Finding childcare providers is part of being a parent. There are just times when you cannot be there to take care of your little ones due to other obligations. Still, not everyone who offers childcare can be trusted. It is up to parents to properly vet service providers in order to ensure they are not hiring someone they shouldn't. It is up to parents to stay safe on behalf of their children.
Below is an introductory guide to some of the strategies we recommend for those times when you have to find childcare providers. The most important key to everything you read can be encapsulated in a single word: research. The more you know about providers, the safer you and your children will be.
Consider Only Those Applicants with References
The place to start – before you ever look at qualifications or consider interviews – is refusing to consider any applicants who do not provide references. In this day and age, the prevalence of so much available data leaves no excuse for offering childcare services without references.
References should be part of a service provider's marketing plan regardless of how that individual or company chooses to market. References should include contact information that parents can use to verify the provider's services. As a parent, you should take advantage of every reference offered.
Check Certification and Insurance
Parents looking for professional childcare organisations rather than individual nannies or babysitters should diligently check for certifications and insurance. Remember that all childminders in the UK must be registered. Check with Ofsted in England, CIW in Wales, or The Care Inspectorate in Scotland. Caregivers in Northern Ireland must be registered through their local Health and Social Care Trust.
Note that individual babysitters not running a childcare business do not have to be registered or certified. If certification is important to you, then go with a registered childminder or nanny instead.
Where insurance is concerned, professional childcare providers should have liability insurance in place. Do not be afraid to ask for proof of cover. Liability insurance is as much protection for you as it is for the provider.
Run a Criminal Background Check
Criminal background checks are now known as Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks. Professional childminders must have these checks in place to legally operate. Ask to see proof of a current check before you agree to hire a service provider. If the provider does not have one, parents can always apply to run a check themselves. There are a number of companies out there that provide application services.
Ask about Paediatric First Aid
Registered childminders in England are now required to be certified in paediatric first aid. Certification is a good idea for all others. As you are looking for service providers, ask about such certification. It could mean the difference between life or death should your child run into a medical emergency.
Look at Customer Reviews
Childcare providers often have online reviews that parents can look at. Reviews are a helpful resource for determining whether a provider is right for your needs or not. Just be aware that online reviews, by their very nature, are naturally skewed to the negative. Unhappy customers are much more likely to take the time to submit a review than their happier counterparts.
Ask for Payment Details
Parents can and should ask for payment details during the interview process. By this we mean a thorough explanation of how the provider bills for services, how and when payment is accepted, and what recourse parents have in the event disputes arise.
A reputable provider will be up front and transparent about pricing and billing. Parents should be cautious of providers who ask for sizeable deposits or large payments well in advance of services being rendered. A request for cash-only payments might also be a red flag.
Conduct Face-To-Face Interviews
Parents should never hire a childcare provider without first conducting a face-to-face interview. A lot can be learned by sitting down with a provider and looking him or her in the eye as you discuss the welfare of your children. Face-to-face interviews should also be conducted in public places. Do not invite a stranger into your home, and don't go to a stranger's home for the interview.
If a provider does not have a publicly accessible office, a restaurant or café is a good place to conduct an interview. Parent and provider can sit down with a cup of tea or coffee to discuss the particulars in a safe environment.
Look for Social Media Profiles
Lastly, social media is a gold mine for helpful information about individual childminders and babysitters. Parents should be scouring Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media properties for any information they can find on potential caregivers.
Even if a caregiver is running a verifiable and trustworthy business, you may discover that he or she is not a good fit for your family. There is nothing wrong with that. Better to find out before hiring than after.
All the tips listed here are just a starting point. As a parent, you need to do whatever it takes to satisfy your own requirements for quality childcare. Above all, trust your gut instinct. If something seems suspicious, walk away. There are too many childcare providers out there to take a risk on someone you are unsure of.