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Most children under the age of five are looked after by someone other than their parents before they are old enough to go to school. The reason for this could be because parents are working full-time or simply have other commitments. The carer of the child during these times could be grandparents, friends or baby sitters who are giving the parents a break for a few hours. Increasingly, however, more and more parents are looking for someone to care for their children for longer periods because they both go out to work or are ill or studying. The range of child care provision is varied and parents need to take into consideration many factors before deciding upon the right type of provision which will suit them and their child.

Babysitters

Babysitters usually care for children in their own homes for short periods of time so that the child’s parents can have a break. Many babysitters are young people who know the children quite well and are providing a service in exchange for some form of pocket money. It is important that the parents make sure that the babysitter is someone who is responsible and is able to act sensibly in a crisis. Babysitter's should always have details of where the parents are going and emergency telephone numbers in case they maybe needed. Since most babysitting is done in the evening it is important that the babysitter knows the child's bedtime routine.

Childminders

Childminders work in their own homes providing day care for families and their own children too. Unlike nannies and au-pairs, childminders must by law (the Children's Act of 1989) be registered by the social services department of their local authority. The registration process is wide-ranging and thorough; involving references, a health check and police check on the child minder and all other adults in the family as they could be involved with the care of the children. The childminder's home is inspected to make sure that it provides a safe and suitable environment for children. If the childminder's home is dangerous they will be asked to make precautions or they may just be rejected from the system altogether.

Childminders are usually registered to care for up to three children under the age of five and three ranging from five to eight years old and this amount also includes their own children. These regulations are strictly enforced to allow children to have enough individual attention, which they are entitled to have. Since childminders look after small groups of children their daily routine can be very flexible for their own needs. As daily routines are flexible childminders are able to cater for individual dietary and sleeping requirements. Other flexibilities that childminders have are their working hours, this therefore means that parents have more flexibility in the hours that they work.

Being cared for by a childminders gives children the opportunity to learn from real life experiences and everyday activities such as shopping trips, schooll runs, family meal times and visits to the park. These experiences teach children life skills that they may not easily acquire at a nursery. Nowadays, many childminders make this their career and undertake specific training in order to gain qualifications such as those provided by the National Childminding Association (NCMA), which represents childminders in England’s and Wales in association with the Council for Awards in Children's Care and Education (CACHE).

Au-pairs

An au-pair is a girl or boy aged between seventeen and twenty-seven whom to the U.K. primarily to learn and speak English and live for a short time with an English speaking family. S/he will be expected to help with the housework, or any jobs asked to be done by the parents, and help with the care of any children they may have. In return for the work they do an au-pair will be given her keep and will also be given a small sum to spend on what they wish and this is generally known as their 'pocket money'. An advantage for the family is that an au-pair is normally paid less than expected by professional domestic help due to the fact that they are foreign.

Nannies

The term nanny is loosely applied to anyone who makes a career out of caring for a child within a family home. Unlike childminders, nannies do not need to be registered with social services so this means that they are not monitored by any regulatory body. There are no national requirements for nannies to have professional qualifications and generally the employers are more interested in experience and the personality of the person enquiring. However, some parents will only employ people with some form of qualification in childcare; it just depends on the parents. Some of the nannies about at the moment are very well qualified having undergone long periods of time at college training within the childcare sector.

Nurseries

There are many different types of nursery provisions around in the U.K. at the moment and these are :

  • Day nurseries - Day nurseries provide care for children aged between six months and five years. They are open for long hours and during schools holidays so are good for working parents. Day nurseries can either be run by the state or by a private company.
  • Workplace nurseries - This type of nursery are usually organised by the employer and are run on the site of the workplace itself. The payments of these types of nurseries are sometimes subsided by the employer and money comes straight out of the parents pay-packet.
  • Crèches - Crèches involve care for children for short periods of time and are often found in large shopping centres or supermarkets. Staff will look after children under the age of eight whilst their parents shop or simply take a break from their children.
  • Pre-schools or playgroups - These are usually run by trained staff with the aid and management skills of the parents. They most usually care for children between the ages of two and fours years of age and sessions are up to three hours long a day.
  • Nursery schools - Nursery schools can be run by the state or by a private company and are stand alone schools offering care for children between the ages three and fives years old. The children usually attend for five half days and whilst they are there they have to follow a particular teaching method.
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