The Different Types of Childcare

Coloured cut out letters of the alphabet hung with pegs to a piece of string

There are various different types of childcare, with some perhaps being more suited to your needs and the needs of your children. Find out more about the different types of childcare available so that you can make an informed choice about the childcare that best suits your family.

Approved Home Childcare

What is a home childcarer?

An approved home childcarer enables parents to have their children cared for in the child’s own home. Home childcarers are professional childcarers, offering children safe, good quality care and providing them with play and learning opportunities that contribute to their development. 

Is it Registered/Approved Childcare?

Yes - an Approved Home Childcarer (AHC) is required to seek Approval from the Early Years Team within their local Health and Social Care Trust. Approval is valid for one year, with the AHC required to renew their approval every year should they wish to remain an Approved Home Childcarer.

As it is an approved form of childcare, parents that are eligible, can claim financial help towards the cost of their childcare, for example, through Working Tax Credits, Tax-Free Childcare, Childcare Vouchers, etc.

What does the Home Childcarer Approval Scheme do?

The Home Childcarer Approval Scheme does:
  • verify that the home childcarer has a relevant childcare qualification or has attended an induction course
  • verify that the applicant has undergone appropriate first aid training
  • confirm the identity of home childcarers
  • undertake a criminal records check, including the disqualification lists held by the Department of Health (DoH) and the Department of Education (DE). It also checks other Health and Social Care Trusts (HSCT) records to ensure that there is nothing in the home childcarer’s background that suggests they are unsuitable to work with, or have unsupervised access, to children
The Home Childcarer Approval Scheme does not:
  • verify whether the home childcarer is eligible to work in the UK
  • clarify the age group the home childcarer is suited to work with
  • check the medical history of a home childcarer
  • guarantee that parents using an approved home childcarer are entitled to financial support
  • remove the parent’s ultimate responsibility to make sure that home childcarers are individually suitable to look after their children
  • enable parents to claim the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit if using relatives for approved home childcare 

Why use Approved Home Childcare?

Some families, for example, those who work outside the traditional Monday to Friday, nine to five working hours, families with children with disabilities or larger families, may prefer childcare in their own home. 

Some advantages include:

  • By using an approved home childcarer, you can be assured that they have been checked and met basic criteria
  • You know the home childcarer has some understanding of children’s needs and what to do in an emergency
  • You may be able to access financial support through the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit, Tax-Free Childcare, Childcare Vouchers, etc.
  • You can arrange to have your child looked after in your own home

Things to consider when using an approved home childcarer

  • If you are interested in employing a home childcarer, you have responsibilities as an employer of the home childcarer, for example, PAYE, terms and conditions of employment, unless you use an employing agent
  • You may want to ask for and check references

Find an Approved Home Childcarer

Family Support - Find an Approved Home Childcarer


What is a Childminder?

Registered childminders are self-employed daycare providers who work in their own home to provide care and education for other people’s children within a family setting.

Unlike nannies and au pairs, they are inspected and registered by Social Services on a regular basis.

Registered childminders may be registered to care for up to six children between the ages of 0 to 12 years of age (including their own children). Only registered childminding is eligible for the Childcare Element of the Working Tax Credit for working parents.

A childminder MUST BY LAW register with the local Health and Social Services Trust. The purpose of registration is:

  • To protect children
  • To provide reassurance to parents using childcare
  • To ensure that childminding services meet acceptable standards

What does Registration involve?

To achieve registration with their Early Years Team, a childminder is required to comply with standards of safety, equipment, numbers of children, complete core training, etc.

The home environment is checked to ensure that it meets the standards required and that it is suitable to care for children.

References and health checks are required as are criminal record checks on all individuals in the household over the age of 10.

To remain registered, the childminder must be inspected every year.

