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Your guide to childcare

Stay at home guidance

To minimise the risk of spreading the virus, you must stay at home as much as possible. If you are currently in a level 4 area, you can only leave your home (or garden) for an essential purpose. 

In addition, only 2 people from 2 households can meet outdoors. Children under 12 do not count towards households or numbers when meeting outside.

We realise how very difficult this will be, but it’s vital in order to slow down the spread of the virus. You can read the full stay at home guidance on the gov.scot website.

There is also new guidance for schools, nurseries and other childcare providers. Between now and 1 February, regardless of what level you live in, all childcare settings (including nurseries and after school clubs) will only be open for children of key workers and vulnerable children. It’s expected that all children will return to school and childcare as normal from 1 February 2021, although this date is under regular review.

Registered childminders, however, can remain open for all children.

The rules on informal childcare are staying the same as they were at level 4.

What are my childcare options?

Will schools and early learning and childcare settings be staying open?

Yes, however only children of key workers and vulnerable children will be able to attend school or nursery. All other learning will be delivered online. Registered childminders can remain open for children from all families as normal.

Will critical childcare hubs be provided for all key workers?

No – schools and childcare settings can remain open for key workers and vulnerable children who currently access them. Informal childcare (like a family member, babysitter or nanny) can still be used by those people who need essential childcare (subject to some restrictions based on the level of the area you live in).

Which children will providers consider for vulnerable children’s places?

Some children may rely more on being able to attend ELC or childcare settings. Children and young people may be considered vulnerable because of factors related to their personal development, features of their family life, or because of wider influences that impact on them within their community. 

You can find out more on gov.scot about the range of circumstances services should consider when offering places. If you feel your child might be eligible to continue attending, you should contact your childcare provider or your local authority.

What if my childcare provider decides to close rather than stay open?

Local authorities will try as far as possible to continue to provide funded ELC places for the children of key workers for and vulnerable children where possible. If your normal setting closes, please contact your local authority to discuss whether an alternative place can be made available.

Can I use a registered childminder?

Registered childminders can remain open at this time and can take children from any family, not just key workers or vulnerable children. It’s possible that individual settings may need to close if coronavirus levels there are high or if they want to keep numbers to a minimum.

I’ve been asked to go to work and I’m not a key worker – what childcare will be available to me and when?

It’s really important to limit contacts at this time. The Scottish Government is asking employers to be flexible with employees who are currently unable to return to work, working from home or are working under different arrangements due to childcare commitments. Informal childcare (like a friend or family member or a nanny) can be used with some restrictions.

Who counts as a key worker?

It’s up to the local council or individual childcare provider to decide who counts as a key worker. In general, however, key workers include:

  • health and care workers
  • public sector workers providing emergency or critical welfare services, such as Fire, Police, Prisons, Courts, Social Workers and workers in any of the 13 critical national infrastructure sectors
  • education and childcare staff, including support staff, who are providing education and childcare for other key workers
  • other workers in the public, private or third sector without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland. This can include other education and childcare staff who are preparing schools and early learning and childcare services for re-opening.

Contact your childcare provider or local authority to find out if you qualify.

I’m a key worker but my partner isn’t, can our children continue to attend childcare?

Childcare providers have been asked to keep the numbers of children attending to a minimum and so may advise that people only access childcare if both parents or carers are key workers. However, it’s worth contacting your childcare provider or local authority to double check.

You can also consider using another childcare option such as a childminder or informal childcare (family, friends or a babysitter or nanny).

Can I send my child to nursery?

Between 26 December and 1 February nurseries can stay open to provide childcare for key worker and vulnerable children only.

Can a nanny or babysitter look after my child?

Can nannies or babysitters look after my child in level 3?

For all areas in level 3, a babysitter, or nanny can still look after your children in your home where necessary, for example, so you can go to work or medical appointments. However, the caregiver can only look after children from one other household at a time. So, for example, a nanny-share wouldn’t be permitted, as that would involve children from 2 households and a nanny from a third household. 

However, it’s best to only ask a babysitter or nanny to look after your child if you have to, for example:

  • if you need childcare to enable you to work (this can include working from home)
  • if you need to attend medical appointments for you or another child
  • if you or your children have on-going regular health or social care needs
  • if illness or health issues mean you can't look after them or you need additional support to do so
  • for respite care if your child is disabled.

Can nannies or babysitters provide childcare in level 4 or under stay at home restrictions?

At this level, the risk from indoor mixing is greater, so most in-home childcare (babysitters, family, nannies) is not advised. Where necessary, unpaid informal childcare is permitted if the child goes to the home of the caregiver. However, where you are paying for childcare, this should take place in your own home. If you are using family or friends to babysit, then this doesn’t need to take place in your own home, and it is safer if the child can move to the home of the caregiver. The section on informal childcare below has information on precautions that you can take.

Babysitters and nannies can continue to look after children in the child’s home, provided they are happy with the arrangement and the childcare is essential.

