Choosing an Early Learning and Care service

Questions to ask & what to look for?

The Learning Environment:

Look for
  • Is the indoor and outdoor environment spacious, bright and welcoming?
  • Are the premises in good repair, clean, secure and safe?
  • Are the rooms well-arranged allowing for safe movement of the children?*
  • Are the equipment and toys age appropriate, safe, in good repair and varied?
  • Do all children have an easy access to the toys and learning materials?*
  • Is there evidence of the children’s work displayed throughout the service?
  • Are children free to choose activities?*
  • What learning opportunities are offered through the curriculum, i.e. physical play, outdoor play, individual activity, group activity, creative activities, budget activities, construction opportunities? Etc.
  • Do the children seem content, comfortable and happy in their surroundings?
  • Are the children engaged with an activity or meaningful play?
  • Can you observe caring and respectful interactions between adults and children?
  • How is daily information about children communicated to parents/guardians e.g. diaries, scrapbooks etc.

Communication with parents throughout the period of COVID-19 remains essential and a service provider should choose the means of  communication which best suits the parents/carers.

Ask
  • What will a typical day for my child look like? Is independence promoted and encouraged?
  • How will staff work with the child to help the settling in process?
  • Do the children have an opportunity to mix with those outside of their room, i.e. siblings? *
  • How often do the children go outside?
  • What curriculum approach is used?
  • How many children are in your child’s age group are being cared for in the room?
  • How do staff manage difficult or challenging behaviour?
  • Do I need to make an appointment to visit the service?  According to the Infection Prevention and Control Guidance during COVID-19, any  visits to the service during the day should be made by prior arrangement and received at a specific contact point-speak to your individual service about their guidance for visits.

* During health guidance for COVID-19, the “play pod” model is a safe and playful approach to restricting interactions between closed groups of children and adults-in this way there will be limits to interactions between children in different play pods and to the sharing of toys outside of the individual pod. This public health guidance is subject to change.

Health and Safety

Look for
  • Entry and exit points to building and rooms that are clear and clutter free. 
  • Doors to children’s rooms with viewing panels.
  • An area that displays information about who is the designated person in charge. Some services may also display photographs and names of their staff team. 
  • An area that displays information about who is the First Aid Officer, the Health and Safety Officer and the Designated Liaison Person for Child Protection concerns. 
  • Evidence of fire safety procedures such as fire evacuation assembly points, fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, fire exits, record of fire drills and record of evacuation  procedures. 
  • Outdoor play area, nappy changing area, sleep and resting facilities that are safe and appropriate. 
  • Hygienic food preparation areas that are inaccessible to the children.
Ask
  • Who has access to the building?
  • Is there a safety statement and can you view it?
  • Is food prepared on the premises?
  • Transport: Is there a school drop off/collection service in place? Does the vehicle have seatbelts and /or booster seats as appropriate? Is the vehicle appropriately insured with driver and qualified staff member?
  • Child Protection: Is there a Child Safeguarding Statement in place? Is there a procedure for reporting child protection concerns?  Have staff attended child protection training and hold up-to-date certification? Is there a Designated Liaison Person and Deputy Designated Liaison Person? Have all staff been Garda Vetted and references checked?
  • The National Child Safeguarding Programme; Early Learning and Care Committee have developed an information leaflet for parents to outline what parents can expect in relation to Child Safeguarding from Early Learning and Care services, it is available in English and Irish and can be downloaded below:

Information leaflet for Parents on Children First in Early Learning and Care Services (English)

Information leaflet for Parents on Children First in Early Learning and Care Services (Irish)

  • Drop off and Collection policy: Who can collect the child? What measures are in place to ensure only those authorised to collect the child have access to your child? Are passwords or ID required? Are there late collection penalties? What measures are in place to drop off and collect children safely during COVID-19?*

*During Covid-19, your service provider will talk to you about the arrangements in place at your setting for drop off and collection, parents should  follow the services’ Drop Off and Collection Policy. It is important that parents and guardians are physically distance from each other and from staff  when dropping off and collecting their children. 

  • Illness and Exclusion policy: What is the setting’s illness policy and their policy around the administration of medication? What are the exclusion periods for illnesses? What happens if my child falls ill on the premises? If my child has specific medical needs, how will they be accommodated? Is there changes to the illness and exclusion policies due to COVID-19? What is the new procedure for a suspected/confirmed case of COVID-19 within the setting?
  • Accident/incident/ emergency care:What procedures are in place in the event of a medical emergency? At what stage of an emergency will you be contacted? How are you informed of any incidents/ accidents relating to your child?
  • Outings:Are the children taken on outings? How frequent are the outings? What is the adult to child ratios while off the premises? Are these outings covered by insurance? Ask to see the Outings Policy?
  • Healthy eating policy: Do parents supply food or does the service provide food? Are there sample menus available to view? Can the service cater for specific dietary requirements that your child may have? What are the meal times? What happens if your child doesn’t eat their dinner? What types of drinks are permitted in the service? Is water available throughout the day?
  • Is the service registered with TuslaA list of registered services can be found on  Tusla’s website 

Management & Staff

Look for
  • Confirmation from the designated person in charge that all staff meet the qualification requirement, are Garda Vetted and Police Vetted (where necessary), and references are checked before working with the children.   
  • Adequate number of adults in each room to meet the adult:child ratio requirements as set out in the Early Years Regulations 2016 and the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) (Registration of School Age Services) Regulations 2018. 
  • Staff that are positively interacting with the children and colleagues e.g. at the child’s level, positive verbal and body language, and communication that is respectful and encouraging.
  • Signs of a professional and caring approach to working with children, colleagues and you as a potential parent of a child in their care.
Ask
  • Who will be looking after your child?
  •  What is a Play Pod and how does it work?*

*During health guidance for Covid-19, the “play pod” model is a safe and playful approach to restricting interactions between closed groups of children and adults as an alternative to social distancing, which is not possible with young children. The purpose of ‘play-pods’ is to limit the number of people a child has contact with, to facilitate contact tracing, and to support close, positive interactions between children and their adult caregivers, like in a key-worker system, which is characteristic of many childcare settings. (First 5 Website on Reopening)

  • Is there a high turnover of staff? If so, any reasons or explanation for this.
  • Are the staff Garda Vetted and references checked as required by the Early Years Regulations 2016? Do new staff members complete an induction followed by adequate supervision?
  • Is there a designated person in charge on the premises at all times during hours of operation? 
  • What opportunities are there for parents/guardians to get involved with the service (e.g. outings, plays, family events, etc.)?
  • How are concerns about children, staff or the service are dealt with? Is there a complaints policy/procedure?

Fees

  • What is the weekly/monthly charge for the childcare you require? How often are fees paid? What is the preferred method of payment? What period of notice do I need to provide when I no longer need childcare?
  • Is a deposit required? When is the deposit refunded? Always ask for a receipt of deposit.
  • Are there any extra/optional charges e.g. late collection, additional hours? 
  • What are the payment arrangements regarding holidays, i.e. Christmas and mid-terms?
  • If transport is supplied to and from school, is this an extra cost?
  • Does the service participate in any of the Childcare Funding Programmes? Are you eligible for any of the programmes? For more information see our  Funding Programmes tab.
For more information on childcare funding see 'Funding' in our navigation menu
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