Every child is different and therefore different childcare solutions may be required from one child to another. The most important thing in choosing good childcare is that the environment encourages your child to develop and learn, to explore, think, become more independent, make new friends and feel safe, secure and valued and that the environment is safe and healthy for your child.
Several research studies have found that high quality child care facilities have certain characteristics in common. These characteristics can help parents make better child care choices for their children because they indicate a much greater likelihood of high quality care. Quality indicators measure the conditions that generally foster a safe, nurturing and stimulating environment for children. Some of these are:
- Low child/childcare worker ratios
- Small group sizes
- Staff with high levels of staff qualifications and training & on-going training
- Low staff turnover
- Positive childcare worker/child interactions
- Age appropriate activities
- Good health & safety practices
- Professionally developed curriculum
- Monitoring and inspection
A good quality childcare facility will be happy to talk to parents about the service, the policies and procedures in place, the staff that will be providing care to the child and the activities that the child will be involved in, along with fees and other relevant information. Under the CHILD CARE ACT 1991 (EARLY YEARS SERVICES) REGULATIONS 2016 , part IV, it states that a person delivering a pre-school service shall provide a parent or guardian of a pre-school child proposing to attend the service with the information referred to in Regulation (16) (1) (a), (b), (d), (e), (f) and (g) of these Regulations as follows, in relation to the service:-
- the name, position, qualifications and experience of the person in charge and of every other employee, unpaid worker and contractor
- details of the class of service and the age profile of children for which the service is registered to provide services
- the type of care or programme provided in the service
- the facilities available
- the opening hours and fees
- the policies, procedures and statements the service is required to maintain in accordance with Regulation 10
The staff should be warm, friendly, have training in childcare, first aid, child protection. They should be good at communicating with children as well as adults. The atmosphere should be warm, welcoming and relaxed and children should look comfortable and appear relaxed. There should be obvious positive interaction between staff and children.
Check if a key worker will be assigned to your child. This means that one childcare worker has primary responsibility for gathering in-depth knowledge of your child, based on observations and interactions. The Key Worker will foster close bonds with a small number of children in a way that large groups cannot easily do. These groups allow the key person to better “tune into” children’s play and their conversations, to really get to know the children in their group well. Children feel settled and happy and are more confident to explore and as a result become more capable learners. Parents should be given the opportunity to have brief discussions about their child’s development with the key worker and have the opportunity to talk through the child’s records. The transition from home to service can be a big step for children of all ages but that transition is made that much easier with the help of a key worker.
There should be a sufficient number of adults for the number of children in the care setting. There are regulations in place as regards adult-child ratios. Check how many children will be in the room at any one time and how many adults will be in the room with the children. The staff should provide a daily and weekly routine that is child centred and this routine should be explained to parents. The routine should be flexible and incorporate choice for the children. Check how the service deals with negative interactions and whether or not there is a positive behaviour policy in place.
The premises in which the childcare is provided should be bright, welcoming, and clean, in good repair with enough space indoors and outdoors for children to play freely and safely. There should be4 a designated sleep area, which is well ventilated. Sleep rooms should be monitored. There should be safe, secure and clean nappy changing areas.
Equipment and toys used should be in good condition and there should be a range available to stimulate all ages and stages of the child’s development. All materials especially art materials should be non-toxic. Resources should be accessible to the children and at child level.
There should be locks on cupboards that contain items not suitable for children; all toxic materials should be stored out of reach. There should be adequate fire safety and first aid equipment and a security system in place to prevent visitors from entering freely and without permission. Windows and doors should be secure. If food is prepared on the premises it should be clean and hygienic.
Curriculum & Activities
Services must provide an appropriate educational programme for the children in pre-school. There are two national frameworks which services should have incorporated into their programmes – Síolta and Aistear.
Síolta is designed to support practitioners to develop high quality services for children aged from birth to 6 years of age and is relevant to all settings where children spend time out of the out-of-home environment. Aistear supports practitioners in planning for and providing enriching, challenging and enjoyable learning opportunities for children from birth to 6 years.
The aim of both frameworks is to help each child to grow and develop as competent and confident learners within loving, nurturing relationships with adults and peers. There should be plenty of activities going on and for the children to choose from. The room should be divided into different play areas.
Policies & Procedures
The types of policies and procedures in place depend on the type of service you are visiting. All services will have a registration form. Some may have a parents handbook and a service contract to avoid any misunderstanding. Full day-care facilities require more policies than a sessional or childminding service. Ask the service what policies or procedures are in place and if you can view these or have a copy.
Some of the more commonplace policies are as follows:-
- HR Policies on Recruitment, Training, Garda Vetting, Confidentiality, Reference Checking
- Health & Safety Policies such as Child Protection, Accident Prevention, Fire Safety, Administration of Medication, First Aid, Immunisation, Toileting & Nappy Changing, Hygiene, Cleaning and Checking of Premises and Equipment, Head Lice, Illness
- Administration policies on Admissions, Fees, Payment, Collection of Children, Record Keeping, Social Media, Complaints, Communication and contact with parents, Settling In Periods
- Curriculum and Early Years Education policies on Positive Behaviour Management, Equal Opportunities, Curriculum and Activities, Language, Bullying
Before enrolling your child in a childcare service you need to find out the following in relation to fees:-
- When are fees paid – in advance or in arrears?
- How often are fees paid – weekly, fortnightly, monthly?
- Do you pay for days when child is not in the service?
- What days/weeks does the service close in the year?
- Is the service closed during school holidays?
- Is there a reduction / discount if there is more than one child from the same family?
- Are there any additional costs for food, photocopying, trips and so on and if so how much are they and when are these paid for?
- What childcare funding programmes does the facility participate in – ECCE, CCS, CCS Plus, TEC (CEC, CETS, ASCC)
Most services provide a snack to children. Some services provide food whilst in others the parents provide food. Check with the service what their policy is as regards food is and what their daily menu consists of. The majority of services now have a healthy eating policy.
Offaly County Childcare Committee compiled a publication called 'A Parent's Guide to Choosing Childcare'. Choosing a childcare service for your child can be a very anxious time for parents. As a parent, it is your responsibility to ensure that your child is safe and in a childcare environment that is fun, educational and nurturing. This booklet was prepared by Offaly County Childcare Committee to help parents to identify the types of childcare options that are available and to assist parents in making an informed choice that suits you and your child or children. To obtain a copy of this booklet, please contact the office on 057-9135878.
Barnardos have a publication on identifying quality childcare, which is worth consideration before selecting the most appropriate childcare for your child.