Childcare is essential if:

  • you're a key worker and require informal childcare to go to work
  • you work in an industry that is permitted to operate at level 4, and you require informal childcare to go to work
  • you're working from home, and you need informal childcare so you can to continue to work and no alternative can be found.

Key workers include:

  • health and care workers
  • public sector workers providing emergency or critical welfare services, such as Fire, Police, Prisons, Courts, Social Workers and workers in any of the 13 critical national infrastructure sectors
  • education and childcare staff, including support staff.

If you aren't a key worker and don't work in another industry that's permitted to operate in level 4, you can only use a nanny or babysitter in your home if it's essential and you have no other option.

Essential childcare means:

  • you are working from home, and you need informal childcare to enable you to continue to work
  • you or another child need to attend medical appointments
  • you or your children have on-going regular health or social care needs
  • illness or health issues mean you can't look after your child or you need additional support to do so
  • respite care if your child is disabled.

Extra precautions should be taken by both the caregiver and the family (such as cleaning, ventilation and avoiding shared food or utensils) to ensure everyone stays safe.

What about informal childcare?

Can I be furloughed if I need to look after my children at home?

Yes, you can ask to be furloughed if you need to look after your children but only if this is a result of coronavirus. So for example you can ask to be furloughed if:

  • your child’s school or ELC setting is closed due to coronavirus
  • your child can’t attend school or ELC because they have to isolate as a close contact of someone with coronavirus
  • you have to care for a vulnerable person.

Even if you can work from home, you may be able to be furloughed if you can’t juggle childcare with doing your job. If you need to reduce your hours to manage childcare, you can also ask to be furloughed for the hours you are losing.

If you need to be furloughed, get in touch with your employer to discuss this with them.

There’s lots more information at the Working Families website.

Further information can be also be found here: check if your employer can use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

Can a member of my extended household look after my children?

Yes, if you’re part of an extended household then any adult in that extended household can look after your children, even if you don’t live with them. You can find out more about who can form extended households here.

Can family members or friends from other households look after my child?

Informal childcare can continue but subject to level 4 restrictions (or level 3 in the island areas which are designated as such).

Level 3

For all areas in level 3, a friend or family member can still look after your children where necessary, for example, so you can go to work or medical appointments. However, the caregiver can only look after children from one other household at a time. So, for example, if a grandparent normally looks after cousins, then they would only be able to look after one set of grandchildren at a time.

The friend or family member can look after your child in your home or theirs, provided of course that no-one in either household has coronavirus symptoms. We would still recommend limiting informal childcare to necessary childcare. The type of situations where you might use informal childcare could be:

  • if you need childcare to enable you to work (this can include working from home)
  • to attend medical appointments for you or another child
  • you or your children have on-going regular health or social care needs
  • illness or health issues mean you can't look after them or you need additional support to do so
  • respite care if your child is disabled.

Level 4 and stay at home restrictions

For areas in level 4 or under stay at home restrictions, you should only use informal childcare if it's essential (see 'Who can access childcare at level 4?' below).

In level 4, your child should move between households, rather than your friend or family member coming to your house to look after your child. However, in some cases it may be essential for the caregiver to come to your home, for example if your child has additional support needs or you don't have transport. In this case, everybody should be extra careful around hygiene and must follow physical distancing rules at all times.

Who can access informal childcare in level 4 or under stay at home restrictions?

You should only use informal childcare in level 4 or under stay at home restrictions if it's essential. This means that you can leave your child with a friend or family member if:

  • you're a key worker and require informal childcare to go to work
  • you work in an industry that is permitted to operate at level 4, and you require informal childcare to go to work
  • you're working from home, and you need informal childcare so you can to continue to work and no alternative can be found.

Key workers include:

  • health and care workers
  • public sector workers providing emergency or critical welfare services, such as Fire, Police, Prisons, Courts, Social Workers and workers in any of the 13 critical national infrastructure sectors
  • education and childcare staff, including support staff.

If you aren't a key worker and don't work in another industry that's permitted to operate in level 4, you can only use informal childcare if it's essential and you have no other option. Essential childcare means:

  • you are working from home, and you need informal childcare to enable you to continue to work
  • you or another child need to attend medical appointments
  • you or your children have on-going regular health or social care needs
  • illness or health issues mean you can't look after your child or you need additional support to do so
  • respite care if your child is disabled.

Your employer should offer homeworking and other flexible working arrangements to help you balance work with care. If the increased restrictions are going to give you additional caring responsibilities, it's a good idea to discuss flexible working with your employer so you can come up with a balance that works for everyone.

In level 4 and under stay at home restrictions, your child should move between households, rather than your friend or family member coming to your house to look after your child. However, in some cases it may be essential for the caregiver to come to your home, for example if your child has additional support needs or you don't have transport. In this case, everybody should be extra careful around hygiene and must follow physical distancing rules at all times.

Can I travel to a different local authority area for childcare?

