Finding childcare

5 mins read

This advice applies across the UK.

Good quality childcare can benefit both parents and children. Some families use informal childcare such as other family members, friends or neighbours. However you may find you need to make more formal childcare arrangements.

In this article

Finding information about childcare

Choosing the right childcare service is important for you and your child. You need to be confident that your child is safe, secure and happy. For information on finding childcare in:

Your local health visitor and/or social worker may know of other suitable services. It is also worth asking other parents at support groups what childcare services they use.

If you are struggling to find childcare locally, your local authority is required to help. Local information services must provide parents with disabled children with details on the full range of childcare available, as well as other help including family support and relevant local and national voluntary organisations and health services.

Under the Childcare Act 2006, local authorities in England and Wales must ensure that they take all reasonable steps to ensure that there is appropriate childcare in the area, including childcare for disabled children. There is similar legislation in Scotland: the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, and Northern Ireland: the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.

Under the Children and Families Act 2014, local authorities in England must also include sources of information and advice about childcare for disabled children in their local offer.

Childcare regulation

It is important that childcare is of good quality and meets certain standards. In England, childcare is registered with and regulated by OFSTED, in Scotland by the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care (the Care Commission). In Northern Ireland it is the responsibility of local health and social services trusts and in Wales the Care Inspectorate Wales.

Many families with disabled children report that childcare can be unsuitable and availability limited. For disabled young people, going to leisure and after school activities may pose problems too.

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:

If you live in England

Find out what support you can expect your child to receive in childcare settings in England.

If you are refused a childcare place because your child is disabled or are asked to pay more than other parents, visit our refused childcare? page.

Types of childcare


Offer full and part-time care, play and learning opportunities for children, usually in the childminder’s own home. Childminders are self-employed and may be flexible in the hours they work, offering early mornings, evenings and weekend care.

Day nurseries

Are primarily for children under 5 to play and learn in a group environment, offering full and part-time places.

After school clubs and other out-of-school care

Out-of-school clubs (sometimes called kids clubs) provide childcare and other activities for school-age children before and after the school day and during the school holidays. Often these are based on school sites, but they may also be in community centres, churches, nurseries or linked to a children’s centre.


Sometimes known as playgroups, offer part-time care and education for children usually between 2½ and 5 years. Sessions operate for around two hours but some are available for longer periods.

Holiday playschemes

Operate during the school holidays for school age children, to provide a safe and stimulating environment for children to play and have fun. Some offer part-time or full-time care.

Childcare in your own home

In some cases a parent may feel that it is essential that their child is cared for in their own home. Some parents recruit a nanny, au pair or home childcarer via an agency, while others may look to advertise and recruit a childcarer themselves.

Children’s centres

Across England children’s centres offer a range of services which aim to serve children and their families until primary school. In Northern Ireland this is known as Sure Start. In Wales this takes the form of integrated children’s centres, while some areas in Scotland have Sure Start or children and families centres offering a range of services including childcare.

Each centre will offer integrated services (health, education, family support and childcare), outreach to parents, a base for childminders, and links with Jobcentre Plus and schools.

Difficulties finding childcare

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

Despite this, securing childcare is often a major obstacle for parents who are considering returning to work. Problems can emerge not only in paying for childcare but also in finding suitable childcare for your child. You may find it helpful to talk to other families who have a disabled child to find out about their experiences of using childcare. 


Finding childcare

Paying for childcare

Refused childcare? (England)