This advice is tailored to mums who are returning to work.
Having the right childcare arrangement is probably the most
important factor in making an easy transition back to work. There's
nothing as stressful as being at work and constantly worrying about
your child's wellbeing. You need to build a set-up that's a good
fit for your child, your family, yourself and your work.
Ideally, you'll start exploring options early - even while you
are pregnant or soon after your baby is born.
Four types of childcare
We believe there are four types of child care which are most
appropriate for mothers who are considering going back to work:
- Nanny (one-to-one)
- Home-based care (one-to-few)
- Centre-based care (one-to-more)
- Combinations of the above.
Of course, if you're lucky enough to have a relative who can
help out on an ongoing basis, that's another great option.
When considering childcare, you need to be clear about what both
your needs and your family's needs are:
- Do you require very flexible care to cope with unpredictable
work hours and travel?
- Do you also need someone to help out with household
- How much are you able to afford? At what point would it cease
to be worth your while to work?
This is the most flexible, all-encompassing solution to child
care and it ensures your child receives one-to-one care of the sort
you would offer if you were home.
Most nannies will do some house work as well; for example, some
cooking and will help with food shopping. If your nanny is really
good, she (and it's still usually a she) can basically become your
Nannies are also the most expensive option. You should expect to
pay approaching NZ $40,000 out of your post-tax income. Almost all
annual childcare costs remain a personal expense in New Zealand.
However, if you're on a high income and you're planning on having
another child relatively soon, a nanny can become
Finding a nanny
So how do you find one? With great difficulty, is the answer!
You should allow for a significant amount of time for the search -
we're talking months.
The easiest option is to go through a nanny agency, a number of
which exist throughout the country. They interview the nannies,
organise police checks on them and get references. They will charge
you a placement sum which can be about a month's wages, often with
some sort of refund if the nanny leaves within a certain period of
time. The ones we used also gave us a pro forma contract which we
filled in with our own details re hours, reimbursements etc.
It is really important that you are very clear with your nanny
at the outset about your expectations. This is the time to explore
how flexible she will be with hours and what her attitudes to
non-baby related housework are. Remember, this is an employment
relationship and you want to make sure you are a good employer with
a clear contract and clearly articulated expectations. Because it
takes place in your home, the boundaries may become blurry in some
instances and difficult situations can ensue if not handled
Finding the right nanny
As in any employment, you'll want to make sure you yourself do
reference checks for the nanny with past employers.
We would also highly recommended you ask the nanny to come into
your home for a few paid hours so that you can see how well she
interacts with your child, and you, and whether they show signs of
initiative and experience.
Development outcomes with nannies
There isn't much research about outcomes for children who are
cared for by nannies due to the difficulty of accessing in-home
care to make the necessary observations. Something important to be
aware of with one-on-one care is that as your child grows older he
or she will need more socialisation. Some nannies are excellent at
seeking out these socialising opportunities but others might be
less able or willing to do so.
It is really important that you find a way of communicating with
your nanny on a daily basis so that you know what she is doing with
your child and the learning opportunities she is able to provide.
One method to consider is for her to maintain a daily diary. Not
only can this give you valuable insights into your baby's play
activities, and patterns of eating and sleeping etc, it can also
make a great repository of milestones, and end up as a real family
2. Home-based care
In this option, organized by groups like Porse and Barnados "family-share care" is offered either
in your home or in a caregiver's home. The idea is that the care
and education costs are shared among a small group of parents for
the benefit of their children. One parent may be the
caregiver-educator, with support from the organising network.
The organisers will undertake reference checks and police
checks. The latter are for both the educator/caregiver and for all
people regularly visiting the house.
A Professionelle member who has used the Porse service for care
in the caregiver/educator's home listed these benefits
- Caregivers follow a programme to develop each child, focused on
early childhood development, though not a set curriculum as
- Detailed notes are provided every day on the child's
activities, sleeping, food, behaviour
- Porse provides on going development and education for the in
- For only children, this is a good way to ensure socialisation
on a regular basis while ensuring good levels of attention and
affection from another adult who is a constant presence in their
- Health might be better with fewer other children to catch bugs
off (but some months you wonder!!)
- Porse also provide coffee mornings and play groups for the
educators on a regular basis so that children can mix in larger
groups and the educators have a sense of wider community and
- The cost is about $6 per hour, or about a third of a nanny's
Finding the Right Care Group:
Just as you would with any childcare options you have to really
think about how comfortable you feel with each educator/caregiver
you interview. What are their views on discipline, how well do they
listen to what you want, how do they interact with the children?
Make sure you have a rapport with the educator you choose and that
you feel you can trust them.
Beyond rapport and trust there are some practical points:
- How many other children are they looking after and are you
comfortable with the ratio?
