About the Book

About the Author

Title Page



Chapter 1: The Decision to Go Back to Work

Chapter 2: The Right Childcare for Your Family

Chapter 3: Maternity Nurses, Doulas, Night Nannies and Mothers’ Helps

Chapter 4: Nannies

Chapter 5: Nannyshares

Chapter 6: Au Pairs and Babysitters

Chapter 7: Childminders

Chapter 8: Day Nurseries, Workplace Childcare and Children’s Centres

Chapter 9: Nursery Schools, Playgroups and School-based Care

Chapter 10: Using Relatives

Chapter 11: From the Horse’s Mouth: Parents’ Experiences and Top Tips

Conclusion: Where to Go from Here …

Appendix 1: Contracts of Employment

Appendix 2: Finances

Appendix 3: Children with Special Needs

Appendix 4: List of EEA Countries

Appendix 5: Childcare Qualifications





About the Book

Organising childcare can seem complicated and daunting. How do you navigate your way through all the various options? How do you make the right choice and what can you afford? This clear and comprehensive guide tells you everything you need to know, including:

From au pairs and babysitters, to nannies, nurseries and childminders, The Childcare Bible lays out all the relevant information you need to make an informed choice and shows that organising the right childcare for your family can be a painless task.

About the Author

Lucy Martin is an ex-City lawyer and mother of three, who set up her own childcare agency to support women returning to work. Gina’s Nannies (named after her second daughter) provides nannies to families across the whole of south-west London as well as an all-round consultancy service on childcare options, costs and practicalities. Lucy has long been a champion for women’s rights and opportunities, and is a passionate believer in enabling women to achieve their full potential.

Lucy is currently an ambassador for women in business under the ‘Make Your Mark!’ scheme and a member of the Small Business Forum, advising government on issues (particularly childcare issues) affecting small businesses.


For my children – Stephanie, Gina and Jude – and everyone who has played a part in caring for them, including their grandparents; our nannies Katie, Cara and Natalie; our favourite babysitter Joe; my brother/after-school carer Richard ‘Uncle Dick’; and my very supportive husband Richard


The last century has seen a multitude of changes in the way Britain works, and in the way Britons work. A hundred years ago the concept of two middle-class working parents was almost unheard of, but during the war years of the 20th century and beyond, women have proved themselves capable of taking on what men have long been managing single-handed: the hunting and gathering side of raising a family. Today it is universally acknowledged that providing for the family is not the exclusive domain of the male partner, and although many women stay at home during the early months or years of motherhood, a staggering 89 per cent of them eventually return to paid work, and need to find childcare.

Supported by legislation and their own reputation as conscientious and reliable employees, women continue to defy the tradition that mummy = stay-at-home. Outperforming boys at school, high-achieving girls are taking their skills to the marketplace. Increasing numbers of women are setting up their own businesses, and aside from the economic benefits of working, the personal-fulfilment aspect is becoming less of a taboo. Many more women are finding that maintaining their pre-childbearing identity gives them the enthusiasm and freshness they need to feel fulfilled as mothers.

The emancipation of women has come far, but there is still a long road ahead. A mother choosing to go back to work still faces a number of barriers before she even tackles the childcare issue. The dip in self-esteem following childbirth can lead her to doubt herself as a professional career woman. She is also likely during maternity leave to have taken on a raft of new household responsibilities, simply by spending time at home. Shopping, meal-planning, organising holidays and taking the car to the mechanic all fall under the remit of whichever partner is at home. Shaking off those responsibilities, throwing them back into the pot to be shared out again equally, is a step a new mother may not naturally take, and her decision to go back to the office will depend on whether she can cope with a job as well as masterminding everything on the home front. Add to this social and peer pressure to stay at home, and the struggle to make the decision becomes, for some, too difficult to address.

