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Childcare: what are the options?



Modern parenthood is often about striking a balance between caring for your children and earning a crust,  with many families needing some childcare to balance the juggle. If you don’t know your nannies from your au pairs, read our guide to childcare to help you decide what’s right for you and your family



Going back to work

If you need two incomes to make ends meet then you are not alone, as many couples do, but  this can get complicated once your baby is born. 

It is well worth doing the maths first though, to make sure that once you/your partner has covered fees and other work-related expenses, that the difference in your income, is what you imagine it will be. Some families realise that they actually are not financially better off by one of them returning back to work!

However, you may also choose to return back to work to stay on the career ladder and for other longer term goals and prospects, so it is a decision that only you can make together as a couple.

If you do decide you both want/need to return to work, there are various possibilities: 

  • One of you works days, the other evening or nights. This works well for giving you both time with your child, but you may not see each other much.  
  • Both or one of you work part-time. This can be easier to arrange if one of you is self-employed, as you have more control over choosing your hours, but one of you only working part-time may mean that your income is not as much as you need.
  • Grandparents or other trusted family members.
  • Professional childcare – options include childminders, au pairs, nannies and nurseries. 

You need to balance two questions: what feels best for you and for your child and what can you afford? 

 Childcare options:


 Think Mary Poppins – usually they’re full-time, will come to your home, and able to devote themselves to your children. 

  • You’ll need enough money to afford their salary and an employment contract. You will also be responsible for deducting tax and National Insurance.
  • Rates depend on experience and demand, and the nature of their work means that they are usually contracted to one family for a lengthy period of time.
  • If they are ill, you will not have any back up to look after your children…
  • But if your child is ill, you can still use your nanny.
  • If you employ a live-in nanny, you’ll need a spare room.
  • When choosing a nanny use a reputable agency; there are no government regulations concerning nannies so you should check references and qualifications carefully.
  • Consider three questions. How do they relate to your child? Do they share your approach to childcare (bedtimes, feeding, sleep, rewards, sanctions)? Do you all get on with them? 

Au Pairs

In the UK, au pairs are usually international students. 

  • They live as part of your family and so will need accommodation and food. In return for this and a small allowance, they do some light housework and childcare, balancing it with their studies.
  • Au pairs work out much cheaper than nannies, but they cannot be expected to do the same level of work, nor have the same experience or qualifications.


A childminder is someone who looks after small groups of children in their own home, for more than two hours a day. They often have their own children too who are part of the group they care for.

  • In England and Wales, childminders must complete a basic registration course and can look after six children under eight-years-old (no more than three of them under five).
  • Childminders must be registered, in England with Ofsted, in Wales with CSSIW and in Scotland with the Scottish Care Inspectorate.
  • Their experience and training can widely differ, so check their references. 
  • If they are ill, or one of their children is, they may not be able to look after your child.


 The pros of nurseries include:

 They are run by qualified staff.

  • They give your child lots of opportunities to learn and play with other children.
  • They will give your child lots of facilities and activities.
  • They will always be open, so there is less risk of being let down by a poorly nanny or childminder
  • They have long opening times which can be beneficial for office hours

Some of the cons might include:

  • Your child is likely to be looked after by more than one member of staff, so it might take longer for them to build relationships with them, and staff may leave or change too.
  • Depending on the size of the nursery, it might be very busy and some children find these environments overwhelming
  • Nursery is unlikely to be able to give a younger child or baby one to one time, they will be part of a small group.
  • You don’t get to choose the staff working there
  • If your child is ill, they will not be able to attend.
  • If you are late picking your child up, you might get fined.
  • They tend to be less flexible, and once you have booked your days/times, these can be difficult to change.

Find out more about choosing a nursery, over at Choosing a nursery: what you need to know


These vary in how they run and when they are open, so you will need to contact them individually to find out more.

Pre-schools may only offer morning or afternoon sessions, so may not be suitable for those returning to work unless there is also other care in place.

If your child is ill, they will not be able to attend.

Your child is likely to be looked after by more than one member of staff, so it might take longer for them to build relationships with them, and staff may leave or change too.

They can be linked to a local school, so can be useful for children meeting others who they may be going to school with in the following years. Some playgroups will also join in with some activities at the linked school, so the pre-schoolers also have an opportunity to get to know some of the teachers and environment, before they attend.

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