Need Help Choosing Childcare?

Close picture of a young girl's face smiling at the camera

Choosing the right childcare for you and your family may seem like a challenge. It is an important decision, but remember that you know your child best and know what kind of childcare will suit them and meet your family's needs. Here are a few things you should consider before you make your choice.

You should consider:

Your childcare needs

  • what hours do I work and are they regular? 
  • would I prefer childcare located close to home, work, school? 
  • how will I pick up and drop off my children? 
  • are my needs likely to change in the near future? 

Your children's needs

  • how will I make certain my child's routine isn't disturbed?
  • what is best for my child's emotional and physical needs - as well as their social and educational development? 
  • what type of childcare allows my child to build a relationship with a carer who they can trust and feel comfortable with?  

There may be a waiting list of several months for the childcare you choose, so start looking as soon as you can.

Step 1: Draw up a list contains details of ALL registered childcare providers throughout Northern Ireland and is regarded as the central government register of childcare provision in Northern Ireland.

Our childcare search is a very useful information resource for parents/carers who want to find childcare to meet theirs and their family's needs.

You can specify the 'Childcare Category' that you wish to search for, e.g. Day Nursery, or you can search for 'All Categories'.  If you are unsure which category of childcare would suit you best, our article The Different Types of Childcare may be helpful.

You can search for childcare in your local area or carry out an advanced search by inputting your postcode and searching for childcare located within a 1/5/10/20/30 mile radius of your address.  You may prefer to input the postcode of your work or a school address (wherever you would like your childcare to be close to).  

The search can be narrowed by childcare providers that have indicated:

  • vacancies  
  • experience of special needs/disability  
  • pick-up/drop off service to school or playgroup  
  • flexible working hours (evenings/weekends)  
  • accepts childcare vouchers  
  • settings with pre-school funded places  
  • offer breakfast club 
  • signed up for Tax-Free Childcare  

You can further filter your search by 'Age Available to'.  If you select the age of your child, it will show you the childcare options which are available to that age.  If you have more than one child that you wish to have cared for together, you should select all of their ages.  This will show you the child care options which cater for ALL of the selected ages.  

Step 2: Make appointments

Visit at least two or three examples of your chosen form of childcare and be sure to go during times when the carer is looking after other children. This will allow you to see how the children behave there and how the carer responds to them.  

Take a list of questions and discuss with the carer the daily routine and issues you feel strongly about, such as diet or discipline.  Ask to see their most recent inspection report and ask them to explain anything in it that you don’t understand.  

Step 3: Time to Choose

Once you have a shortlist, double-check that the options meet all your requirements - suitability, cost, availability, location - and that you've done a dummy run to check it's really going to fit into a tight deadline. Don't be afraid to go for a second visit if you have any misgivings - a good child carer will welcome this.  

Step 4: Confirming your decision

Double check all the arrangements and secure the place by paying any deposit, if it is required. 

Step 5: Get it in writing

You should use a contract or formal written agreement containing details of costs, hours and conditions to ensure there is no room for disagreement in the future. Day Nurseries will usually give you an agreement to sign, so read it carefully.  



Think about your childcare needs sooner rather than later. It may take time to get what is right for your family or there may be waiting lists.

Don't be rushed into something you are not happy with.

Try to be clear about what you need and look at all the options.

Talk to other parents about what has worked for them. Your Health Visitor and Early Years Team can provide advice about childcare options in your area.

Don't let cost prevent you from exploring an option. Remember that quality and flexibility are important.

There may be help with childcare costs through the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit or other schemes such as Tax-Free Childcare.

Plan ahead. Think about possible changes in your circumstances and childcare needs, and plan to ensure stability and continuity for your children.

Don't worry about asking questions. Quality childcare providers will be happy to answer your questions.

Put discussions with possible childcare providers on a professional footing. Draw up a list of questions to ask.

Don't agree to any arrangements that you won't be able to keep. You need to be honest about your hours and other requirements so that people know what to expect.

Trust your own judgement and instincts. You understand your child's needs best and know what will suit your family.

Last Updated: 24/11/2020