One reason mothers cite for their decision not to use childcare is that ‘Nobody will love your child more than you do.’ But does your child’s carer need to love him or her as much as you do? It is highly likely she will love children, enjoy looking after them, be trained, qualified, possibly registered and certainly experienced in their care (unlike most first-time mothers). Looking at what she can give your child, rather than the one thing (motherhood) she can’t, is the first step to escaping the spiral of negative thinking. In fact, many nannies come to love the children they look after, and may be heartbroken when they leave a job. Most good nanny-family relationships continue way beyond the years that the nanny is employed professionally – precisely because she and the children have developed such a strong bond.

If you can’t bear the thought of handing over your children to someone else, and can afford not to work, then your choice is made for you. Other women have no alternative other than to go back. Antonia is a mother of three, who has been single since her husband left just after the third was born: ‘When you’re on your own and you need to work, you have no choice but to let other people into the scenario. My children have all sorts of proxy mummies and daddies who have helped look after them over the years, and they still love them all!’

Grandparents might be the ideal option, but today families are often scattered geographically. Many women have babies later in life, so their own parents are less likely to be fit for full-time nannying; and those who are may prefer to fill their retirement with new experiences or foreign travel, and to enjoy their grandchildren as an occasional treat.

The media both eulogise and denigrate the childcare scenario. A recent Cambridge University study into the influence of working mothers on family life showed that more than half of men and women think that a family will suffer if a mother is in full-time employment. The same study showed that this wasn’t the result of a conservative backlash: there was also a significant decrease in the proportion of men and women who believed that the man should go out to work while the woman looked after the children.

For more than 30 years ‘evidence’ has been building to indicate that preschool children who spend long hours in daycare are more likely to display aggression and disobedience than those who stay at home or attend part-time. A recent study even found that this antisocial behaviour may even be contagious – showing that the media hype around childcare is becoming almost as powerful as that around passive smoking. The studies continually fail to address the many variables that affect the results.

Over the years, Ofsted reports have been splashed across the media whenever a childcare provider has had a less than impressive rating. Overall, however, the standard of registered childcare across the country is improving, and the number of childcare settings rated ‘inadequate’ is decreasing. Childminders commenting on ratings which fall short are at pains to point out that a high rating is, to a great extent, dependent on the production of outstanding plans, observations and records rather than the amount of quality time spent with the children.

It’s not just social pressure and the media that get in the way. Practical obstacles exist too. Some mothers cite cost as the reason they haven’t gone back to work: ‘It’s just not financially worthwhile …’ As the proprietor of a nanny agency, I am the last person to suggest that childcare is cheap. To pay a qualified and experienced full-time live-out nanny in London, inclusive of tax and National Insurance contributions, means deducting £40,000 from your gross salary. Elsewhere in the country, costs can be a lot lower – in Scotland and the north of England, for example, a full-time live-out nanny’s gross salary will be more like £22,000. However, nannies in some areas in Cheshire and the south west of England charge rates not that dissimilar to London. Clare Riley runs a nanny agency in Manchester: ‘People expect to pay less outside London,’ she says, ‘but we are in a pocket of “wealth” here which means effectively that nannies can and do charge top rates.’

But there are less expensive options: a childminder in the south east can cost as little as £150 per week (the national average being £127), and a place in a Sure Start children’s centre even less. Current government policy provides for free childcare places for three-to-four-year-olds at all nurseries, and most employers offer a salary-sacrifice scheme to help their employees pay for childcare.

Legislation has also brought welcome changes in part-time and flexible working. Twenty years ago combining work and family was a distant dream for many, but in recent years women (and men) have been more open and vocal about their desire for a satisfying work–life balance, and more successful in finding it.

Demographic changes have played a big part in this. In 2007 there were more first-time mothers aged 30–34 than 25–29. Research suggests that the trend towards later maternity is strongest among women with better educational qualifications, with some postponing childrearing to pursue their careers. That means the typical employee who asks to work flexibly so that she can combine career and family is more senior, has more expertise and will be more difficult to replace. Employers are also recognising the commercial argument for retaining mothers in the workplace. Mothers who combine work and family:

Plenty of parents use childcare even if both don’t go out to work – most commonly mothers’ helps and au pairs. Some mothers never go back after having a child; with the arrival of a second or third, others find the combination of parental responsibilities and a demanding job too much. The use of childcare by those who don’t work carries an unjustified social stigma, but 60 per cent of families with a parent at home still do it. You may use childcare without working for a number of reasons:

