Your childcare options

How to find local childcare, how to find special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) childcare, questions to ask a childcare provider.

In this guide

There are lots of different types of childcare to choose from.

Some families use informal childcare, such as:

  • other family members
  • friends
  • neighbours

However, you may also find that you need to make more formal childcare arrangements.

Some childcare settings provide specialist services for disabled children. However all childcare should welcome and include disabled children.


Childminders are trained, self-employed carers largely based in their own homes. They are registered with Ofsted and both the childminder and their home are regularly checked.

A childminder will normally be able to look after up to 6 children under 8-years-old, including their own, but only 3 of them can be under the age of 5.

Childminders are perfect if:

  • your working day doesn’t fit the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday pattern
  • you have children of different ages and you want them to be looked after together

You may also want your child to be cared for in a home environment by just one person.

Unregistered childcare

You should be clear about the law surrounding unregistered childcare. All childminders must be registered with Ofsted, but if you make your own arrangements with an unregistered friend, you could be breaking the law.

Anyone who is not a close family member who cares for a child under the age of 8, for more than 2 hours in one go, for 14 or more days a year, for payment or reward, must register as a childminder.

Reward does not just mean money. It also covers the supply of free childcare in arrangements where friends take it in turns to look after each other's children.

Close family members (brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles) can provide childcare as much as they like without needing to register as a childminder.

Non-family members don't have to register if:

  • the children are aged 8 and over
  • the childcare only takes place between 6m and 2am
  • it takes place fewer than 2 hours a day, or 14 days a year
  • it takes place in the parents' home
  • no payment or reward is received for the services

Day nurseries

Day nurseries offer childcare and, in most cases, early education. They are for children aged from birth to 5 years old and some may also offer out-of-school care for 5 to 11-year-olds.

Opening times tend to be the same as a standard working day, 8am to 6pm on weekdays.

Nursery schools and classes

Usually organised by community or voluntary groups, often with the help of parents, they normally offer early education places.

They give your child access to different toys, equipment and activities and ensure they mix with other children. Sessions last between 2.5 to 4 hours and take place either every day or several days a week, during term time.

They are for children aged between 2 and 5 years old.

Before and after school clubs

Some clubs are open before and after school and all day during school holidays.

They offer a quiet space for catching up with homework as well as plenty of fun activities for children. Clubs tend to be for primary school children, but some do offer care for children up to the age of 14 (and up to 16 for children with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities).

Most breakfast, after-school and holiday play schemes are linked to local schools.

Schools now offer a variety of activities on top of the normal school day such as music, art, sport or additional study support.


A home carer or nanny would be someone that looks after your children in your own home.

Because they are looking after children in your own home they are not required to be registered with Ofsted but some choose to go on a voluntary register. If you go through an agency you may need to pay a finders fee.

If you arrange a nanny or home childcarer directly you become their employer.

This means you become responsible for:

  • recruiting an appropriate person
  • carrying out a criminal record check
  • ensuring they are trained
  • agreeing terms and conditions
  • and taking care of their pay including tax and National Insurance contributions

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