Childcare options for working mums1

Please note: this article is for information only and is not an expression on any one persons opinion. Research was carried out however this doesn’t cover every area of the country. For further information please refer to or for regulated matters refer to

Returning to work after children:

When returning to part-time or full-time work after having children, many women are faced with an endless amount of childcare choices and costs which can make it really difficult to make a decision. For very young children, the choice of childcare options includes nursery, childminders, nannies, shared nannies, au pairs and of course relatives. Then, when a child turns three they have the added option of pre-school and an entitlement of 15 hours and then once at school age, working parents often need to consider breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, after-school childminders or nannies and possible help with the school run in addition to help over the holidays. With so many options to choose from and so much juggling involved, it is no wonder that parents get confused and wonder whether it is even worth them going back to work!

Nursery option:

Childcare costs obviously depend on the area where you live but within London and the surrounding areas you can expect to pay between £55-£65 for a full day at nursery (8am-6pm), which will usually include breakfast, lunch and snacks, or around £30-£35 for a half day. The cost goes down the older the child gets and there may be a sibling discount in place if you have more than one child in the same nursery. There are many reasons for parents choosing the nursery option, a key reason is that fact that nurseries will always be open and even if a key worker was ill or on holiday, there would always be someone else in the team who could look after the child. Many also like the social side of a larger number of peers for their child to interact with. There are different types of nurseries to choose from – including mainstream, Montessori and Steiner – so you need to choose the one that’s right for you and your child.

In addition to the basic nursery cost there may be extra charges for ‘extra curricular’ classes that some nurseries run which many mums fork out for to ensure that their child isn’t the one missing out. Some nurseries may charge extra for breakfast club if you need to drop your child off early. On top of that, some nurseries charge a late fee if parents fail to arrive by the strict 6pm pick-up time! While some charge £1 for every minute a parent is late by, others will charge a set fine of £20 (per child!) the minute you are late through the door to collect your child.

The childminder choice:

Child minders provide a home from home environment. They follow the EYFS and are registered and inspected by ofsted. They plan fun, educational activities for the children and have the unique ability to plan for the individual child’s interests or stage of development due to a more one on one interaction. They are able to be more flexible with opening and closing times and can often do those little favors of opening early or closing late on those odd occasions. Depending on where you are in the country, They charge from around £3.50 up to £7 an hour. They can provide the government funded hours for 2 year olds and 3-4 year olds. Some childminders work term time only but the majority work all year round. Obviously there are some negatives (for some people) if  your child minder is unwell or their child is unwell they need to close so the parents will need to make other plans or take the day off work. Also when they take my holidays, the parents will need to take the same dates or arrange other childcare.

Is it a nanny you need?

Parents wanting someone to come and look after their children in their own home and keep to their routine will need to hire a nanny. You have the choice of going through an agency or finding one independently, either through advertising or word-of-mouth. You can expect to pay from £8 an hour depending on the number of children. If you employ a nanny you also have to pay their tax, NI and expenses such as petrol. You would also need to pay the nanny agency to arrange payslips or use ‘taxingnannies’ so it can add up financially.

If you are looking for a full-time nanny then you have the option of a ‘live-in’ or ‘live-out’ nanny. Live-in nannies usually work an 11-12 hour day Monday to Friday, including two nights babysitting duties. Nannies living in your home will take sole charge of your children and perform nursery duties such as cooking meals for the children and cleaning up in the kitchen afterwards, tidying away toys, doing the children’s washing and ironing. Housekeeping duties for the rest of the house would not normally be carried out by a nanny. A full-time live-out or daily nanny would normally work 10 hours each week day taking care of all your child’s needs during that time.

There are also male nannies or ‘mannies’, bilingual nannies, holiday nannies, nanny shares and after school nannies. A part-time after school nanny will mean that you only pay for the hours you require if you work part-time, need ad-hoc extra childcare or need help once your children start school and usually charge around £8 an hour upwards. If you choose to share a nanny with another family then they will charge from £12 an hour upwards depending on how many children and the expectations from each family.