There is still a bit of a wow factor about mums who manage everything related to home and children on their own – I admire Denise, a mum who, alongside working as a classroom assistant at our children’s school, cooks hearty casseroles and traditional puddings every day, keeps her house immaculate and is rarely to be seen out of her running gear on days off. Even today there is huge pressure on a woman to be a domestic goddess, but accepting that you’re not one is the first step to real fulfilment. There is a compromise to be made here: all of the women I spoke to while I was researching this book confirmed my suspicions. Your family probably won’t notice that the shirts were ironed, the socks put away or groceries bought by a third party, you will be much better company if you’ve spent your day on something more personally fulfilling. As Jessica, mother of three boisterous boys in Edinburgh, said, ‘I’d be wandering the streets in pyjamas if I didn’t have some form of childcare …’

So you need childcare, but where do you start? There may have been a welcome revolution in the way childcare in Britain is supported and organised, but it doesn’t make the headlines, and you don’t have to grapple with it until you become a parent, which is when you have neither the time nor the energy to unravel and understand the system. The advent of Sure Start, which aims to improve early-years childcare provision, and the increasing power of Ofsted, may have brought increased regulation to the market but has inevitably led to consumer confusion. You might hear on the grapevine about tax credits for low-income families and a voucher scheme for employers to pay childcarers direct, ‘But where the hell do I get these vouchers?’ one exasperated mother asked me recently. The plethora of websites that has sprung up around the childcare market only increases that confusion – government booklets and agency leaflets, though well intentioned, simply don’t offer a comprehensive enough package for the modern parent.

I wrote this book, first, because it is the comprehensive information resource that was missing when I was looking for childcare. When I had my first baby I had no idea where to start the search or even what it was I wanted. Like many parents, I relied on word of mouth, bits and pieces I picked up from magazines, and the experiences of friends and colleagues when it came to making choices about nurseries and nannies. My understanding of the options available was ill-informed, my decisions, looking back, often wrong. I wish now that my expectations had been managed better – if only someone had told me how often little babies are excluded from nursery through illness, or that you should start looking for a nanny three months before you need one. Knowing nothing about interviewing nannies, I lost out on great candidates and missed warning signs in others. It was a case of trial and error, until my most successful childcare arrangement arrived entirely by chance in the form of wraparound care at the local state primary school.

The second reason I wanted to write this book was to empower women to return to work by offering real and practical solutions to typical childcare dilemmas, particularly cost. I have met mothers who assumed that a nanny would be too expensive and whose employers lost out on valuable talent: they hadn’t heard of nannysharing. I have met employers who consider mothers a bad investment because of the time they take off to look after sick children. They hadn’t heard of Emergency Childcare – a service that firms are buying into across the UK, supplying temporary nannies to families of employees if the existing nanny is ill or the child is ill and cannot attend nursery. Mothers also tend to deduct the cost of childcare from their own salaries when they decide whether or not to go back to work – as if childcare wasn’t a shared responsibility …

What I hope I have achieved with this book is clarity and completeness. I wanted to create the essential companion for every working parent, and I have interviewed parents across the country to be as inclusive and broad as possible in my approach. I have covered all the basic forms of childcare provision available in the UK, showing how to assess the facilities and staff, what to ask and how to work out if it’s for you. With checklists and case studies, I set out the pros and cons of every option, straight from the horse’s mouth (or the horse’s parents anyway); and in a real departure from other sources of information on childcare, I have included important legal aspects of returning to work, what you can expect from your employer, and the nitty-gritty of being an employer yourself. As a mother, and having used most types of childcare, I have the personal experience that adds value to any handbook that aims to teach.

This book is for all parents, but if I speak to you as a mother, please understand that this is because, in my many years of running a nanny agency, only a handful of my thousand or so clients have been men, and women tend to plan the childcare because they are off work at the relevant time. I would, however, like to encourage more men to get involved. I hope that the accessibility of the book will result in a higher number of parents sharing the responsibility.


