One of the most difficult decision any parent faces is which childcare provider to use for their very young child. It can be daunting to select a nursery to care for a baby or toddler for as many as 50 hours a week, and parents want to be sure that they are selecting the very best setting for their child. There are however a few key things to look at to decide whether a nursery is a good and more importantly safe place to send your child.

Shortlisting and Visits

Start by researching childcare settings online, working out what is in your local area and ruling out those which can’t offer the hours you need, or which are too far from home of work. Some may also be ruled out on terms of cost. Once you’ve got your list of possible candidates, narrow it down to two or three preferred settings and arrange a visit. It’s probably best to visit without your child initially as you will want to be able to focus entirely on the nursery, staff and children rather than caring for your own child. On your visit use all of your senses to get a feel for what’s going on. Children should look busy and relaxed, staff should be focused and not standing around chatting, there should be good outside space, a full programme of activities and a clean and welcoming environment.

Questions to Ask

As you tour the nursery, take the opportunity to ask plenty of questions to whoever is showing you round. One of the key things to ask – if they don’t volunteer the information first – is about ratios. Ratios mean the number of staff in relation to the numbers of children. There should be more staff per children for children under the age of two than for older children. Ask about what sort of training the staff have had and what qualifications they have, and whether all staff members have been DBS checked, or PVG checked in Scotland. All staff members working in nurseries with children, even the kitchen staff or cleaners, should be subject to enhanced checking. A good nursery will not mind parents asking questions about their policies and procedures and will usually volunteer the information without having to be asked first.

Online Checking and References

All nurseries are inspected regularly, and OFSTED and the Care Inspectorate in Scotland publish reports online. Reports are a good tool for giving an overall impression of a nursery, but shouldn’t replace your own ideas and feelings about a place based on a personal visit. Most nurseries are only inspected once every couple of years so bear in mind also that things may have changed for the better or worse from the previous inspection. Another good technique is to ask parents who already have children at the nursery for their feedback, either good or bad. Most parents will be more than happy to share their experiences. Take internet reviews with a pinch of salt – you can never be quite sure who is posting online.