Regulation of pre-school childcare services

Pre-school childcare

Pre-school children are children under 6 years of age, who are not attending a primary school or equivalent.

Pre-school services include pre-schools, play groups, day nurseries, crèches, childminders and other similar services looking after more than 3 pre-school children.

Tusla is required to inspect and regulate pre-school childcare services and has published a list of tips on choosing a pre-school.

The regulation of pre-school childcare services is set out in the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016. The Regulations describe the standards of health, safety and welfare that must be in place before such services can be provided.

Other key legislation for childcare is the Child Care Act 1991 as amended by the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 and the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) (Amendments) Regulations 2016.

Tulsa is responsible for ensuring the health, safety and welfare of pre-school children attending pre-school childcare services. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) has overall responsibility for developing policy and regulations in this area.

Registration of childcare providers

Tusla is required to inspect and regulate pre-school childcare services. This means that pre-school childcare providers must notify Tusla that they are providing a service.

Pre-school childcare services that must register with Tusla

The different types of pre-school childcare services that must register with Tusla are described in the Regulations. These are:

  • Sessional services
  • Part-time day care
  • Full day care
  • Childminders caring for more than 3 children – see ‘Childminders’ below
  • Pre-school service in a drop-in centre

Sessional services
Playgroups, crèches, Montessori groups, playschools, naionraí and childminders looking after more than 3 children offer sessional pre-school services. Services normally offered are planned programmes, consisting of up to 3.5 hours per session (for example, a morning or an afternoon). They generally cater for pre-school children in the 3-5 year age bracket.

Part-time day care
This offers a structured day care service for pre-school children for more than 3.5 hours and less than 5 hours per day.

Full day care
This is a structured day care service for more than 5 hours per day. Providers include day nurseries and crèches.

Childminders
Childminders care for children in the childminder’s own home. Throughout the year, they offer this service for the full working day or for different periods during the day. Parents and childminders negotiate their own terms such as hours, rates and duties. As part of the National Childminding Initiative, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has published guidelines for childminders (pdf). You may have to pay PRSI if your earnings are over a certain amount.

A childminder can care for no more than 5 pre-school children at any given time, including the childminder's own pre-school children. Only childminders caring for more than 3 children are covered by the Child Care Act, 1991.

A childminding tax relief applies to people who mind up to 3 children in the minder's own home. The childminder does not have to pay tax if their earnings are less than €15,000 per year. If their earnings are more than this amount, tax is payable on the full amount. Childminders must include their childminding income in their annual tax return. They must also notify their local City or County Childcare Committee that they are providing a childminding service.

Pre-school service in a drop-in centre
A pre-school service in a drop-in centre is where a pre-school child is cared for over a period of not more than 2 hours while the parent or guardian is availing of a service or attending an event. Such services are mainly located in places such as shopping centres or leisure centres.

Who does not have to register with Tusla?

Certain pre-school care providers do not have to notify Tusla - the Child and Family Agency. These include:

  • A relative of the child or the spouse of such a relative (that is, the brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandparent or step-parent of the child)
  • If you are caring for 1 or more pre-school children of the same family and no other children (other than your own) in your own home
  • If you are caring for not more than 3 pre-school children from different families (other than your own) in your own home

Childcare Regulations and inspections

Anyone delivering pre-school childcare must ensure that the service meets the measures set out in the Childcare Regulations of 2016 (pdf).

Tusla has published a Quality and Regulatory Framework (QRF), to help childcare services to meet the Regulations.

The Regulations for childcare providers include:

Health, welfare and development of the child
A person carrying on a pre-school service should ensure that each child’s learning, development and well-being is facilitated within the daily life of the service through the provision of the appropriate interaction, materials and equipment, appropriate to the age and stage of development of the child and appropriate suitable care practices.

First aid and medical assistance
There should be a suitably equipped first-aid box for children and arrangements to call emergency medical help. A person trained in first aid for children must be available at all times.

