Your childcare options
Deciding on childcare is a big decision for any parent. There are a number of factors that you need to consider. These include:
- Your child’s age
- Whether you need full 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, child protection, behaviour management and accidents. It is also important to check fees, hours, and holiday periods. Make sure to visit when there are children present, so you get a feel for the atmosphere. The Child and Family Agency (Tusla) has published a useful list of tips on choosing a pre-school. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) has published a list of recognised qualifications for the purposes of the DCEDIY childcare programmes.
By law, pre-school and school-age childcare facilities must notify and be inspected by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. You can access the Child and Family Agency Inspection Reports on Childcare Services. More detailed information about the regulation of pre-school childcare services and regulation of school-age childcare services is available from Tusla - see 'Where to apply' below.
Your City or County Childcare Committee can provide a list of childcare providers in your area. They can also put you in touch with your local early years/pre-school inspector -see 'How to apply' below.
Types of childcare options
Some childcare options are distinguished simply by their opening hours or management structures, and others by the curriculum they use. You can read more about early childhood education. Staff training can also determine the type of service available, as can the general needs of parents in your area. Different types of childcare services include:
Full day care
This is a structured care service for more than 5 hours per day and may include a sessional service. Some may also include an after-school facility. In full day care, sleeping arrangements and food preparation must meet standards laid down by Tusla. Providers include day nurseries and crèches.
These services offer a planned programme consisting of up to 3.5 hours per session (such as a morning or an afternoon). These services may also be provided for younger children. In order to provide a sessional childcare service, a recognised childcare qualification is required. Sessional services include:
- Montessori groups focus on individualised education.
- Naíonraí are nursery schools or playschools operating through Irish.
- Playschools give children an opportunity to play with other children of a similar age, learn to share and take turns and to understand the rules of the classroom, such as listening.
- Early Start Programme is a one-year preventative intervention scheme offered in selected schools in designated disadvantaged areas to three- and four-year-old children.
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.
As part of the National Childminding Initiative, childminding development grants and guidelines for childminders (pdf) are available to childminders from their local City or County Childcare Committee (CCC).
There is a childminder’s tax relief for childminders who look after up to 3 children in the minder’s own home. There was a temporary exception to this during the COVID-19 public health emergency when a childminder who looked after the child of an essential worker in the child's own home could claim the tax relief.
Parent and toddler groups
Parent and toddler groups are where a group of parents, guardians or carers and children come together for supervised play and companionship for their parents.
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.
Services for schoolchildren can include breakfast clubs, after school clubs and school holiday programmes such as summer camps. Depending on the service, there may also be homework supervision, planned activities or a nutritious meal. From 2019, school-age childcare services must be registered with Tusla. You can read more about the regulation of school-age childcare.
Childcare support programmes
The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth funds support programmes to help parents access quality childcare at a more affordable cost. For more information on support programmes you may be eligible for, as well as childcare services in your area, contact your local City or County Childcare Committee - see 'Where to apply' below.
National Childcare Scheme
The National Childcare Scheme launched in November 2019. It will replace all of the existing targeted childcare support programmes and the universal childcare subsidy with a single scheme to help parents meet the cost of quality childcare.
Under the scheme, subsidies are available to families with children aged between 6 months (24 weeks) and 15 years who are attending any participating Tusla registered childcare service, including Tusla registered childminders and school aged childcare services.
Detailed information on the supports available can be found on the National Childcare Scheme website.
Existing support programmes will continue to operate until August 2021. This will allow a transition period for families to move to the National Childcare Scheme.
Community Childcare Subvention and Community Childcare Subvention Plus: The Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) programme helps parents on lower incomes to access childcare at a reduced cost in participating community childcare services.
The Community Childcare Subvention Plus (CCSP) programme helps parents on lower incomes to access childcare at a reduced cost in participating privately owned childcare services.
These programmes merged together for the 2019/2020 programme year. The CCS programme closed to new applicants on 25 October 2019. Families can apply for support under the National Childcare Scheme.
After-School Child Care Scheme: The After-School Child Care Scheme (ASCC) supports low-income unemployed people to return to work. The Scheme provides subsidised after-school childcare places to people with children of primary school age who find employment, increase the number of days they work or take up a place on an employment support scheme. The ASCC programme closed to new applicants on 14 February 2020. Families can apply for support under the National Childcare Scheme.
Childcare Education and Training Support (CETS): If you are a parent going to secondary school or you have applied for a vocational training course provided by an Education and Training Board and you need childcare, you may qualify for a childcare at reduced rates under the CETS programme. CETS can provide full-time, part-time or after-school childcare places.
Parents going to secondary school are also now entitled to receive childcare funding under CETS.
The CETS programme closed to new applicants on 14 February 2020. Families can apply for support under the National Childcare Scheme.
Community Employment Childcare (CEC): The Community Employment Childcare (CEC) programme provides childcare places at reduced rates for Community Employment (CE) applicants who need childcare so that they can take up a place on a CE scheme.
The CEC programme closed to new applicants on 14 February 2020. Families can apply for support under the National Childcare Scheme.
Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme
The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme is a universal free preschool programme available to all eligible children for up to 2 years before starting primary school. The free preschool (ECCE) programme is not affected by the National Childcare Scheme. You can read more about ECCE and NCS.
Universal childcare subsidy
Since 2017, a universal childcare subsidy is available to all children in Tusla registered childcare who are above the age of 6 months but below the age when they can start the free pre-school ECCE programme. The subsidy is not means-tested.
The subsidy is deducted from the overall bill the parent receives from their childcare service.
Since November 2019, parents can apply for the universal childcare subsidy using the National Childcare Scheme’s online system – see ‘How to apply’ below.
Detailed information about childcare subsidies is available on ncs.gov.ie.
Childcare costs depend on the type of childcare you choose, the number of hours and the level of staff training in that facility.
There is no charge for the pre-school education provided under the Early Childhood Care and Education scheme.
How to apply
Your local City or County Childcare Committee will have a list of childcare providers in your area. You can also apply to the early years/pre-school inspector for information about childcare services locally. Public health nurses will often be familiar with local services and childminders within your area and can be contacted at your local health centre.
There is a list of national voluntary childcare organisations which promote quality in childcare.
Applications for the National Childcare Scheme should be made online at ncs.gov.ie.
To apply online you need a verified MyGovID. You can get more information on getting and using a verified MyGovID on the MyGovID website.
You will need the Personal Public Service (PPS) numbers for each child that you are applying for, as well as your partner’s details (if you have one).
Your can make a paper-based application. You can apply by post by contacting the Parent Support Centre – see where to apply below. Paper-based applications will take longer to process and may affect the start date from which your subsidy can be paid.
You can get a list of contracted childcare providers on ncs.gov.ie.
Where to apply
Contact your local City or County Childcare Committee.
Contact the Child and Family Agency.
Contact your local health centre.
Contact your Local Health Office.
Visit ncs.gov.ie for more information on the National Childcare Scheme or contact the National Childcare Scheme Parent Support Centre. Call +353 1 906 8530 (9am - 5pm Monday to Friday) or email NCS@dcya.gov.ie.
City and County Childcare Committees
The City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs) develop and implement a co-ordinated strategy for the provision of quality, affordable and accessible childcare within each county. The CCCs help communities identify gaps in current childcare services and develop new services to meet these needs. They provide information on funding and grant applications and facilitate a co-ordinated approach to childcare training at all levels.
The Children and Young People’s Policy Framework, sets out the Government’s high level policy priorities for children and young people until 2020. You can read more in Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families 2019-2028.