Advantages of using a childminder

  • can be flexible about the hours that they work
  • can provide care, fun and learning in a home setting
  • children of different ages can be cared for together
  • are ideal for babies and under-twos, who need to be close to an adult
  • often offer a school pick-up-service
  • can be experienced mothers or fathers themselves

Things to check with childminders

  • that they are registered with the Early Years Team in your local Health and Social Care Trust and have insurance
  • that their home is safe with plenty of play and learning opportunity
  • that if your child will be travelling by car, the childminder has properly-fitted car seats
  • that the agreed contract covers hours, pay, illness, holidays

Questions to ask childminders

  • how long have they been childminding and how long will they continue?
  • can they put you in touch with other parents they work for?
  • what are the ages of the children they look after?
  • what is the routine? How often do they take the children out and where? What activities will they do with your child?
  • what kind of food do they provide and is it included in the fee?
  • what other adults will be in or regularly visiting the house?
  • who would the childminder call on in an emergency?
  • what do they do about things like sleep, potty-training and setting boundaries on behaviour? Discuss and agree the approach for your child
  • how does the childminder fit in household chores? Do they shop or take other children to school while your child is in their care?
  • can you see the last inspection report?
  • do they have references you can see?
  • what are the costs, hours, holiday pay and other conditions?

Find a Childminder

Family Support NI - Find a Registered Childminder

If you want to quickly check whether a childminder is registered – input their name to the 'Keyword Search' on a childcare search.


Nannies are not inspected or registered by Social Services and are therefore not listed on the Family Support NI website. That means it is down to you to interview them and check their references.

There are no laws to cover childcare that takes place in your own home. It is down to you to find a nanny, to check their suitability and to arrange contracts and wages. No financial help is available for hiring a nanny.

What is a nanny?

A nanny is paid by you to look after your child in your home. They can live in or come to your home for set days and hours. Many have nursery nurse training or childcare qualifications, but they do not have to.

Nannies can be convenient and flexible for your family and will allow you more say in your child's routine. They are especially useful if you have more than one child. However, you are responsible for employing them and sorting out contracts.

It can be hard to build a lasting relationship as there is a chance that the nanny will move on. The checking and vetting procedures are often not done or are unreliable.

Advertising for a nanny

There are ways to find a trustworthy nanny.

You can place an advert in:

  • a magazine
  • your local newspaper
  • notice boards at places like primary schools, your newsagents or drop-in centres

Your advert needs to spell out the hours, duties, ages of children and the area where you live. For safety reasons, don't give the children's names or your actual address in the ad.

It should also ask those who apply to give their age, experience, qualifications, work history and a letter saying why they would like to apply for the post. You may prefer to ask them to write to a box number at your local post office rather than giving out your telephone number. However, this may reduce the number of people who apply.

Contact colleges that offer courses in childcare

If you are willing to take on someone straight from college, training usually ends in June. Newly-trained nannies won't have much experience and may not be suited to looking after very young babies.

Child safety

Making sure your child is safe, well-cared for and happy, are vital concerns for any parent. Employing a nanny is an important responsibility. There are no legal requirements on a person applying to work as a nanny. It is up to you, as parent and employer, to make sure that you are hiring a nanny who will look after your children well.

Useful link:

2 Year Old Programme (2YOP)

What is a 2YOP?

A 2 Year Old Programme, also referred to as a Developmental Programme for 2-3 Year Olds, is a group based programme consisting of a maximum of 12 children.  They are almost exclusively delivered by Sure Starts. 

Your child will be given the opportunity to play and explore in a structured group session. Constructive play opportunities are aimed at developing your child's social and development skills, building on their communication skills and encouraging imagination. 

Parents and families are encouraged to participate with the 2YOP and other courses that are delivered by the Sure Start.

What age does my child have to be?

2YOP is aimed at children aged 2-3 years old who are in their pre pre-school year (underage pre-school children).

Children must have reached their 2nd birthday on or before 1st July prior to the commencement of the 2 Year Old Programme in September, when the child will then be a minimum of 2 years 2 months of age.

How much will it cost?

Sure Start 2 Year old Programmes are government funded, meaning places are free of charge to parents.