Management and staffing
A person carrying out a pre-school service must ensure that a sufficient number of suitable and competent adults are working directly with the children at all times. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) has published a list of recognised qualifications for the purposes of the Department's childcare programmes.

Anyone working with pre-school children must have appropriate qualifications or be planning to get such qualifications.

All staff, students and volunteers who have access to a child should be appropriately Garda vetted.

Adult/child and space ratios

Pre-school service Age of children No. of adults No. of children Floor area per child
Sessional services 0-1 years 1 3 1.818 sq. metres, maximum of 22 per room
1-2.5 years 1 5 1.818 sq. metres, maximum of 22 per room
2.5-6 years 1 11 1.818 sq. metres, maximum of 22 per room
Full/part-time day care* 0-1 year 1 3 3.5 sq metres
1-2 years 1 5 2.8 sq. metres
2-3 years 1 6 2.35 sq. metres
3-6 years 1 8 2.3 sq. metres
Drop-in centres 0-6 years 1 4 (only 2 or less under 15 months) 1.818 sq.metres, maximum of 24 per room
Childminders 0-6 years 1 5 (including his/her own) No more than 2 children under 15 months

Overnight pre-school service

0-1 years

1 3
1-6 years 1 5

*When a full day care service also takes children not on a full day basis, sessional service adult numbers apply. The minimum floor area for a sessional service for each child also applies for that session.

Tusla can limit the maximum number of pre-school children who may be cared for at the same time. This is to prevent over-crowding in pre-school services. If Tusla proposes to limit numbers, they will notify the provider who can appeal or make representations about this decision.

Behaviour management
Anyone providing a pre-school childcare service must ensure that no corporal punishment is inflicted on any child attending the service. The provider should have written policies and procedures to manage a child’s challenging behaviour and to assist the child to manage his or her behaviour.

Register of pre-school children
A pre-school childcare provider must keep a register with details of each child attending the service including name, date of birth, contact numbers for parents and child’s doctors.

Information for parents
Parents must be given information about the service including details of the person in charge and other staff, the adult/child ratios, the age range of the children, the type of care, facilities, opening hours and fees.

Premises and facilities
Pre-school services (including childminders, drop-in centres, crèches, etc.) must ensure their standards meet certain standards and provide certain facilities. These rules include ensuring that:

  • The premises are of sound and stable structure and are suitable for providing pre-school services
  • Adequate space per child is provided in the premises
  • Fixtures, premises and fittings are kept in a proper state of repair and in a clean and hygienic condition
  • There must be adequate and suitable furniture, play and work equipment and materials available on the premises of the pre-school service
  • There are adequate and suitable facilities for a pre-school child to rest and to play indoors and outdoors during the day

Pre-school childcare providers must ensure that the building has suitable and adequate heating, ventilation and lighting and sanitary facilities.

Safety measures

All reasonable measures must be taken to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of a pre-school child attending the service and ensure that the environment of the service is safe.

Registered childcare providers must have a safety statement and policies on areas including managing behaviour, the administration of medication, infection control and safe sleep.

Food and drink
A pre-school service should ensure that food is nutritious and meets with dietary and religious requirements.

The Department of Health's Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Pre-School Services (pdf) advise that children in day care for more than 5 hours per session (full day care) should be offered at least 2 snacks and 2 meals, including one hot meal.

Insurance
The provider should ensure that the pre-school children are adequately insured against injury while attending the service.

Further information

If you need further information about the standards and regulation of childcare services for pre-school children you should contact the early years/pre-school inspector.

If you need information on local childcare services for your child or other issues relating to the care of young children, you should contact your local City/County Childcare Committees (CCC), if you need further information on local childcare services for your child

Contact your local City or County Childcare Committee.

Tusla - Child and Family Agency

Brunel Building
Heuston South Quarter
Dublin 8
Ireland

Tel: (01) 771 8500

Page edited: 8 February 2022