Skip to main content

Choosing Childcare : What to look for and what to ask

Finding good quality childcare can be a difficult task for parents. There are lots of things to look out for and remember to ask when you visit a childcare setting.

Here are the steps to find the 'right childcare for you and your child'

Draw up a shortlist using information from the Childcare and Education tab on this Family Service Directory. If you need help you can ring Families Information Service (FIS) on 0800 0345 340 or email or click on the 'I have an enquiry 'tab at the top of the page. Please note: FIS will always remain impartial when supporting families to find childcare, we will never recommend a setting. As a parent you must make your own judgement.

Check the hours that they can provide childcare, the hourly/daily/weekly cost and if they have places available for your child.

Visit several settings and ask questions about the childcare provided.

Make the big decision - it might help to take a friend and/or your child on the visits to help you decide.

Take up references from other parents who have used that service.

Book your child's place (you may need to pay a retainer fee to keep the place open until your child starts) and arrange details like hours, start date, who is allowed to pick up your child.

Your child may take some time to settle into any new childcare setting that you start them in, so allow them time to adjust to their new surroundings, especially if this is their first time in childcare. Remember that most childcarers, such as childminders, will offer a ‘settling in period', where you have an agreed length of time to assess whether the setting is the right one for your child and that they are happy there.

Visit settings
Visit several settings and ask questions about the childcare provided. It might help to take a friend and/or your child on the visits to help you decide. 

Visiting childcare settings - what to look for:

  • Trained and experienced staff, ready to learn and respond to your child's individual needs. 
  • Busy, but relaxed, children who seem happy and purposeful. 
  • Safe and clean premises - welcoming and friendly with outside play space. 
  • Cultural sensitivity and responsiveness to children's home life. 
  • A staff team and group of children who reflect local ethnic and cultural groups. 
  • Fun activities planned each day - childminders, nurseries and out-of-school clubs all need to plan their days with children's interests and enthusiasms in mind. Exercise and quiet times to relax are important. 
  • A big welcome for you and your child.  

Visiting childcare settings - what to ask:

  • What is the ratio of staff to children? How many children do you care for? 
  • What qualifications and/or experience do you have?
  • What are the daily routines and how can you incorporate my child's and other children's routines? 
  • Do you operate a key worker scheme (whereby one member of staff has main responsibility for your child)? 
  • What are your policies on discipline and how do you manage children's behaviour? 
  • Do you provide meals, snacks, nappies etc or will I need to provide them?

These are just some of the questions you should ask; remember to also think about the things that matter to you and make sure you ask about them.

- Check quality
Check the setting's Ofsted report at Each record displayed in the Childcare and Education tab on this directory will have a link to the settings most recent OFSTED report. Click on the link to read the report.

Other parents' experiences of a childcare provider can also be very useful. Childcare providers should be happy to put you in contact with other parents so that you can take up references about the service they provide. It is advisable to take up at least two references. Do remember that what works for one family may not be suitable for your needs.

- Take up references
It advisable for you to take up at least two references. Childcare providers should be happy to give you names of other parents to speak to about the service they provide.

- Children's views
What will your child enjoy? These are the things children said were most important when Family and Childcare Trust visited nurseries and asked children for their views:

  • Friends - check a stable group of children attend so your children can have fun with friends. 
  • Food - check mealtimes are relaxed and fun and ask if children can help themselves to drinks and snacks. 
  • Fun outside - check the outside area is well planned, spacious and safe - children love playing outside. 
  • Finding out - make sure there is plenty of opportunity for children to learn new things with varied, carefully planned things to do. 
  • Feeling safe and loved - check that the staff are able to respond to individual children's needs, to comfort and encourage them and to keep them safe.

Who to contact

Contact Name
Families Information Service (FIS)
Last updated on 20/12/2019
rating button