Finding and choosing childcare

Information on the types of childcare, finding a place for your child and what questions you should ask childcare providers.

What are the different types of childcare?

  • Family or friends - can be free, flexible, convenient and already know your child. They are not Ofsted registered or inspected. Therefore, if you want help with your childcare costs through Working Tax Credit, then you need to use someone who is registered with Ofsted to take children.
  • Registered Childminders - look after children in their own home from 0-14 years (depending on their registration).They usually offer childcare that covers the times that most working parents need. Most are flexible to offer out-of-school care to cover early mornings, evenings and some work weekends. Childminders are self-employed and many now offer the funded early education places. They are registered with Ofsted and inspected regularly.
  • A childminder agency - is an organisation that registers childminders and provides services to parents. The agency must be registered with Ofsted. The childminder agency may provide childminders with support services such as marketing, administration, training and development. They must also assess the quality of the childminders registered with them.
  • Day nurseries' - provide childcare for children from birth up to five years old, for part-time or full time working parents, or students. They are registered with Ofsted and inspected regularly. Almost all provide funded early education places. Some provide after school and holiday care for school aged children.
  • School nursery classes - nursery classes attached to primary schools. They offer sessions for children from 2 and half to 5 year olds (though most children start school at 4 year olds so will move on to a Reception Class). They are registered with Ofsted and are inspected regularly. They provide funded early education places. Places into a school nursery are allocated to children on the basis of the school's admission criteria so parent’s need to contact the school directly to apply. Note: Attending a school nursery does not guarantee your child will get into that school.
  • Pre-school Playgroups – are nurseries run as private businesses and volunteer-run playgroups. They accept children aged between 2 and half and 5 years old, and offer short sessions. They are registered with Ofsted and are inspected regularly. They provide the funded early education places and some offer after school and holiday care.

Other non-registered childcare

  • Parent and Toddler Groups – are voluntary run groups for 0-5 year olds. They are not registered as parents also attend and must stay with their child. They do not offer the funded early education places.
  • Nannies and Babysitters – look after children in your own home. They are not required to register with Ofsted so you will need to carry out your own quality checks to ensure they are suitable to look after your children. They do not offer early education places.

How do I find childcare in my area?

To find childcare providers in your area you can:

    1. Put your full postcode in the ‘location’ box field
    2. Click on the arrow from the ‘childcare and early education’ box field to select the type of childcare you are looking for and click ‘Search’.
    3. This will bring up a list of all childcare providers in this area. You can click on a providers record to reveal their details, which includes their Ofsted Grade.
  • Contact the Suffolk Family Information Service helpline on 0345 60 800 33. You can text us on 07624 801060 (we will call you back), or email us at We can post or email you a list of childcare providers that you can contact.

How do I choose childcare?

Don't just choose the first one that seems okay. Visit two or three childcare providers. Compare them with each other and with your list of what you need and want. Trust your instincts too. Don't choose anyone that you don't feel completely confident about. Your child's opinion counts for a lot, even young children can make their feelings felt.

What else do I need to check out?

You should make sure that the provider is registered by Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education). You may also want to ask for references on the childcare provision - for example, you could ask them to put you in touch with a parent who uses their service. This is really important as a check that other people are happy about the childcare provider -anyone who is confident about the quality of their service will not refuse. If they refuse to provide references just ask yourself 'why?'

What if I still can't find what I want?

If none of these providers matched up to your wishes, look again. Your child deserves good quality care. Phone the Suffolk Family Information Service on 0345 60 800 33 for further assistance.

I have now made my choice, so now what?

Get in touch with the childcare provider you have chosen, and book a place for your child. You will need to then sort out some paperwork with them. Make sure that you follow up those references. And remember it is important to keep checking your child is happy with your childcare provider.

If, at any time, you have any concerns about your childcare provider then contact the Suffolk Families Information Service.

What questions should I ask?

Your aim is to find out if they can provide the sort of care that you want your child to have, and that it meets your needs. The key points are:

  • If you have a list from the Suffolk Families Information Service, let them know that they gave you their number.
  • Explain the details of the childcare you are looking for. Include any information that is relevant (I need evening childcare or finish work at unpredictable hours).
  • If you would like your child to take their funded early education place at the setting, ask them if they provide this.
  • Ask what spaces do they have available. If they have a suitable place, check out the quality and the cost of their service.

Explain that you would like to ask a few questions. Ask them:

  • Are they registered and inspected by Ofsted?
  • What are their charges? They might charge per hour, per half-day, per day, per week, per month or even per term. You will need to convert this to a weekly charge to compare it with others.
  • What experience and qualifications do they/their staff have?
  • Do they offer the funded early education places?
  • What sort of things will your child be doing while in their care?
  • If they can provide references?
  • If they can send you a prospectus (although, childminders and nannies will rarely have one).

First impressions count

After checking that they can meet your needs, the most useful thing that you are doing is finding out as much as you can by talking with them, seeing what they are offering children and asking questions.

Good quality childcare providers will be happy for you to ask questions and to allow you to come and visit them, to see what they do. They will appear knowledgeable, confident and, above all, welcoming. After speaking to them consider the following:

  • Are they enthusiastic and will they offer a broad range of play and learning experiences?
  • Do you have confidence in their ability to care for and relate to your child?
  • Do you think that you and your child will get on well with them?

What should I do if I am struggling to find suitable childcare in my area?

If you are a parent struggling to find suitable childcare in your area you should contact the Suffolk Family Information Service helpline to see if you should be referred to our Childcare Brokerage Service.

What is the childcare brokerage service?

Childcare brokerage is a requirement of Childcare Act 2006, which means local authorities must provide extra support for families to help them access childcare and other support services. The Childcare Brokerage Service is provided by Suffolk County Council's Early Years and Childcare Service.

The type of help offered depends on the families individual circumstances, but childcare brokerage can help parents and carers to:

  • Find suitable childcare options which meet their needs and the needs of their children.
  • Visit childcare providers together accompanied by one of our staff.
  • Find emergency childcare or alternative childcare at short notice.
  • Access childcare and other services if they or their child has a disability or special needs.
  • Access any financial support they are entitled to which helps pay for childcare.
  • Understand the information available to them, for example if a parent has a visual impairment, language or literacy difficulties.

How do I get referred to the childcare brokerage service?

Families can be referred to this service by a professional or parents can call the Suffolk Family Information Service helpline on 0345 60 800 33 to discuss if they should be referred to the childcare brokerage service.

How do I report a problem finding childcare?

Complete the short form below to tell us what childcare you are struggling to find. Sometimes the childcare may not be available in a particular area, or all the childcare places in the area are full. 

If forms are returned by number of parents wanting childcare it may be possible for us to help an organisation open a new out of school club, nursery or pre-school or we may encourage people to become childminders in that area.

Please complete the form to let us know your childcare needs.