Archive for May 2012
Sharing the care of your child is a very big step. Research studies have consistently found that the early years of life are critical to the emotional, physical ,social and intellectual development of a child. Therefore choosing a suitable type of childcare can be a daunting experience, particularly for first time parents.CanavanByrne with SafeHands are the adjudicators of the Maternity and Infant Crèche of the Year Award. They explain “75% of brain growth happens in the early years and therefore the quality of the early learning environment can impact on a child’s quality of life, their development and their future. Play has a huge role in developing children’s skills and laying the foundation for happy and competent adults”
Parents in Ireland have a wide variety of options available to them. The type of childcare arrangement you choose will obviously depend on your needs and what is available in your community. Working parents may require all-day care to facilitate their working hours. Families where one parent works at home may choose a pre-school setting for three hours daily. Whatever option you choose it should be convenient, affordable and most importantly provide a quality experience for both child and parent. The term commonly used to describe this sector is Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) which indicates that a “child’s care and general welfare is intertwined with learning and development”
Type of Service
The Crèche or Nursery may provide care from children from 3 months upwards. This type of facility is generally open long hours to suit the working parents and can combine a range of options for parents including full-time, part-time and afterschool care. Crèches and nurseries usually offer a planned pre-school learning programme within the day.
The Pre-School/Playgroup usually operates for approximately 3 – 3.5 hours per day for children from 2.5 – 6 years. It offers a planned play and learning environment. Some pre-schools follow a specific curriculum approach such as Montessori, High/Scope and Steiner. A pre-school that uses Irish as a medium is known as a naíonra.
A childminder is someone who offers childcare in their own home. They provide a home-from-home environment. Some childminders offer a wrap-a-round service i.e drop-off or collection from school.
An au pair is employed as a live-in nanny and can look after children of any age.
In Ireland Crèches, Nurseries and pre-schools are regulated by the Childcare Pre-school Services Regulations 2006 .This means that services are open to annual inspections by the HSE. These regulations also cover Childminders who care for more than three children. Au pairs, nannies, school-age childcare and childminders who care for three children or less are not regulated.
Top Tips for Choosing Childcare
CanavanByrne and SafeHands provide the following tips in choosing childcare:.
- Do your research: Your local city and county childcare committee is an excellent source of information on services in your area. Also ask your friends and colleagues for recommendations
- Do an initial telephone interview: Find out the basics about the service first – age range catered for, opening hours, curriculum, activities, staff qualifications, food & nutrition etc
- Visit the Service: A visit to the service is an excellent way to assess if your child’s needs will be met. Prepare a list of questions in advance. You should expect a warm welcome, a tour, an explanation of the fees, an introduction to the main policies (eg, behaviour management, illness, hygiene, healthy eating, TV usage, security, accident prevention), an introduction to the curriculum and an overview of the daily routine.
Recognising a Quality Service
A good quality service will supply you with lots of information without even asking.
According to our adjudicators good quality services will have a spacious and well equipped indoor and outdoor space with an emphasis on child safety. There should be evidence of children’s creative work throughout the building. Is artwork displayed at eye level? The environment should provide opportunities for all types of play from messy art to quiet activities.
Positive interactions between staff and the children is undoubtedly one of the most crucial factors. There should be warm and inviting atmosphere. Are children relaxed and happy?
Good services will provide a broad range of activities, planned according to needs of individual children. There should be a good combination of child led and adult chosen activities. Parents should watch out to see if the Aistear themes are being used in the services they visit. Aistear (meaning journey) was introduced as a National Early Childhood Curriculum Framework in 2009. It describes learning and development as four interconnecting themes – Well-being, Identity & Belonging, Communicating and Exploring & Thinking. According to our adjudicators high quality services will support children’s learning across these themes.
Another hallmark of quality is a service that works in partnership with parents. What arrangements are in place to share information with you? How can you become involved in your child’s learning? Does the service respect your child’s likes/dislikes? Does the service want to find out as much information as possible about you and your child. Remember a true partnership involved the childcare practitioner, the parent and the child.
You should expect that the staff caring for your child is skilled and competent. They should have a minimum of a Fetac Level 5 qualification and be encouraged to continue their professional development. Staff should also be trained in manual handling, first aid and child protection. They should be Garda vetted and have references. Don’t be afraid to ask for evidence of qualifications and training. .
Funding Support for Parents
The good news for parents is that all children are now are entitled to one year free pre-school in the year prior to entering primary school. This initiative, funded by the government makes early education accessible to all children. Interested parents should talk to their local childcare service about this or contact the local childcare committee. Families on social welfare or low incomes may also be eligible for subvention which is a subsidised place. These part-funded places cover all age ranges and are only available in community (not-for-profit) centres at the moment. If you are attending a VEC or FAS scheme you may be eligible for CETS – this is a Childcare Employment and Training Support Scheme providing free childcare places for trainees.
Raising the Bar
Most pre-school services are subject to HSE inspections. CanavanByrne and SafeHands recommend to service providers to display the HSE inspection reports so that parents can access them and ask questions if necessary. These reports list the areas of compliance and non-compliance in areas such as staff/ child ratios, health safety and hygiene, the programme of activities and food and nutrition. Many services work very hard to go beyond the statutory requirements of the inspectors and engage in quality assurance programmes. Such programmes are run by the national voluntary agencies that represent nurseries, crèches, preschools and childminders including the National Children’s Nurseries Association, the Irish Pre-schools Association and Childminding Ireland.
The choice is yours! As a parent you should choose the type of care most suited to your needs. There are advantages associated with all types of care. Some parents may choose a group care setting such as a nursery or crèche for the enhanced opportunities to interact with other children or to avail of a purpose built space. Others may choose a childminder for the intimate care that can be provided in a small home-from-home setting. An au pair or live –in nanny may be the solution for a family requiring high levels of flexibility and convenience. Whatever type of care you choose it is wise to do your homework first!
Angela, May 2012.