Finding childcare when you are the full-time carer of a child
If you are the full-time carer for a child or grandchild, you may be looking for regular childcare to enable you to work, or you may want a break from caring from time to time. Many carers use a combination of formal and informal childcare, as it will be cheaper and more flexible.
What childcare is available for 0 to 5 year olds?
All three and four year olds are entitled to 15 hours of free nursery education for 38 weeks of the year. This applies until they reach school age. Free early education places are available at a range of settings including nursery schools and classes, children’s centres, day nurseries, play groups and pre-schools and with registered childminders.
From September 2013, some 2 year olds also qualify for free early education. This applies if you are in receipt of certain benefits or the child is ‘looked after’ by the local authority. For more information about whether your child is eligible, click here.
Good quality early years education is proven to support children’s development.
For more information about free nursery education in your area, contact your local council or your Family Information Service (FIS).
Childminder: Childminders look after children under 12 in their own home. They offer a family environment. Many childminders also offer school pick ups. Childminders charge an average of around £4.00 an hour but this varies in different parts of the country. Childminders need to be registered with Ofsted. This guarantees they have undertaken training and meet certain standards, such as looking after a limited number of children and providing adequate facilities. They will also be inspected regularly to make sure they comply with those standards.
To find a childminder contact your local Family Information Service (FIS).
Nursery: Nurseries cater for babies up to children of school age. There is often a waiting list. The typical cost of a full-time day nursery place is £177 a week for a child younger than two, and £110 for a child of three (taking into account the 15 hours free nursery education) though this varies a great deal in different areas. Some nurseries operate different price bands according to your income. Find more information here.
Pre-school/ Nursery classes in primary schools: Some nurseries are attached to primary schools and provide free spaces for 3 to 4 years old. Contact your Family Information Service (FIS) or local council for more information.
Nanny: A nanny will offer you lots of flexibility and can be a great arrangement if you have irregular hours (for example if you work in the evenings). However, nannies are usually the most expensive form of childcare. If you take on a nanny you may be legally classed as their employer. Find more information about your responsibilities here. Many nannies are not registered with Ofsted. Registered nannies are usually more expensive, but must have undertaken certain training and have liability insurance. Childcare vouchers can be used to pay a nanny who is registered with Ofsted.
For information on how to find a nanny, click here.
What childcare is available for school age children?
There is a range of formal and informal childcare for 5 to 16 years old, although it will be more difficult to find formal childcare for older children.
Childminder: Usually childminders look after children aged under 12 in the childminder’s home, and will often pick up children from school. Childminders tend to charge anything between £2.50 and £7.50 an hour.
For more information on childminders click here.
School: schools may offer an extended range of services for pupils and their families. This could include before and after school childcare and activities like breakfast, homework and sports clubs.
Breakfast club: these provide a healthy meal and a safe place for children to wait until school starts. Breakfast clubs charge from £2.00 a day, but this varies. Breakfast clubs may or may not be registered with Ofsted (i.e. complying with certain standards), so check.
For more information on before and after school childcare, contact the school directly or visit here.
Holiday play scheme/club: These clubs may be offered by the school, your local authority, a sports centre or a private company. They offer a wide range of play activities during the school holidays. On average, holiday play schemes cost £20.00 per day but this varies widely.
Find a holiday play scheme near you here.
Nanny: Usually nannies will provide care for children in your home, and can look after children of any age. Nannies can live with you or have their own accommodation. Their hours are usually flexible but they are likely to be more expensive than other forms of childcare. Many nannies are not registered with Ofsted, so make sure you check their references and feel comfortable with their level of experience before employing them.
Many people are reliant on family members providing afterschool and holiday care. Half of households use family and friends for childcare and more than a third use grandparents.
Family or friend: Maybe someone in the family or a trusted friend can help you on a regular or occasional basis. Remember, it is illegal to pay anyone who is not registered with Ofsted to look after a child under eight outside the child’s own home for more than two hours per day unless they are related to the child.
Swapping with another parent or grandparent: Maybe you know and trust parents or grandparents with a child the same age as yours. If the children get on well, why not have the two of them for a few hours and swap the next time?
Neighbour: It can be helpful to establish a good relationship with your neighbour, for example to keep an eye on older teenagers if you are away.
Crèche: Some gyms, swimming pools and shopping centres have crèches, enabling you to engage in an activity nearby knowng that your child is safe and supervised.They comply to different childcare standards so make sure you are happy with those before putting your child there.
Childcare for children with disabilities
Choosing the right childcare for a disabled child can be particularly challenging. The gov.uk website is a very good first source of information.
The Daycare Trust has a free guide you can order on choosing the right childcare and guidance on what support your local authority should offer you. It looks at the financial help available for childcare costs, including funding specifically for disabled children.
All childcare providers are required by law to make reasonable adjustments to the way they provide a service, to ensure all children can access activities and facilities.
The law also says that:
- a provider can’t treat disabled children less favourably than other children
- people can’t be directly discriminated against or harassed because they have an association with a disabled person.
Is there any help available to pay for childcare?
Early years education subsidy: Every three- and four-year-old is entitled to 15 hours free a week. This also applies to some two year olds (see above).
Tax credits: Main carers on a low income can get some of the costs of childcare through tax credits, but must use a registered childcare provider to qualify. Find more information here.
Check out our information on tax credits.
Childcare vouchers: If their employer offers the perk, people with parental responsibility can give up part of their salary in return for childcare vouchers, which can be used with registered childcare providers. In practice, up to £55 a week is paid tax free into a separate account with a voucher scheme provider. You don’t pay tax or NICs on that amount. So your remaining wages are greater after paying for your childcare with vouchers than if you had paid in cash.
Each parent that takes their maximum allowance can save up to £1,196 per year. However, your entitlement to childcare tax credits might be affected if you use childcare vouchers so some people might find themselves worse off if they use vouchers. You can use the HMRC calculator to work out whether you would be better off using the vouchers.
If your employer does not offer childcare vouchers, you can ask them to do so. Providing childcare vouchers shouldn’t cost your employer any money. In fact, as they do not pay national insurance on the vouchers, it is beneficial to them.
Find more information on how to pay for childcare here.
What should I look out for when choosing childcare?
When choosing childcare, make sure:
- You have the gut feeling it is the right environment or person for the child
- You’ve done some research (visited a few different providers, read ofsted reports, asked friends for recommendations)
- You are confident the carers have the right skills (first aid, preparing food, etc.)
- You are able to afford the childcare (make sure you know about any extras you have to pay for, like breakfast or baby gym!)
- You know what happens in case things go wrong (you are late for pick up, your child is sick)
- You have a clear contract in place knowing exactly what will be provided or not (will they provide meals? Nappies?)
- It’s convenient for you (is it on your way to work, are the drop off and pick up times OK?)
- You are able to visit a few times before taking your decision and do a few test hours/days to see if your child is happy
- You are confident the person or setting complies with certain quality standards, and is registered with Ofsted.
Find more information here