The book is divided into chapters that relate to different types of childcare, starting with a summary overview. I have started with maternity nurses and possibilities for the early days with a baby, moved to nannies and nannyshares, then childminders, nurseries and nursery schools, finishing with a chapter on the dubiously named ‘relative care’. I would advise everyone to read Chapters 1 and 2; then, if you are certain about what you want, go to the relevant chapter (using the chart here). If you are not certain, or simply want to know everything there is to know before you make a decision, read every chapter, and don’t forget to look at the case studies in ‘From the Horse’s Mouth’ at the end of the book, which give you some real-life experiences that may influence the decisions you finally make.

There are regional differences in salaries, fees and registration requirements, particularly if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but I have tried to give an idea of those variations wherever relevant. Regulatory aspects also vary from region to region – whereas registered childcare settings (nurseries, nursery schools, playgroups and childminders) are inspected by Ofsted in England, in Wales this will be the Care Standards Inspectorate for Wales, in Scotland the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care, and in Northern Ireland a Health and Social Services Board or Trust.

I hope that you enjoy reading this book as much as I have enjoyed putting it together.


The Decision to Go Back to Work

THE STARTING POINT for most parents, before they even look at the question of childcare, is the whole issue of going back to work. Are you going to go back to work? If so, when and how? It is only after you have established the answers to these three questions that you can begin to decide what kind of care is right for your child, as well as when and where to start looking.


Making the decision to go back to work is no simple task. Although many women feel certain of their intentions one way or the other before they embark on maternity leave, the arrival of the baby can trigger unexpected emotions that sit uncomfortably with the notion of picking up the reins where you left off.

Your own feelings about it will be particular to you, and are as valid as the next person’s. The important thing is to consider what you really want (regardless of what you think is expected of you) and to plan your return to work around that personal mission. You may be surprised at where your gut feeling takes you.

Your employer may pressure you to say at a very early stage whether or not you intend to come back. You will understand that business need, but you can still keep your options and the lines of communication open: this may give you the opportunity to tailor-make a job to return to, particularly if your current position requires a lot of travel or antisocial hours.

We have all read stories in the press about high-powered mothers getting back to their desks within hours of giving birth, but this is unusual outside the US. In the UK we have a relatively generous entitlement to maternity leave. Some mothers don’t take the whole lot – they say they would never go back if they stayed off work for a year. Others believe it’s too long to be out of the marketplace. Melanie, an associate at an accountancy firm in Manchester, says: ‘We all know we can take up to a year off, but that would be an unfeasible amount of time to be out of the office and still expect to stay on top of things. When I had my first baby, I went back after six months and it was hard leaving him at such an early age, but I had to weigh that up with the amount of catch-up I’d be doing otherwise. It seems to be all about sacrifices at first, but the good news is you get used to being back very quickly, and once your childcare is working, that takes a great weight off your mind.’ It varies according to the type of job you have and what kind of maternity package you have been offered. It is common among banks and City institutions to offer an incentive to mothers to come back early, but beware the policy that asks for all the money you have been paid to be returned if you stay fewer than six months – they will be perfectly within their rights to ask for it if that’s what it says in the contract.


If you’re going back to work after having children, start to plan your return early in your maternity leave. Feel free to keep your thoughts to yourself and be flexible: your views may change as your baby grows. If you are self-employed you will need to put your own measures in place to deal with your absence. If you are employed, this will be up to your employer. A number of practical and legal questions will influence your decisions about childcare. Here are some of the most commonly asked.


If you have decided not to return to work, you must give your employer the notice period specified in your contract of employment, in the same way as you would if you had decided to leave for any other reason. If you do not have a contract, or your contract says nothing about the notice period, in most cases you would need to give one week’s notice. If you are on one month’s contractual notice, let your employer know a month before the end of your maternity leave that you are not coming back. If you do this at least a month before your maternity leave is due to end you will not need to return to work out your notice period. If you don’t tell your employer in time, you may be required to return to work for whatever is left of your notice period. In most cases, however, an employer is unlikely to insist on this.

