The ten best follow-up questions to ask prospective childcare providers:
1. Do you have a vacancy for the days and hours I need? And would you charge a deposit or retainer fee to reserve a place for my child?
A one-off deposit reserves your child's place and gives the childcare provider some financial protection in case you change your mind. A retainer fee (a regular payment lower than the childcarer's usual fee) helps the childcarer maintain their income if they reserve a place for your child that could be taken sooner by another child. A deposit may eventually be refunded (often when your child leaves the childcarer) but a retainer fee won't.
2. What's your current inspection grading? And do you think the inspector's report is a fair assessment of your service?
What guidance were you given for improvement, and how are you implementing this? Childcare inspection reports give an inspector's snapshot judgement of a childminder or nursery, and may be several years old. Give the provider the opportunity to tell you their opinion of their latest report and how things have changed since the inspection took place.
3. What qualifications do you have? And what training are you currently doing or planning to undertake in the future?
Ongoing training is a good sign that the childcarer has a professional attitude and is planning to stay in the role.
4. What do you like most about caring for children? And what do you find most challenging?
Finding out what a childcarer finds difficult or troubling can be a helpful insight into their personality and childcare ethos.
5. How much do you charge per hour/session/day/week? And do your fees cover meals, snacks, drinks, baby milk, outings, nappies and wipes? What are the financial penalties for a late pick-up? Do you charge for bank holidays? What fees are payable when children are on holiday or unwell?
Make sure you understand exactly how much you'll be paying and what is included.
6. What are your preferred arrangements for payment? And do you implement price rises regularly or on an ac hoc basis? Do you accept childcare vouchers? Do you offer funded early education (for children aged three and four, and some aged two)?
Think about how you're going to cover your childcare costs, now and in the future.
7. What would my child be doing during a typical day/week with you? And how would you record and share this with me?
Some childcarers use a diary or notebook, some have special forms or use an online recording service, and some may take photos or video clips. Check that their preferred method is one you feel comfortable with.
8. What arrangements do you have for mealtimes, nap-times and nappy changes? And can I see the areas where food is prepared and served, and where children sleep and are changed.
Ask to see all areas where your child will be cared for, and check that the setting seems clean and hygienic throughout.
9. What plans do you have for emergencies? And what sort of emergencies have you had to deal with in the past? How did you deal with them?
Make sure you are satisfied with any back-up care plans, and with the childcarer's ability to cope.
10. Do you have any references from parents that I could read? And can you give me details of a couple of parents I could contact for a verbal reference?
Written references can be helpful, but it's always worth speaking to another parent who's used the same childcare provider to find out what they liked and any concerns or difficulties they had.
Choosing Childcare: Nurseries, Registered Childminders, Nannies, Au Pairs, and Family by Elyssa Campbell-Barr is available from Amazon and bookshops.