A safe home from home for your child

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The Independent Culture
The downmarket image of the childminder is unfair. More experienced than a nanny, safer than a nursery, she can offer your toddler stimulating hours in another family's lifestyle.

Sarah Jewell reports.

Many parents, when considering child care options, think about using a nanny or a nursery, but not a childminder - yet they usually offer flexible hours and a safe environment for a child. Toni Norcup, who did the job for six years, thinks that because childminders do not need qualifications, they are not recognised as professionals - "though we are often more experienced than nannies and nursery minders". If they are older women with children of their own, they can also offer greater continuity of care.

Childminders usually work in their own homes and are self-employed. They must be registered with the local authority, and may care for up to three children under five and a further three children under eight (including their own). Most care for one or two toddlers during the day, and older children for two hours or so after school; the mix of ages can be stimulating for the children.

Helen Jackson, who works in publishing, has four children who were all cared for by the same childminder, Elizabeth Doyle. "I liked the idea that she was more experienced than me," says Helen. "I met her children and liked them, and they were a big factor in choosing her." Helen also felt it was a broadening experience for the children to spend time in someone else's home. "Everyone has a different set of rules. This is a good lesson for children to learn before they go to school."

Julia Newton's three daughters were all cared for by her childminder, Joanie, and she believes they benefited from "meeting other children and having another safe place to play in". Julia began working from home when her first baby was five months old. "A childminder was cheaper than a nanny, and I liked the stability. Joanie was recommended by a friend and is an amazing woman; the children adored her and we still see her."

As with any childcare arrangement, it is important to find the right person. The local social services will have a list of registered childminders in your area. Helen admits that there are some pretty awful childminders around - "they just sit the children in front of the telly all day long and do nothing" - so it is important to ask a lot of questions.

The National Childminding Association, 8 Masons Hill, Bromley, BR2 9EY (0181-464 6164) has a booklet, "Choosing a childminder", and explains how to negotiate a contract. Rates are pounds 50 to pounds 120 a week for full-time care.

Questions to ask a

prospective childminder

What childcare experience does she have, and with what ages?

How many other children does she look after, and of what ages?

What does she do with the children each day? Where does she take them?

What are her circumstances: who will be coming in and out of the house?

Is she registered?

Does she have referees? Check this, and talk to them yourself.