How to choose the right after school programme for your kids
When it comes to finding the right after-school care for your children, money talks but it should not have the last word, according to childcare experts.
There are a whole range of factors to be considered and parents should not focus only on cost per hour, Bernie Gallagher of Childminding Ireland warns.
Almost all providers offer discounts of between 10 and 20pc for siblings and the persistent haggler is likely to get an even better bargain.
Bernie stresses that price is only one element parents should consider. "This is a unique relationship that is built over time. Confidences are exchanged and a childminder can become a very important figure in a family's life."
She offers a few simple tips for parents who will require after school care for the first time this September.
"Never just take word of mouth. There is nothing wrong with it but always get a written reference and follow it up," she says. Parents should also make a check list of their personal requirements such as whether children need to be collected from school or taken to extracurricular activities.
The family and the carer, whether a home-based childminder or a purpose-built facility, need to have a discussion about nutrition, homework and other issues which could become tension points down the line.
"You need to see the service when it is up and running and observe the children and how engaged they are with the childminders," says Bernie.
One facility which was designed for purpose is The Den afterschool care which operates out of a wooden cabin on the Monkstown Educate Together National School Campus.
Manager Teresa Kavanagh says the Den's location on the school grounds has significant advantages for the whole family.
Instead of heading off in different directions on mini-buses, the children walk to the wooden building with their friends, where they are supervised through homework and play by staff who already work at the school.
"A home from home is what we do," says Teresa. She has visited after-school facilities where the children are taught French and other subjects. "I do not know if that is what they need after a day at school."
At the Den, there is a 40-minute supervised homework period and then the children do whatever they feel like. The Den has a full-sized football pitch, an on-site playground and provides hot meals for the children every day. The fees are an average of €6 a hour and any profits go back into the primary school.
Fees for childminding vary geographically, according to a recent study by Childminding Ireland. If you're paying by the hour, the average rate is between €5.20 and €5.40 but fees can be as high as €10.
Hot meals and homework are a winner for one working mum
With her youngest child just about to start school, Suzanne Foot decided it was time to go back to work, but finding a job was only half the challenge.
She then had to find a child care solution for the gap between the school bell and the end of her working day at 4.30pm. Suzanne wanted somewhere flexible which could also do school pick-ups for her three children Hannah (10), Eleanor (8) and James (6). Fortunately the Naionra Pobail Sean Chill offered both, together with an in-house chef and a stimulating outdoor area where the children could play. And there is the added benefit that the spoken language is Irish.
"It was a bonus for us. I also like the fact that they give them a hot meal and supervise their homework."
Suzanne usually cooks dinner for the whole family in the evening but she knows they have had a good meal earlier. The children are escorted at two separate finishing times to the Naionra and
"They are also socialising with other children which is good because I don't get to do many playdates any more," says Suzanne.