- Does the educator have young children and/or other commitments
that are going to mean your child's care will be regularly
- Make sure the administrators do as they say they will and do
check in with the educators, make sure the house is safe etc,
follow up with any issues that need to be resolved
- Try to meet the other children in the group, and their
- How close is the educator's house to your house and to your
work (and your partner's work)
- Does the educator have a car, and if so, is it safe enough? Who
will supply child restraints?
Just like with nannies, flexibility can be crucial in making the
arrangements work. Are you able to move an arranged day? What
happens if you're late to pick up? Do you pay them when your child
is sick? What about when their child is sick? The organising
network will have norms as a reference point but with a bit of give
and take these matters can usually be sorted to keep everyone
3. Centre-based care
With the proliferation of centre-based childcare, and with many
now run by for-profit corporations, it is Galia's view that parents
need to be very clear about what to look for and to know what is
likely to work best for their children.
One of the most important factors in ensuring good care for
children is low adult-to-children ratio. Thankfully in New Zealand
we are well legislated for. However, you should still specifically
ask what the ratios are, especially in centres which care for
children under two.
Beyond child to adult ratios, the three other very important
aspects parents should look out for are:
staff. (their interaction with children, turnover rate,
children who attend the centre.
The most important aspect of good child care is the staff that
provides it. The best child care centres have well trained, stable
staff that interact with children in a warm, encouraging and
attentive manner. Specifically, you should look at:
Staff's interaction with the children - when you visit a centre,
take some time to observe the teaching staff. Are they interacting
with the children or are they talking among themselves? In centres
that care for under-two's, is there little crying? Are the children
looking happy and as if they feel they belong? Can you see evidence
of warm, encouraging interactions between the children and the
Low turnover of staff - simply ask the centre manager how long
she's been there and how long each of the staff members have been
employed. It's a great indication of how well the centre looks
after its staff. Happy staff are much more likely to be engaged in
their jobs and enjoying what they do.
Also, one of the most important factors in the well-being of
young children is their ability to form attachments. They will not
be able to do so if staff members constantly change, and it could
result in little ones becoming un-settled.
Well-trained staff - you should look for evidence of the formal
qualifications among staff; do they have relevant tertiary
qualifications or teaching certificates? If you can't see them on
display, ask the centre manager about each teacher's
qualifications. Good centres also provide for ongoing training of
their staff; ask what the centre's policy and plans are on
children who attend the centre
If you're planning on having your child in a centre based
child-care for forty hours or more, it is important that their
environment is stable and doesn't constantly change. A big part of
that is the other children who attend. If most other children are
there for similar lengths of time, your child will be able to form
attachments with them and this will enhance his or her experience
of the centre.
Naturally, you want your child to be safe! If the centre for
under-twos is part of a centre that has bigger children, you should
make sure that they are well separated. Also, is there enough room
to move? Are the floors covered with material that makes it easy
for little ones to roam around? Are the kitchen and bathrooms well
separated from the main play area? Is the sleep room well separated
and quiet, to help your child have a proper rest?
There are many other factors which you can look for in the
physical environment, such as variety of age appropriate activities
offered to children and the quality of the outdoor area. You could
also look at the prominence of displayed print material such as
books and charts with letters and words on the wall. However, in
our view, it's a better scenario to have excellent teachers than
the perfect physical environment. (Ideally, you'll find both!)
Finding the right centre
We recommend a systematic approach and taking the following
- Figure out WHERE you'd like the centre to be. We recommend
trying to find one as close to home or work as possible to reduce
- Ask friends, family and colleagues about child care centres in
your areas of interest that they can recommend. Word of mouth is an
incredibly powerful tool.
- Go online at www.yellowpages.co.nz and search for child care
centres in these areas and write their details down.
- Go to the Education Review Office website It is a very
easy to use website that lets you search each centre's reports.
Once you've read a few, you'll get a pretty good feel for the
jargon and for the centres they approve of. Using these reports you
can narrow your list down to the top five or so centres in your
areas of interest
- Visit the centre. In most places you'll need to call the centre
and organise a visit. Now you've read the reports and tips above,
you'll know what to look for. The more centres you visit, the
better you'll be able to gauge how good they are.
4. A combination of all the above
Increasingly, I'm aware of many working women who are able to
combine a nanny with centre based care or a day of a nanny with
more affordable home-based care. This arrangement has the benefit
of added flexibility with reduced costs and ensures your child
receives the socialisation s/he needs as well.
Some nannies are happy to work part time and will be happy with
this type of arrangement, or you might have a neighbor who'd be
interested in helping out and making extra money. If this is
something that interests you, ask around and you might get
At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you go
with your gut instinct. If something doesn't feel right with your
child's care, then there's probably something wrong. Although it
isn't advised to chop and change care arrangements for children,
you should be sure in your heart that you have a happy child. If
s/he's unsettled for extended periods of time, something isn't
quite right and you should look into it.
© Professionelle Ltd 2007