Places are sessional, with sessions running for 2½ hours per day, for at least 3 days per week. The programme runs term-time (September– June).

How do I apply for a place?

To be eligible to apply for a place for you, you should be registered with the Sure Start that is running it. You or the person with parental responsibility must live within the catchment ward areas that the local Sure Start covers to be eligible to be registered with it.

These programmes are usually oversubscribed, therefore not every child will be guaranteed a place.

If your child receives a place, you must commit to ensuring that your child attends the Programme regularly, unless there are mitigating circumstances, such as sickness, etc. 

There is an application process to apply for places, with late applications usually not being considered, so contact your Sure Start early to check dates and avoid disappointment.

Find a 2YOP

Family Support NI - Find my local Sure Start

Family Support NI - Find a 2 Year Old Programme


Creche facilities provide a time-limited daycare option for parents and carers of young children and are mostly used by parents and carers attending education courses or other training. They can also provide parents and carers with the opportunity to take part in social or recreational activities.

Creche facilities can operate in a range of settings for example an education centre, shopping centre, leisure centre or church hall. The opening hours of the creche may be flexible to meet the changing needs of parents and carers. They may be run by a statutory or voluntary body, a community group or private company.

Creches which care for children for more than two hours a day are required to be registered and regularly inspected by the Early Years Team in your local Health and Social Care Trust.

Find a Creche

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Day Nursery

Day nurseries are usually privately run and provide care for children aged from six weeks to compulsory school age.

All day nurseries must be registered and annually inspected by the Early Years Team in your local Health and Social Care Trust.

What is a day nursery?

A day nursery provides full daycare for your child.  They will offer full-time and part-time places, and have a team of staff divided between different rooms to look after the children in their care.

Rooms are divided up by the different age groups, e.g. baby room, toddler room, pre-school room, with some day nurseries also being registered to provide after-school places for school aged children.

There are strict guidelines on the ratio of staff to children:

  • for under two year olds - one carer to three children
  • two to three year olds - one carer to four children
  • three to five year olds - one carer to eight children

Day nurseries are usually open from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm all year round.

Some day nurseries also offer funded pre-school places.

These places are available:

  • at least two and a half hours per day
  • five days per week
  • at least 38 weeks during the period September to June

In day nurseries:

  • at least 50 per cent of staff must have a childcare qualification
  • children have the chance to learn and play with friends 
  • childcare is reliable - if one member of staff is ill, others are available to cover
  • some day nurseries offer school pick-ups and out of school care
  • eligible for help with costs through the Working Tax Credit
  • funded places may be available for children in their final pre-school year
  • part time places are often available

However, many day nurseries are not flexible if you work shifts or weekends and there can be long waiting lists.

Things to check with day nurseries

  • do they have places for your child's age group - some do not take children under the age of two
  • that they have a key worker carer system - babies in particular need to build up a relationship with one person
  • that the place is clean, bright and child-centred, with plenty of safe space to play inside and out
  • the children there should seem happy and relaxed and be well supervised at all times by staff who talk to them

Questions to ask day nurseries

  • what is the ratio of carers to children and what was the turnover of staff in the last year?
  • what are the routine activities? When and where are the sleep sessions?
  • will they take the children off the day nursery premises?
  • can they provide a special diet if required?
  • what is their policy on discipline?
  • is there an opportunity to talk to the carer at the beginning and end of each day?
  • can you see their most recent inspection report?

Find a Day Nursery

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Family Support NI - Find a Day Nursery with funded Pre-School Places

Family Support NI - Find a Day Nursery with Out of School Places


What is a Playgroup?

A Pre-school Playgroup is a facility which provides early years education and care for children for a period of up to four hours a day, usually five days per week. Parents are not normally present during the session although most playgroups include and involve parents on their management committees.

Most playgroups are locally based and locally managed. A good quality Playgroup will provide a safe, well-planned environment, which encourages children to learn through a broad play-based curriculum.

Is it compulsory?

