the free preschool Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme when they are over three years old? What are the primary schools like in your area? Is there after-school available? Does the crèche offer a pick-up or drop-off service?

The manager should listen to your requirements and bring you on a tour of their facilities. You should be given an overview of the rooms, staff, equipment and space available, both indoors and out. Focus at this stage on the baby and wobbler/toddler areas. Consider these questions:

  • Do you like the staff how are the interacting with the babies? Are they playing with them on the floor at the babies’ eye level?
  • Are there soft, cosy areas for babies to lie and sit, be fed and read too?
  • Is the room bright and clean with space for babies to crawl or shuffle on their bottoms along the floor?
  • Are there mirrors on the walls at their level?
  • Are the babies happy and engaged with each other and with staff?
  • There should be a separate sleep room for babies. Is it warm and inviting and with clean bed linen for every child? Is there storage place for each child’s blankets and sheets?
  • Does the crèche provide the nappies? Are they included in the cost?
  • What is the policy on outdoor time for your baby? Older children may be outdoors regularly but is there a designated outdoor space for babies? Observe if there is enough outdoor play space for your child as they grow up.
  • Ask about their healthy eating policy and ask to see the weekly menu plan. Are supplies fresh and sourced locally? Do they cater for allergies and cultural food requirements? Is there milk, water and fruit juices (check the quantity of juices due to the dangers of tooth decay).
  • Who will be your baby’s primary carer? How will they give you feedback at the end of the day? In note form as well as verbally?
  • Ask about staff qualifications, first aid and child protection training. Babies love routine and knowing what’s coming next. They also love their actions to be reflected back to them, which encourages positive interactions and language development. Ask about routine and curriculum. Have staff been trained in Síolta (Irish for ‘seeds’) the quality framework for early childhood care and education services, and Aistear (Irish for journey) the national curriculum framework for the education and care of children from birth to six years? Both have information available for parents on their websites which are really worth a visit.
  • What is the policy for when your child is sick? The Childcare Regulations recommend that all children need to be at home for at least 24 hours if they have a fever, vomiting or diarrhoea.

Most childcare providers offer flexible packages. For example:

  • Full five days, or a number of full days, per week. A full day is usually eight-ten hours per day.
  • Half days of 3-4 hours, known as a ‘sessional service’.
  • Part-time, up to 5 hours per day.

Childcare facilities usually bill monthly in advance. Fees are multiplied by 52 weeks of the year and divided by 12 months to calculate the monthly fee.

Before returning to work:

The manager of your chosen centre should arrange visits for you and your baby close to your return to work date. This can be a number of hours over a 2-3 week period depending on the personality of each individual child and parent. You should do a number of ‘dummy runs’ before your start date to time how long it takes to get to the crèche, drop your child off, have a word with staff and get to your place of work on time.

Finally, it can take a few months for your child’s immune system to develop so it’s a good idea to have them out and about with other people and children long before you decide to go back to work.

Being organised can go a long way to ensuring you don’t feel overwhelmed. For example, cook meals in advance to ease your evening routine, pack your baby’s bag and your own each night and put them out in the car to save time in the morning.

Most important of all remember, childhood is the most precious time for you and your family, so enjoy every minute.

With over 35 years of experience, Regina Bushell is a veteran of the childcare profession. Her business, Grovelands Childcare was recently named Best Multiple Crèche at the national Maternity & Infant awards for the second consecutive year, and she is a regular commentator on childcare issues the media.