If you refuse to return to work without having given the required notice then, strictly speaking, your employer will have a claim against you. You have broken the contract and your employer is entitled to be compensated by you for the loss caused by that breach. In most situations, though, it will be hard to prove any loss, and your employer probably won’t find it worth spending time, energy and money on pursuing you.

If you wish to return to work and plan to return at the point when your full statutory maternity leave expires, you do not need to notify your employer. The law requires them to assume that you will return at that point. If you wish to go back to work earlier than the end of your statutory maternity leave entitlement, you will need to give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice of your return date. If you do not, your employer may delay it. If you have informed your employer of your early-return date, then wish to change it, you can bring it forward or delay it (but not past the end of your maternity leave). You must simply notify your employer at least eight weeks before your original return date.


Yes, as long as the dismissal is for a fair reason that is not linked to your pregnancy. For example, you can lawfully be made redundant while on maternity leave where a genuine redundancy situation exists and you are selected on fair, objective and non-discriminatory grounds that are not pregnancy-related. If your job becomes redundant during your maternity leave, your employer is obliged to look for an alternative role for you.

If, however, you are dismissed for a reason connected with your pregnancy or statutory maternity leave, this is classed automatically as unfair dismissal. It is unlawful discrimination on the ground of your pregnancy, with no limit on the amount of loss you are able to recover. Most employers are very reluctant to dismiss employees who are on maternity leave or who are about to go on maternity leave or who have recently returned from maternity leave. If it happens to you, or you think it may be about to happen, consult a solicitor as soon as possible.


While on maternity leave you are entitled to receive salary increases in line with any that would have applied if you had not taken maternity leave.


If you’re a working parent, you can take up to 13 weeks’ parental leave for each child before their fifth birthday (more if you have a disabled child). Your employer doesn’t have to pay you when you take this leave, but they might as part of your employment package.


Flexible working is becoming a popular choice among parents who want to get the balance right between work and family. Whether or not to request it will be your decision. It amounts to asking your employer for a new working pattern to help you care for your child.

Legally, both men and women have rights regarding flexible working. All parents with children under the age of six (or a disabled child under 18) have the right to request to work flexibly, but you must:

‘Flexible working’ describes any working pattern adapted to suit your needs. Common types of flexible working are:

You can combine any of these working patterns to come up with something to suit your circumstances. Remember that if you are doing less work for your employer, your pay will be reduced accordingly.

Some mothers are happy to go back full-time after the first child, but change their mind with the arrival of the second.

Philippa had her second baby when the first child was five. She assumed she would go back to work full-time as she had with her elder child, but the reality of being a family of four made her see things differently. ‘I felt as if our family was complete. Having two children seemed to throw everything into sharp relief and I just knew I couldn’t go back full-time again.’ Luckily her years of loyalty paid off and she took her high-flying position down from five to three days a week.


Government taxation policy in recent years has been focused on helping the poorest families and, in particular, enabling mothers to return to work. Tax credits and childcare vouchers are just two of the incentives launched to achieve this aim. Technically, all employers could be signing up to the childcare-vouchers scheme, which operates as a salary sacrifice: the company makes a contribution on the employee’s behalf for registered childcare costs out of the employee’s gross salary. The voucher scheme applies to all forms of registered childcare – nurseries, registered childminders and registered nannies. See the website for full details on how the schemes work and whether you qualify.


The Internet and mobile phones have revolutionised work and leisure, and brought the two closer together. Nearly everyone has a home Internet connection and a mobile phone, and an increasing number of us have BlackBerrys. We no longer expect that when we communicate with someone else in another company, or even in our own, that they will be sitting at a desk five days a week, from nine till five. Flexible working is becoming a practical everyday reality. You can stay in touch with your contacts and team almost as easily outside the office as you can in it.


