Opinion: The Minister's view - Helping parents to make the right choice

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What parents want to know when they are shopping around for childcare settings is revealed by children's minister Dawn Primarolo.

Choosing the right childcare can be a daunting and emotional experience for parents and many can be baffled by the choices on offer. As childcare providers, you are at the frontline in dealing with difficult or tricky questions from parents. Knowing what is driving their questions can help you provide the information they need to make the right choice for their child.

All families will understandably look for childcare with top-quality early learning and play opportunities in a secure and happy environment. But when parents walk into a nursery or visit a childminder, it can sometimes be really hard to judge what's on offer and whether it will suit the child - especially if they have special requirements or disabilities.

While different things matter to different people, the majority of parents will consider similar factors when choosing childcare. These can encompass the general atmosphere of a nursery, how inclusive a setting is, the diversity of the children attending, the staff working there and also how the physical environment encourages access for all children. Gut instinct and hearsay from other parents are often key factors, but clear guidance on what quality childcare looks like is always helpful.

A recent survey found that four out of five parents in the UK would like more advice on finding childcare.It also found that the factors considered most important were staffing levels (80 per cent), followed by the healthiness of the food provided to children under their supervision (68 per cent) and the location of the nursery or childminder (67 per cent).

The Government has produced a Childcare Checklist to give tips to parents about what they should look out for. Parents can also find out online about the type of financial support available to them in the form of Working Tax Credits and free early learning and childcare, as well as where to go to seek information on the quality and standards of their local childcare provider. There is also a range of advice about safety, staffing levels and locality of childcare that parents should think about before making their decision.

Getting to know what parents will be looking for when choosing childcare options is important for all who work in the early years sector - and knowing what factors will influence parents' decisions can help you to tailor the childcare you offer, which will benefit you and the families who use your services.

The top ten things parents will look for when choosing childcare are:

1. The type of care that is best for their child, such as group care in a nursery or a childminder

2. Whether staff and children are talking and playing together and the children are inspired and encouraged to ask questions

3. The range of different activities on offer and what space is available

4. If children's paintings and other work are on display, and if staff are willing to talk about what they will learn

5. Safety issues - are there finger guards on doors? Is there a visitor control system? How are incidents reported to parents? They might ask to see the written safeguarding policy.

6. Staffing levels

7. Staff qualifications - parents will want to know if any member of staff is an early years graduate

8. How the early years setting deals with misbehaviour, or homesickness.

9. Whether there is a healthy diet on offer; how settings manage children's dietary requirements

10. They will probably want to visit the nursery, childminder or children's centre when it is in full flow, with their child, to see how they react.

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