The Childcare Challenge!

Back in the day, when this picture was taken, I suspect that things were simpler for childcare in a way. Maybe there wasn’t the level of choice parents have now, especially for women, but most women stayed at home and looked after the kids themselves. Now this is pretty unusual, which brings me to the subject of childcare providers, the highs, lows, pitfalls and for sure the minefield of what choice to make for your child(ren). Not to mention the demands of your workplace and what that means logistically!

A friend of mine wrote this blog recently about choosing to have children or not in relation to work, it’s great!

My perspective is more about what happens when you’ve made the choice and the subsequent options parents are faced with in order to continue working…

Cost is often the primary criteria and I suspect for many, certainly for me, cost influences much of the choice. Availability is the second factor. In many areas, there is actually little choice. Finally, and the deciding question, is whether you and your child trust and feel comfortable with the person who will care for you child, see them develop and sometimes get to see things you will miss.

The possibilities are mostly conditional on the age of your child.

Initially, if returning to work after the year of maternity leave, there’s the Nursery option. Great hours of coverage, usually 7.30 am to 6.00 pm, but the fees are high, £800 a month when my daughter was born, now more. As a result cost is sometimes prohibitive, especially if you are part-time instead of full-time. Monday to Friday is usually discounted in terms of day rate, Monday to Thursday is not. Sometimes nappies, food and milk for bottles is inclusive, other times nurseries expect you to bring your own… as if the logistics of working while raising a baby/toddler was not stressful enough! Even more painful, parents have to pay even when on a family holiday, to reserve and keep their Nursery place! Nightmare. The best thing for me was that my nursery, who were lovely, potty-trained my daughter. That’s got to be worth paying for!

The light, at the end of this particular tunnel, is in the form of a new nursery format in London, with pay as you go. Let’s make this the future:

For those with higher incomes, a Nanny is an option, albeit with the minefield of holiday and sick pay as well as needing to offer a pension. It’s not something I’ve tried but seems successful for others. Just way beyond my financial reach!

A full day Childminder comes in pretty economically compared to a nursery, there’s still the requirement to pay to reserve your hours even when on holiday, but there’s alot of flexibility. They also usually supply everything.

In all honesty, the private websites that are now available for finding childcare have not been helpful for me. Providers rarely reply, I guess because they have enough work already, and I think the early morning and evening hours I need are rarely attractive! More helpful has been the local government childcare registers, for childminders particularly, and friend’s referrals. This is the Oxfordshire website:

Once your child goes to school, fortunately childcare costs drop. However, for some reason I never seemed to have more money! Suspect other childhood costs step into replace it…

My daughter now uses Breakfast Club and After School Club regularly – after school every day and breakfast as required. She’s nine years old, and loves it! It’s well run at our school and she has loads of fun. For me, it’s also miles cheaper (up to £4 for breakfast and £10 for after school, though this reduces if you pre-book). As it happens, this is a relief, as there’s little alternative where I live. The challenge is that breakfast club is only from 8.00 am which makes early starts difficult and after school to 5.30 pm, so I’m lucky I work from home most of the time.

Previously I’ve had after school childminders, as I’ve worked full time throughout. This gives the child a home environment, which I felt was important when she was younger. My childminders, three over the years, have been great! Both flexible, kind and supportive as I’m often on a day trip somewhere and back late. I consider all of them friends and have been very lucky. My daily cost was about £15 for pick up from school and three hours care each day.

Other options I have tried are after school help at home which works well, especially if your child has after school activities, and covers the late shift if I’m in London or elsewhere. My challenge is still early morning starts… that’s a tricky slot to fill but luckily I have supportive, if not local, parents and local friends.

Finally, there’s the Au Pair option… Overall not the best experience for me for a couple of reasons. I suspect this was partly due to the size of my house, as others seem to find it works. I also found having someone else in my house all the time difficult. I realised and think otherwise have found that it is like having another, teenage child, so not easy. It’s also comparatively expensive, if very flexible, and it may have just been me and the fit with that particular au pair.

If travel is part of your remit, you may also like to read this:

I hope it’s helpful for single parents and couples alike.

The decision to go back to work and related childcare requirements also needs to factor in salary expectations and working hours. Plus whether Childcare vouchers are available and the impact on Child benefit entitlement for higher earners and higher tax brackets. So in the decision to work part-time versus full-time work, these all need to be in the calculation. As it happens, for me it’s a necessity whatever, but for others there may be other factors to consider.

All the best with your choice of childcare, whatever that is for you!


Ruth x

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