If you throw all the above factors into the mix you will see that it makes commercial sense for companies to embrace and develop flexible working practices for their working parents. Your HR department will probably be well versed on the commercial reasons for flexible working as a concept, but in case you need to help them construct the argument for your own flexible-working request, here, in HR speak, are the five top reasons why they should embrace it:

Engagement Better employee engagement is the raison d’être of every HR team across the world

Retention The mother who has found a way to combine work and family is less likely to leave

Recruitment If an employer is recruiting people of a certain age and level, those recruits are more likely to look at the family policies they have in place

Absenteeism Working from home reduces levels of absenteeism in the firm

Diversity Encouraging engagement from working fathers, as well as working mothers, will go a long way to helping employers achieve their diversity targets

Other things you could reasonably expect and/or request from your employer are:


The Right Childcare for Your Family


EVERY FAMILY IS different, and the sort of family you are will affect your choice of childcare. If you value your privacy, for example, you may want to avoid the live-in option, whether au pair or nanny. If you like your home to be immaculate, if you work from there, or if you live in a small house or flat, you might prefer childcare outside the home – a childminder or nursery, a nannyshare at another house so you can minimise wear and tear. If you value one-to-one care, you might prefer to employ a nanny who can give your child undivided attention in the security of his home environment. If you are an active, outdoor family you will be looking for lots of outdoor opportunities for play, and may prefer the flexibility of a nanny over the restricted options at a city nursery. Lots of factors will influence the decision you eventually make, and reading the sections and the chapters that follow will help you determine what types of care will fit best with your family. Thankfully, there are so many choices available these days that most families are likely to find an arrangement that suits them.


Just as every family is different, so are the needs of every child within that family. Just as families differ in their personal, financial and work circumstances, children differ in age, personality and development, and the childcare we choose needs to take all of that into account.

Here, I have summarised your basic childcare options, first in a list with a brief description, then set out in a table, which may help you to eliminate some straight away. For example, if you have a newborn baby you will not be able to use wraparound care or an au pair. I have not included playgroups where parents accompany their children as they are not generally considered to constitute childcare as such. Costs are expressed in general terms.

I have separated early-days childcare from the later stages. To begin with, if you need help at home with your baby or children, consider the following options – in general you will be around the house so the carer will not have ‘sole charge’ and the position is likely to be temporary.

When you go back to work, or if you are looking for ongoing help, you are likely to want to leave your children in the carer’s sole charge. This means introducing the option of care outside the home as well as at home.

Temporary help at home in the early days

Maternity nurse – for newborns, usually live-in, either days or nights (but usually both) for a few days or few weeks

Doula – support through birth and/or the first few weeks with new baby from (usually) an experienced mother

Night nanny – night-time care for the first few weeks with a new baby

Mother’s help – help with childcare and housework at any age or stage

Relatives and friends – for the lucky few!

Permanent help when you go back to work

Nanny – live-in or -out, at your home, part-time or full-time

Nannyshare – a nanny who works for two families so costs less

Workplace crèche – if you are lucky enough to have one

Day nursery or children’s centre – part-/full-time centre-based care

Montessori nursery or sessional care – part-/full-time

Childminder – part-/full-time care in her own home

Before- and after-school, holiday clubs – school-based for children aged 5+

Au pair – live-in part-time help with school-age children (5+)

Wraparound care – school-based for 2–5s

Relatives and friends – on a commercial or noncommercial basis

The chart here offers a guide to the main features of each type of childcare. The column headings list the main areas in which the types of childcare vary.

Live-in or -out Live-in means that the childcarer will sleep at your house, either on a temporary basis (night-nanny or temporary live-in nanny) or on a permanent or long-term basis (permanent live-in nanny or au pair).

Full-time or part-time Some parents need childcare either for part-days (after-school care, mother’s help in the mornings only, au pair or babysitter) or for part of the week (Monday–Wednesday or every other Thursday, for example). Some types of childcarer are restricted in what they can offer in this respect (e.g. au pairs, night-nannies) but others are flexible (nannies, nurseries, relatives).

Hours Maternity nurses are unusual in that they are ‘on call’ technically 24 hours a day for new babies, but most childcare settings operate within set hours, and nannies rarely work more than a standard 11-hour day (12 hours for live-ins). If you work shifts or unusual hours, it can be harder to find childcare to suit your needs, and you may have to combine various forms to find the right solution.