Pre-school education is available to every child but it's not compulsory. If you want your child to have pre-school education, you need to apply for a place. Playgroups offer places to children who are in their immediate pre-school year, with some also running sessions for underage pre-school children (in the year before their pre-school year).

Are they registered?

Playgroups must be registered by the local Health and Social Care Trust. Each setting will have an annual inspection by the Early Years Team to ensure they are maintaining the registration requirements of the Children (NI) Order 1995. These reports should be available to parents. Staff are required to have both health and police checks, which are carried out by Social Services.

Playgroups which are able to offer funded places through the government’s Pre-School Education Expansion Programme (PEEP) are inspected by the Education and Training Inspectorate Northern Ireland once in every three to five years. These reports can be accessed from the Department’s website

Is there a cost?

Not all playgroups offer pre-school funded places, therefore there may be a charge for your child's place. You should check this with the Playgroup before applying for a place.

Many playgroups are able to offer funded places through the government’s Pre-school Education Expansion Programme (PEEP) to children in the year immediately before they start school. In groups where funded places are not available, a charge will be made based on the number of sessions the child attends.

What is the Pre-School Education Expansion Programme?

The programme’s objective is to provide one year of free pre-school education to every child whose parents want to avail of it. All places made available under the programme will be part-time usually lasting 2.5 hours per day for up to five days per week over a 38 week period (i.e. the school year from September to June).

What is a Pre-School Education Group?

The programme is planned and implemented at local level by the Education Authority Pre-school Education Group (PEG). PEG replaces the previous PEAG’s that were run by the now dissolved Education and Library Boards. Each PEG includes representatives from the statutory, voluntary and private sectors and is chaired by an officer or member of the Education Authority. PEGs have overlapping membership with Childcare Partnerships.

Where is it available?

Free pre-school education places are available in a range of centres including nursery schools, nursery classes/units in primary schools and voluntary and private playgroups and day nurseries which are part of the Expansion Programme (these centres may also offer places for which parents pay). All settings in the programme will be open for inspection by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI).

In playgroups:

  • children can play and learn as well as have fun with friends
  • you can participate in your child's early years education
  • you can meet and get to know parents in your area
  • there may be funded places for children in their pre-school year

However, playgroups are not suitable if you need full day-care.

Things to check with playgroups

  • that the building is safe and well-maintained
  • that the playgroup is registered with Early Years Team in your local Health and Social Care Trust
  • that there is a wide range of activities
  • that there are enough qualified staff
  • that the children seem happy, well-supervised and doing suitable activities

Questions to ask playgroups

  • how many staff are on duty at any one time?
  • what qualifications and experience do staff have?
  • what policies and procedures does the group have?
  • can you stay with your child until they seem settled?

Applying for a Pre-School Place

Details of the admissions process and how to apply for a pre-school place for your child can be found on the Education Authority website here: Pre-School Admissions.

Find more information on our childcare article Applying for a Pre-School Place.

Find a Playgroup

Family Support NI - Find a Playgroup

Family Support NI - Find a Playgroup with Funded Pre-School Places

Statutory Nursery School/Unit

What is a Nursery School?

A nursery school is a facility which accepts children in their pre-school year (year immediately before starting primary one) for at least a period of 2.5 hours per day up to five days per week. Some nursery schools offer a full-time placement (five hours). They offer early education and constructive play opportunities which help to prepare children for going to 'big school' the following year. Some Nursery Schools may also run sessions for underage pre-school children (children in the pre pre-school year).  

Is it compulsory?

Nursery classes are a non-compulsory phase of a child’s pre-school education. Although attending nursery school is non-compulsory, it can be a useful stepping stone in preparing your child for starting primary school.

Are they registered?

Nursery Schools and Nursery Classes operate under the Education Authority (which superseded the now dissolved Education & Library Boards). They are not required to register with the Early Years Team in the Health and Social Care Trust. Nursery schools/units are inspected by the Education and Training Inspectorate Northern Ireland once in every three to five years. These reports can be accessed from the Department’s website

Applying for a Pre-School Place

Details of the admissions process and how to apply for a pre-school place for your child can be found on the Education Authority website here: Pre-School Admissions .

