Your childcare options

Choosing childcare

Deciding on childcare is a big decision for any parent. There are a number of factors you need to consider.

These include:

  • Your child’s age
  • Whether you need full-time or part-time care
  • The hours you need services (regular, daytime, evenings or weekends)
  • Your budget
  • Services available in your area

It is important to discuss with the childcare service provider your child’s needs and the service they can provide. You should check that staff are qualified, and the provider has appropriate childcare policies and procedures in place (for example, policies for child protection, behaviour management, and accidents).

Research before choosing a childcare provider

If you are thinking of choosing a childcare provider, you should visit them when there are children present, so you can get a sense of the atmosphere and see how they operate.

It is also important to check fees, hours, and holiday periods.

You can find information about childcare in Ireland from the following organisations:

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency

Pre-school and school-age childcare facilities are regulated and inspected by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

Tusla has a list of tips on choosing a pre-school and a database of childcare inspection reports.

You may also want to read our pages about the:

Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth

The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) has published a list of early years recognised qualifications (pdf) for childcare programmes.

City or County Childcare Committee

Your City or County Childcare Committee can give you a list of childcare providers in your area. They can also put you in touch with your local early years or pre-school inspector (see 'Where to find childcare' below).

Types of childcare

Childcare services can differ in their opening hours, management structures, and the curriculum they use (read about early childhood education). Some services also vary depending on staff training and the needs of parents in your area.

Childcare options include:

  • Full day care and part-time day care
  • Sessional services
  • Childminders
  • Parent, baby and toddler groups
  • Drop-in centres
  • School-age childcare

Full day care

Full day care is a structured service for children attending more than 5 hours per day.

The childcare provider offers your child food and sleeping facilities, as well as access to a safe outdoor space.

Full day care includes day nurseries and crèches. It can sometimes include sessional services for children who aren’t attending full-time (see ‘sessional services’ below).

Part-time day care

Part-time day care is a structured service for children attending more than 3.5 hours and less than 5 hours per day. The childcare provider must offer the same rest, play, and sanitary facilities as it does for children attending full day care.

Part-time day care services may include Montessori groups, pre-schools, crèches, and playgroups.

Sessional services

There are different types of sessional childcare services for children aged 0-6. These offer a planned programme of up to 3.5 hours per session (such as a morning or an afternoon).

Providers of sessional childcare services must have a recognised childcare qualification.

Types of sessional services

Montessori groups 

Children learn at their own pace by choosing their own activities from developmentally-appropriate options

Naíonraí 

Nursery schools or playschools that operate through the Irish language

Playgroups

Community groups which focus on play and socialising 

Playschools or pre-schools

Children can play with other children of a similar age, learn to share and take turns, and learn to understand the rules of the classroom (such as listening)

Childminders

Childminders care for children in the minder’s own home. A childminder can care for up to 5 children under 6 years of age (including the childminder’s own).

The service is usually offered for the full working day, or for different periods during the day. Parents and childminders arrange their own terms and conditions.

Childminding Development Grant

Childminders can apply for Childminding Development Grants from their local City or County Childcare Committee (CCC). The grant provides up to €1,000 to help childminders providing services in their own home. It can be used to buy toys, educational items, childcare equipment, safety equipment, and IT equipment.

You can read a guide to becoming a childminder (pdf), which was developed as part of the National Action Plan for Childminding 2021-2028.

Tax relief

There is a childminder’s tax relief for childminders who look after up to 3 children in the minder’s own home.

Parent, baby and toddler groups

Parent, baby and toddler groups are where a group of parents, guardians or carers and children come together for supervised play and companionship for their parents.

Drop-in centres

A drop-in centre offers a service for short periods during the day. These centres are often provided in shopping centres, leisure centres and accommodation facilities.

The service is provided as part of a customer or client service and children are looked after while the parent is availing of a service or attending an event.

School-age childcare

Services for schoolchildren can include:

  • Breakfast clubs
  • After-school clubs
  • School holiday programmes (such as summer camps)

Some services also offer homework supervision, planned activities, or nutritious meals.

School-age childcare services must be registered with Tusla. Read more about the regulation of school-age childcare.

Financial supports for childcare

National Childcare Scheme

The National Childcare Scheme (NCS) helps parents to meet childcare costs.

Families with children aged over 6 months (24 weeks) and under 15 years can get childcare subsidies.

Your childcare provider must be:

  • Registered with Tusla, and
  • Have a NCS contract with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY)

You apply for the subsidy, but it is paid directly to your childcare provider. Your provider will then subtract the subsidy from your childcare bill.

There is a universal subsidy and an income-assessed subsidy. You can’t get both subsidies at the same time, but you can choose which one is better for you.

Universal childcare subsidy

The universal childcare subsidy is available to parents of any income level and is not means-tested. The subsidy rates are based on the number of hours your child is attending childcare.

Income-assessed subsidy

The income-assessed subsidy is available to families with an annual reckonable income of up to €60,000. It is means-tested.

The subsidy rates are based on:

  • Your reckonable family income
  • The age of your child
  • The educational stage of your child.

You can use the subsidy calculator on the NCS website to help you work out what your entitlement will be.

Community Childcare Subvention and Community Childcare Subvention Plus

The Community Childcare Subvention (CCSP) programme helps parents on lower incomes, and parents in education or training, to access childcare at a reduced cost from Tusla-registered childcare services. The CCSP is closed to new applicants.

Read more about the subsidies available on the National Childcare Scheme website.

Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE)

The Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE) is a universal free preschool programme. Eligible children can use the scheme for up to 2 years before starting primary school.

Early Start Programme

The Early Start Programme is a one-year pre-school project offered in selected schools in some disadvantaged areas. It is for children aged between 3 and 5 who are at risk of not reaching their potential in school.

A child cannot be enrolled in both ECCE and Early Start at the same time.

How much does childcare cost?

Childcare costs depend on:

  • The type of childcare you choose
  • The number of hours your child is cared for
  • The level of staff training in that facility.

Pre-school education provided under the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE) is free for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, 38 weeks of the year. If your child attends for more than 3 hours, you will be charged for the extra time.

Where to find childcare

You can find information about childcare providers from a number of different sources.

You can contact:

You can also find a list of contracted childcare providers on the National Childcare Scheme website.

More information

Page edited: 20 May 2024