Going back to work after children is one of the most daunting prospects for any parent. Women being the primary care givers in most cases, the stats of women leaving work for childcare duties are higher than men. According to a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, after child birth ‘women’s employment rates jump sharply down from about 90% to 75%, and average weekly hours of work for those still in paid work fall from around 40 to less than 30.’
If and when you want to return to work is a personal choice that you have to make as a family. But if you’re considering going back to work, you should know the childcare options available to you to make the transition as smooth as possible for yourself and your family.
According to a 2020 survey by Statista, there were an estimated 3.78 million children under five in the UK. This statistic underlines the need for these families with young children to find appropriate childcare if they’re planning a return to work.
Types of Childcare to Support your Return to Work
1. Free childcare for under-fives
All three- to four-year-olds in England can get free childcare of up to 570 hours per year. This equates to 15 hours per week over 38 weeks in a year. You can get free childcare if you go through an ‘approved childcare’ provider who is registered.
In England you can verify if a childcare provider is approved through OFSTED. In Wales you can do this through the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales. In Scotland, it’s the Scottish Care Inspectorate and in Northern Ireland it’s the Local Early Years Team Register.
You can choose to take three hours every day, five days a week. But if you’re working from home one or two days a week, it might be worthwhile to take extended hours over fewer days.
Some families with three- to four-year-olds can claim up to 30 hours of free childcare per week. Find out if you’re eligible.
According to the UK government guidelines, the free early years care and education must be with an approved childcare provider. Additionally, you may have to pay for extra costs like day trips and nappies. This free childcare scheme ends when the child starts Reception.
In some cases, free childcare is available for children under two in England. You could be eligible if you get the following benefits:
- Income support
- Universal credit with your annual household income £15,400 or less after tax and not including income from benefits
- Child tax credit with your annual household income £16,190 before tax
Free childcare is also available to under-twos who are:
- Under the care of a local authority
- Have a Special Education Needs (SEN) statement or education, health and care (EHC) plan
Read the full list of eligibility criteria.
2. Wraparound Care
Wraparound care refers to the childcare arrangements available outside of regular school hours. This includes breakfast clubs and afterschool clubs. Many schools offer wraparound care options. Breakfast clubs usually start between 7:30am and 7:45am and run until 8:45am when regular school hours start. The afterschool clubs start at the end of the school day and are usually open until 6pm.
Most wraparound care is available to school-going children who are four or older. Wraparound care is more affordable than hiring a nanny or au pair for the same time.
Charges for breakfast clubs that usually run for an hour before schooltime can range from £3 to £6 depending on where you live. The charge includes a healthy breakfast option of cereal, toast, milk and fruit.
Charges for afterschool clubs can range from £6 to £15 depending on where you live. Some afterschool clubs provide light snacks or dinner, included in the charge.
A strong case in favour of wraparound care is that most provide flexibility to choose ad hoc sessions instead of a weekly or monthly booking. This is helpful especially if you alternate between home working and going into the office.
3. Holiday Care
Holiday care is something you need to plan for well in advance. Whether it’s Easter, summer, or half term breaks, arranging for childcare can be challenging during the holidays. Many wraparound care providers offer holiday camps. These usually run from as early as 8am and end at 6pm. A full day at a holiday club can cost between £30 to £38.
Most holiday camps require you to provide a packed lunch in addition to snacks.
Primary schools routinely send out emails about holiday camp options in the area towards the end of term. These can range from multi-sports, to science, art and crafts and more and are run by independent companies or trainers. Again, depending on where you live and the activity you choose, day charges for these activity clubs can range from £30 to £50 with some companies providing sibling discounts.
4. Private nursery or Daycare
According to a Statista report, in 2022 the average weekly cost for a full-time nursery place in the UK was over £269 for under-twos, £262 for two year-olds, and £106 for children between three and four years old. For those who can afford it, private nurseries care for children as young as six weeks to school age and usually run from 8am to 6pm round the year. You can choose from morning, afternoon and full-day sessions based on your requirements.
Childminders are self-employed workers who care for children in their own homes for more than two hours a day. In England, childminders must be registered with OFTED. They are more affordable than full-time nurseries with the average weekly cost of a part-time childminder around £48.67 for children over two. Childminders can usually be flexible about their hours and can take children to various drop-in groups, parks, and community centres. This gives children the opportunity to interact with other children their age and helps their social development.
6. Nanny Share
This has become an increasingly popular childcare option, particularly among families who are friends and have similar-aged children. The nanny can either look after all children at the same time or split their time between the two families. For a nanny share arrangement, both families will have to be registered as employers with HMRC and have a PAYE scheme. If you’re considering a nanny share, it’s worthwhile to consult a nanny payroll provider.
The average rate for a sole-charge nanny can range from £10 per hour to £16 per hour depending on your location. In a nanny share, because the children are taken care of together in a group, it can lower costs for each family by 30% approximately. In the same vein, the nanny also ends up making more money and the children get to spend more time together. Win-win for all!
For example – if the sole-charge nanny’s wages are £10 per hour, it can reduce to £7 per hour in a nanny share arrangement. This means the nanny earns a net £14 per hour from the two families, but at a reduced cost to each family.
7. Informal Childcare
This refers to friends and family helping out with childcare. In most cases it is a grandparent. It could also be an arrangement with a friend to do school pick-ups/drop offs. However, even if you’re lucky enough to have family to help out, you need to have backup options to account for any sickness, holidays or any period of unavailability.
How to Choose the Best childcare Option for you?
This would depend on several factors including but not limited to your family’s requirements, financial considerations and convenience.
Ask yourself the following questions before deciding on a childcare option:
- Exactly how many hours a day and how many days a week do you need childcare?
- What happens if you ever get held up at work? Do you have a backup?
- If considering a childminder, how comfortable are you with your child being in someone else’s house?
- How well does your child respond to new people? What’s a reasonable settling-in period for them?
- How easily can you get to the nursery/childminder’s house?
- How well-trained are the nursery staff?
- Do they have first-aid training?
- What is the ratio of staff to children? For children under two, the recommended ratio is a maximum of three children per carer.
These questions are just a guideline to choose the right childcare for you. At the end of the day, you have to go with your gut feeling and make an informed choice based on your family’s needs.
Here are some more useful resources if you’re planning a return to work:
- Tips on Returning to Work after Caring Duties
- Hot to Face the Return to the Office
- 4 Tips to Explain Employment Gaps in your CV
- Retraining at 40
Get Back to Work with FDM
FDM’s Returner Programme welcomes people with a career break of 12+ months. Our programme aims to train and recruit Returners for a number of Technical and Business roles and helps facilitate a seamless reintegration into the work force. Our Returners Programme includes support for wellbeing and mentoring, as well as assistance for flexible working arrangements should you require them.
Get back to work with FDM’s Returner’s Programme today.