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Your guide to childcare

One of hardest things about lockdown has been the difficulty getting childcare. However, as restrictions start to loosen, it’s getting easier to arrange for someone to look after the kids for you while you go to work, run errands or have a much needed break. This page explains the different options.

Can I get critical childcare?

What is critical childcare?

If you’re a key worker and you have no other way of getting childcare, you can ask your local authority for access to critical childcare.

Who counts as a key worker?

It’s up to the local council to decide who counts as a keyworker. In general, however, key workers include:

  • health and care workers 
  • public sector workers providing emergency or critical welfare services, such as Fire, Police, Prisons, Social Workers and workers in any of the 13 critical national infrastructure sectors (you can see the full list in the guidance here
  • 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 local authority to find out if you qualify.

You can find out more about critical childcare here.

I’m a key worker but my partner isn’t, can we get critical childcare?

Most local authorities aren’t providing critical childcare for people whose partner is not a key worker, even if that person also needs to return to work. However, it’s worth contacting your local authority to double check. You can also consider using some of the other options outlined below.

My child has additional support needs, can they get critical childcare?

Children with complex additional support needs are also eligible for critical childcare. If they are currently not getting critical childcare, speak to your local authority about how they can help. 

How long will critical childcare be available for?

If you are a key worker, and your child has been receiving critical childcare while you work, then there should still be provision for you until schools reopen. Critical childcare for key workers and vulnerable children was put in place until registered childcare provision fully opens, including over the school summer holidays As all childcare services, including ELC, childminders, breakfast clubs and out-of-school care are now able to reopen, local authorities will be winding down their critical childcare provision. Please contact your local council to confirm the end date in your area.

I'm not a key worker, what are my childcare options?

Can I use a registered childminder?

Registered childminders were able to reopen from 3 June, although some may not have reopened, for example, because they have a vulnerable family member at home. 

If you don't usually use a registered childminder for your child but you'd like to use one, you should contact them to find out if they have space.

Find out more about using a childminder here.

Can I send my child to nursery?

All registered ELC settings are able to reopen from 15 July onwards, if they choose to. You can find out more about ELC settings reopening here.

What about informal childcare?

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

Yes, if you’re part of an extended household then any adult in the extended household you are part of 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?

Households can now meet up indoors, within some limits. This means that childcare has become much more straightforward, as you can leave your child with a friend, family member, babysitter or nanny to look after, in your home or theirs, provided of course that no-one in the household has coronavirus symptoms.

Who can I ask to look after my child?

The person you ask to look after your child can be a friend or family member, or a babysitter or nanny.

Will they still 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. 

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?

Your child can stay as long as you like, including overnight. 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. Our page on meeting up indoors has more information on overnight stays.

Is there a limit to the number of children someone can look after?

You can meet up to 2 households indoors at a time. This means that one person can only look after children from 2 other households at one time. 

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

It’s fine for someone else to feed your baby, however, you should 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?

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. If this is the case, try to limit the number of passengers and space out as much as possible and keep the windows open. The people you share the car with will count as one of the 2 households you can meet up with indoors. Travel Scotland have further advice on travelling here.

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.