Childcare options

Once you’ve come to the end of your parental leave, it may be necessary to start thinking about continued childcare for your children. The choice you make may depend on factors such as your family and financial circumstances, along with the age of your children. Here’s some of the childcare options available in the UK.

Day nursery

If you’re looking for childcare during working hours, a day nursery could be a good fit for you. They provide a structured environment for children aged between zero and five, however, the age range cared for may vary from nursery to nursery. Nurseries must be registered with an appropriate inspector such as Ofsted in England.

When researching this option, it’s important to consider the opening and closing hours, and how these may fit around your other commitments. They may close for several weeks at a time during Christmas, Easter and the summer holidays.

Sure Start Children’s Centres

Sure Start Children’s Centres are run by your local authority and many of their services are free. As well as providing early learning, they can also provide health support for both you and your children and give parenting advice.

Registered childminders

Registered childminders are normally self-employed childcare providers who operate out of their own home. One advantage of using a registered childminder is that they may be able to work flexible hours. They’re required to be registered with Ofsted in England or the appropriate authority in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As part of their registration, they must prove that they can provide quality care for children and contribute towards their development.

Employing a nanny

A nanny is usually someone paid to care for your children in your own home. Their duties are determined by you and can vary depending on the needs of your child. You can choose to have a live-in nanny or to share them with another family, for example.

If you employ a nanny, and they aren’t self-employed or paid through an agency, then you’re considered their employer. As your employee, they’re entitled to a workplace pension if they meet eligibility requirements. To be eligible for a workplace pension in the UK, they must be aged 22 or above and earning over £10,000.

Au pairs

An au pair usually lives with you and in exchange for providing childcare, you provide them with bed, board and a small income. They’re often young people who are looking to work abroad and learn a new culture or language. Hiring an au pair can be a cheaper alternative to some of the other options we’ve explored, but they’re less likely to have the formal training in childcare. One benefit to a live-in au pair is that they may be able to help with your children at more unusual times, such as early mornings or bedtime.

Playgroups and pre-schools

These are normally community-run groups for children around the ages of three to five and are held in local venues such as community centres and churches. It can be a cheaper option, but sessions are often limited to either a morning or an afternoon. It’s also likely that you’ll need to be present to supervise your child, so it won’t be a good fit if you need to go to work. However, it can offer a good opportunity to socialise with other parents in your local area.

Breakfast clubs, homework clubs and after-school clubs

When your children are in full-time education, you might still need childcare outside of regular school hours. Breakfast, homework, and after-school clubs offer support and activities for children during these hours. They also allow working parents flexibility when it comes to dropping off and collecting their children from school.

Breakfast clubs provide a safe, supervised space with a meal before the school day. While some breakfast clubs are free, not all schools are part of the government’s scheme. It’s worth checking with your child’s school or your local council to find out more. After-school clubs are usually based around activities such as sport or crafts, where homework clubs are more focused on academic studies. Costs for after-school clubs will depend on the activity, school and age of your child.

You can find local childcare outside of school hours by searching your postcode at It’s worth checking if you’re eligible for wraparound care, which supports parents with the costs of after-school clubs.

Help from family and friends

If they’re willing and able, you may want to ask a relative, such as a grandparent, to help you with childcare. This can help build a bond between your child and relative, as well as give the reassurance that they’re with someone you know and trust. As it’ll typically be a more informal arrangement, this option is likely to come at little or no cost. It may be worth thinking about coming to an agreement over how your children are cared for if you and your relative have different styles of parenting.

Each option comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, including varying costs. So it’s a good idea to look into what help with childcare costs you may be entitled to.

Whether you stay home and care for your children full-time, or you work and pay for childcare, your circumstances can have differing effects on your income. PensionBee’s Carer’s Pension Gap report reveals how care moments, such as having children, can impact pension savings. One finding was that for every missed year of paid work, the loss to a pension pot is an estimated £5,000, on average.

Risk warning

As always with investments, your capital is at risk. The value of your investment can go down as well as up, and you may get back less than you invest. This information should not be regarded as financial advice.

Last edited: 06-04-2024

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