Yes, if you're a key worker you can take your child to their regular childcare provider if they are in a different local authority area. If you use informal childcare (for example, babysitters or family looking after your child) then you can travel between areas for the purpose of essential childcare.

Here are the rules around travel in more detail:

Level 3
If you live in a level 3 area you mustn’t leave your local authority area unless it’s essential. 

Level 4 and stay at home restrictions
You mustn’t leave your local authority area unless it’s essential and you should try to travel within your local authority area as little as possible.

All levels
Essential reasons for travel include:

  • work
  • education (this includes travel for school, university and nursery, home education, training and school day trips) 
  • essential childcare
  • if you are sharing parenting or in an extended household and you live in different local authority areas
  • providing or receiving voluntary services
  • children’s organised activities (including baby and toddler groups)
  • accessing healthcare
  • antenatal and postnatal classes.

You can find out more about travel restrictions and exemptions, travelling safely and using public transport on the Scottish Government website.

We should avoid car sharing with people outside an extended household unless it's essential.

Can someone else look after my child if they’re isolating as a close contact?

If your child has been told to isolate as a close contact of someone who’s got coronavirus, no-one else outside your immediate household should look after them, as they may have or pass on the virus without showing any symptoms. If you can’t work because your child has to isolate, you may be eligible for a Self-Isolation Support Grant. You can find out more about financial support available during coronavirus here.

Do adults and children need to physically distance?

If your child is under 12, the person looking after them doesn’t need to distance. However, adults and children 12 and over from different households should stay 2 metres away from each other, unless there’s an emergency – for example, if a child gets hurt and needs help.

If I need to use informal childcare, what precautions can I take?

Lots of us rely on friends and families for informal childcare but right now, it’s best to limit it to essential childcare, and to take precautions. One thing you can do to limit risk is to avoid adults interacting, or visiting other households. For example if a grandparent is babysitting maybe let them look after your child at their house as opposed to them coming to yours, especially if you’re working from home.

If you can, try to arrange for the same person to look after your children, rather than different people, as this will limit the amount of contact your children has with others.

If the babysitter who usually looks after your children also looks after other families at other times, they may decide to limit this to one family, to reduce the risk from being in different homes.

Some additional risk comes from preparing food for people outside our household, so you may choose to supply your children with any food they need for the day.

And as the virus is less likely to spread when we are outdoors it is best for family or friends to spend as much time outside as possible when they’re looking after your children.

My child is over 12, but has additional needs. Do they need to physically distance? Can someone still look after them without physically distancing?

Children with additional needs should follow the physical distancing guidelines appropriate to their physical age where possible, which means 12s and over should physically distance, except in an emergency.

Is there a time limit on how long they can look after my child? Can they stay overnight?

In levels 0-3, there’s no time limit for how long someone can look after your child, including overnight if required. However, everyone aged 12 and over will need to maintain physical distancing at all times so it’s important to think the arrangements through and decide whether it’s practical.

For areas in level 4 and under stay at home restrictions, this would be acceptable for essential workers if it was the only available option (see 'Who can access childcare in level 4?' above).

Is it safe for someone else to feed my baby? Or change their nappy?

It’s fine for someone else to feed your baby if they are providing childcare, however, you may wish to prepare their food in advance to be safe. It’s also fine for someone else to change your baby’s nappy, or help a little one on the potty, as long as they keep everything clean and wash their hands before and after.

If someone else is looking after my child, is there anything I can do to help them stay safe?

Before you leave your child with someone else, make sure they have everything your child will need, such as pre-prepared food and drink, utensils, disposable wipes and a towel. The person looking after your child should of course maintain good hygiene and cleaning measures.

If someone else is looking after my child, can they drive them somewhere in the car?

Whatever level your area is in, you shouldn’t give anyone from another household a lift in your car, or accept a lift from someone from another household, unless it’s essential. So if someone is providing necessary childcare for your child after school, and it’s too far to walk, then that might be considered essential. If this is the case, try to limit the number of passengers and space out as much as possible and keep the windows open. You shouldn’t share a car with people from more than 1 household at a time. Travel Scotland have further advice on travelling here.

My child is on the shielding list, can they be looked after by friends, family or a nanny?

If you need other friends or family to help look after your child while you are at work, the people that help you should keep their contact with people from other households to a minimum, stringently follow the FACTS advice, and avoid sharing food and utensils. Whilst in the house, if possible, they should avoid touching hard surfaces but also regularly wipe surfaces down with anti-bacterial cleaner. Keep windows open and have fresh air flowing through the house, as much as possible. 

Can I leave a young child with their older brother or sister?

There’s no law about what age your child can be left at home. However, you mustn’t leave a child on their own if they'll be at risk. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) recommends:

  • babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
  • children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
  • children under 16 shouldn't be left alone overnight. The NSPCC website has more advice about deciding when it's safe for a child to be left alone

The NSPCC website has more advice about deciding when it's safe for a child to be left alone.