Cost Costs will vary across the country and from year to year, but the table will give you an indication of whether the childcare setting is expensive, moderate or inexpensive. There is more detail on cost within each chapter and more on financing childcare in Appendix 2.

Registration/inspection The chapters that follow deal with registration and inspection in relation to each childcare setting. In a nutshell, the settings that require official registration and are inspected by Ofsted are nurseries and childminders. Nannies have the option of registering (and parents can benefit financially from that) but doulas and maternity nurses do not. The table overleaf indicates whether or not registration is possible and whether it is compulsory.

Year-round care While a day nursery is open all year, and usually only closed briefly at Christmas, other childcare settings operate in term-time only. Nannies and childminders, although they work year-round, will take holiday during the year, but this should not normally exceed the holiday you will be taking as an employee.

Ages of children Some childcarers (e.g. nannies, childminders) can work with children and babies of any age, and others (nursery schools, au pairs) are limited in the ages they care for. See the list here for specific advice on childcare for school-age children.


In the early stages it’s important to look at the major differences between childcare in your home and out of your home. Here is a list of the advantages of each.

In the home

At work or outside the home


When you have one small baby, whether you opt for nursery, nanny, childminder or even relatives, the choices are relatively straightforward, and without any other commitments during the day, there is flexibility in where your child can be cared for and by whom. When you have more children, however, and when they reach school age, the arrangements can become slightly more complicated. Many parents come to my agency looking for before- and after-school care, hoping to find a nanny willing to work for an hour in the morning and three or four hours in the afternoon. Not surprisingly, such candidates are hard to find, and usually limited to students with academic commitments during the school day. There are, however, a number of alternatives to embarking on a search for one of these elusive ‘students’, so don’t despair at this point and give up work! Here are your main options if your children are at school.


Parents never cease to be amazed by how far in advance they are expected to organise care for their offspring. It is not uncommon for popular nurseries and childminders to be booked up so far ahead that you need to register your interest as soon as you see the little blue line in the pregnancy test kit. Here is a summary chart showing roughly how far ahead you should set up the different types of childcare available, and whom you should contact about each one.



Settling a child into a new scenario may take time, and is harder with a nursery or childminder than with a new nanny because the setting is unfamiliar. Toddlers may be harder to settle than babies as they may be clingy and more likely to resist being left. In the case of childcare outside the home, you may want to accompany your child on a first visit, then make another short one, popping out for a few minutes, leaving him with the childminder or nursery staff. Whatever setting you choose, when you hand him over in the mornings, it is best to do so decisively and leave promptly. It’s not unusual for a child to be upset at first when he is left but, with time, this should change.

Selina has three children, all of whom went to nursery, and all of whom reacted differently:

I was very, very anxious leaving Toby, my eldest, but he seemed utterly unperturbed by being left. I was almost disappointed at how quickly he settled in. Molly, my second, was unsure at first, and did a bit of clinging and crying, but after a week she toddled in very willingly. Funnily enough, it was my youngest who put up the biggest fight. She would howl as soon as she saw the nursery and grip me very tightly. I think it would have broken my heart but the nursery staff, whom I knew very well by then, assured me that as soon as I was out of sight she completely cheered up. It never changed, and although I suffered a little bit every morning, I got used to it, and now when I tell her what a fuss she made she laughs and tells me she loved it really …


You’ve heard of birth plans, you’ve heard of business plans: this is a childcare plan. If you take into account from the outset all of the different criteria that will influence your childcare choice, you are more likely to make the right decision.

Your plan will involve the following decisions:

You will also need to know, and the chapters that follow will show you:

You will need to take into account all your responsibilities and all the demands on your time when you work out how much childcare you need. Think about producing a pie chart like the one below which shows how you might spend your average working day. It should help you to focus on the extent of your non-work responsibilities, and how they might need sharing out or delegating if you are going to hold down a job as well:


Don’t forget to think about how much time you spend: