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RETURNING TO WORK

Childminders

Childminders are self-employed. They are registered with social services and are inspected annually. They have to abide by strict regulations regarding the health and safety of the children they look after and must provide a stimulating environment. They are allowed to care for no more than three children under the age of five (including their own).

All childminders, and all members of their family who are over 16, have to be police-checked before they can look after children in their own home.

Advantages

• Childminders are one of the least expensive forms of childcare.
• They are often prepared to fit in with your working hours even if these are irregular.
• Your child will be looked after in a homely environment.

Disadvantages

• If a childminder has children of her own to care for, you might worry that she will favour her own over yours.
• She might be looking after other children who won't get on with yours.
• She will be running her home as well as caring for your child.
• You will have to be organised to get your child ready to go to the minder in the morning.

You can get a list of registered childminders from social services. Ask people from your local NCT branch if they know of any particularly good ones. Draw up a shortlist and visit each childminder in her home. Have your questions ready:

• How much previous experience of childminding does she have?
• How much television does she let the children watch?
• What preparations has she made in case of emergencies?
• Will she take your child out during the day?
• Does she have any pets?
• Does she, or her partner, smoke?
• What are her views on discipline?
• What are the other children she looks after like?

Get two references and follow them up. Then go by your 'gut-feeling' - do you like her personally?

When you have decided on a childminder, see her again to discuss hours, rates of pay, pick-up and drop-off times, your child's food requirements, nappies and anything else you want to settle in advance. Arrange for your child to go the childminder for a trial session before you return to work.

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