Going down the au pair route:

If both parents work full-time and the children are at school age, many families often go down the au pair route which involves an additional adult living with you at home. Financially, this will mean higher living costs as they will be entitled to free board and lodging at your home, paid holidays and sick leave, and you would also have to pay them pocket money each week. According to the Home Office, au pairs in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should receive around £70-£85 per week for approximately 30 hours per week, including babysitting. While the au pair’s primary responsibility is to help you look after your children they may also help out with light household chores as part of their duties.

Possibility of pre-school once three:

All 3 to 4-year-olds in England can get 570 hours of free early education or childcare per year. This is usually taken as 15 hours each week for 38 weeks of the year. The free early education and childcare can be at: all types of nurseries and nursery classes, playgroups and pre-school, childminders and Sure Start Children’s Centres.

Many children begin to attend pre-school at this age while others continue at their current nursery. If attending a pre-school, parents fill out the necessary forms and then the school applies for the funding meaning that there is no outlay of cost involved for the parents. Pre-schools are open during school term-time hours so you can pay an additional £2-£3 a day if you would like your child to attend lunch club and you can also pay for extra morning or afternoon sessions on top of the 15 hour allowance.

While many nurseries do accept the government-funding, it only covers £3.60 per hour of a nursery placement and isn’t enough to cover the £6 or so hourly rate that nurseries charge. In some cases, parents need to pay for the ‘free’ hours in advance and are then later refunded once the nursery has received the funds from the government at the end of the term meaning an outlay of £740 to account for.  Nurseries will also charge extra for breakfast clubs and lunches and non-term time weeks so it is important to get a full breakdown of all costs involved.

Some 2 year olds are also eligible to get free early education and childcare if their parents are on specific benefits, if they are in care, have a statement of Special Education Needs or receive a Disability Living Allowance.

Even more costs…

So, you’ve decided to return to work – a big enough decision alone – and you’ve chosen the childcare option that’s right for you and makes sense financially. Now it’s time to consider the travel costs, which can again make things challenging! Many full-time mums may pay a premium if they select a more expensive nursery in close proximity to a station in order to get to work for 9am. If driving to nursery and then travelling by train there will also be a daily parking charge to consider in addition to petrol costs on top of the train fare. If driving to work, you will need to budget for fuel.

Mums returning to work also need to factor in the cost of work lunches, work clothes, shoes, haircuts and expenses. Many mums manage financially with one child but the cost of two in childcare often means that they aren’t much better off. If after tax and all the extra costs you are only bringing home an extra £100-£200 a month then it may not be worth it financially.

Then they start school:

So, your child has started school and you can stop paying the expensive childcare fees. Phew! But, if you’ve survived all the above costs and are still (enjoying life as) a full-time working parent then you may need to consider dropping your child off for breakfast club and putting them into after-school club. Breakfast clubs can start from 7.30am and will cost between £4-£5 a day while you can expect to pay between £7-£10 a day for after-school clubs which run until 6pm. However, not all schools run these so if you don’t have this option then you may need to hire help for either the morning school run, after school pick-up or both… if you have grandparents nearby and willing to help then you are lucky, otherwise, as mentioned above, a childminder or part-time nanny option is probably your best bet if you are able to find someone you are happy with.

Some schools now ask for a ‘voluntary’ contribution which can be up to £100 a month to help the school fund things. Then of course there are costs associated with school trips, charity events, purchasing school photos and school dinners (currently free for years R, 1 and 2).

School holiday childcare:

Some parents take it in turns to take annual leave so that they don’t fork out for childcare costs during the school holidays. If you won’t be able to take annual leave during the holidays then you will also need to budget for care out of term-time. Some schools run holiday clubs for part of the summer and during half terms which can cost around £20 a day. Many of these don’t run during the Christmas holidays though so you will need to take the holiday or find an alternative type of childcare.

The emotional cost:

Many mums struggle with constant feelings of guilt. They feel guilty that they’re not putting in the hours at work and feel guilty about not spending more time with the children. It can also be hard to ease back into work after being off for a while. In order to get to work on time mums need to factor in road traffic, tube delays, bad weather and reluctant kids who want to stay at home and play!  Then, to collect their children they have to leave work early or at 5pm on the dot and rush back to pick them up. Some families manage to split the drop offs and pick-ups which can be really helpful and mean they can both complete a full day’s work and keep their employers happy!

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