Find more information on our childcare article Applying for a Pre-School Place.

Find a Statutory Nursery School

Contact details of Nursery Schools are now available on the Family Support NI website.

Family Support NI - Find a Statutory Nursery School

Out of School Care

What is Out of School Care?

Out of School care can be a breakfast club, an after-school club or a holiday/summer scheme. It is care that is provided in sessions before or after the school day, for primary school aged children (4-12 years). Full day care may also be provided during school closures and holidays.

Breakfast Club

A breakfast club is a place where children can be dropped off before school, usually from 7.30 am or 8.00 am, and enjoy breakfast together. If the Breakfast Club is not provided on the school premises, children may be walked, or transport provided to take them to school.

After-School Club

An after-school club is a place for children to go after the school day is finished usually from 2.00pm to 6.00pm. The club may be in your child’s school, another local school or different premises. After-school clubs provide opportunities for fun activities such as games, sport and craft activities. Some After-school clubs provide computers and also allow time for children to do their homework.

Holiday/Summer Scheme

A summer scheme operates in the school holidays and offers groups of children a range of organised activities, from art and crafts to outings. They are usually open between 8.30am and 6.00pm. Full and part-time places may be available.

Are they registered?

After-school clubs that care for children for more than two hours a day must be registered by the local Early Years Team in the Health and Social Care Trust. Each setting will have an annual inspection by Trust personnel to ensure they are maintaining the registration requirements of the Children (NI) Order 1995. These reports should be available to parents. Staff are required to have both health and police checks, which are carried out by Social Services.

Find an Out of School

Family Support NI - Find an Out of School

Family Support NI - Find an Out of School with a Breakfast Club

Extended Schools

The Department of Education’s Extended Schools Programme provides funding to eligible schools, allowing them to run clubs and activities to help improve the life chances and achievement of participating pupils.

Funding is targeted at schools which serve areas of higher social disadvantage, with the aim of allowing all children the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

Extended school activities or services run outside of the normal school day. It allows the school to offer activities, clubs, classes and support to help meet the needs of nursery, primary, secondary and special school children, their families and in some circumstances, the local community.

A list of those schools which have received extended schools funding can be found here:

Parent and Toddler Group

What is a Parent and Toddler Group?

Parent and toddler groups are for parents/carers/relatives/childminders and the young children in their care. The main aim is to provide a pleasant and supportive environment for adults and a stimulating play environment for babies, toddlers and pre-school children.

Most groups aim to strike a balance between the adults’ and the children’s needs. Adults go along with their children, often joining in the fun and making lasting friendships. The group usually meets in the morning once a week.

What do you do?

Although this will vary from group to group, most will provide opportunities for:

  • babies to play and explore in a safe area
  • free play with a good range of toys including larger equipment
  • a craft activity that may involve cutting, sticking or painting
  • singing time often at the end of a session to allow for clearing away of toys
  • a refreshment break for adults and children.

Is there a charge?

There may be a minimal charge or voluntary contribution per child or family that is payable each week.  This cost is usually enough to cover the cost of snacks (where provided), equipment and insurance. Some groups operate free of charge. You should check with the group before you arrange to visit.

Do I just turn up?

You should contact the group before you arrange a visit, to make sure that meeting days and times are up-to-date. 

Most groups will have a main organiser who will welcome you and introduce you to the group. 

These groups are parent run and the parent/guardian is responsible for looking after their own children. In addition to this:

  • Some groups have a rota system with adults taking it in turns to set up, clear away and make refreshments

Are these groups Registered?

Parent and Toddler groups are not inspected/regulated because parents/carers remain with their children.

Find a Parent and Toddler Group

Family Support NI - Find a Parent and Toddler Group

Related Documents

SureStart Booklet 2017

Minimum Standards Full Version

Last Updated: 24/11/2020