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Your guide to childcare

One of the hardest things about the coronavirus pandemic has been knowing when and how we can get childcare. This page explains your options for formal childcare (such as nurseries and childminders), when you can use a nanny or babysitter and when friends and family can look after your children. The rules are different depending on which COVID-19 protection level your area is in. You can find out which level you’re in using the checker here.

What are my formal childcare options?

Are schools and early learning and childcare settings open?

All ELC settings can now reopen. Our ELC FAQ page has more information. 

All primary and secondary pupils can now return to school on a full-time basis. Our schools FAQ page has more information. 

Can I use a registered childminder?

Registered childminders are permitted to open. However, 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.

My child’s been going to a different nursery while our usual nursery is shut – what happens now?

If you’re a key worker or have a vulnerable child and your child has been attending a different nursery or childcare setting while their usual setting is closed, it’s likely that you’ll be asked to take them to their usual setting now, but get in touch with your ELC provider to confirm this.

Will I still be charged childcare fees if the setting my child attends is closed?

This depends on your situation. You don’t have to pay for your child’s funded hours, as these are paid for by the Scottish Government and your local authority. 

If your child attends a private nursery or childcare setting, or if you pay for additional services on top of your funded hours, and are being asked to pay fees while they are closed, the first thing you should do is look at the contract you have with the setting. You should have signed this when your child first started there. If you no longer have a copy you can ask the setting to send you one.

The contract may say that the setting can charge a fee if they have to shut through circumstances beyond their control (such as the pandemic). In this case, they can ask you to pay a small fee to cover direct costs while they’re closed, but shouldn’t be asking you to pay the full fees, or a substantial part of the fees. 

Or the contract may say that the setting can change the terms of the agreement. In this case, you and the setting may agree between you that you will pay a small fee while they’re closed. However, the setting shouldn’t use this to force you to pay large fees for a service you’re not getting. Nor should they put pressure on you to pay by saying that your child will lose their place or the setting will close down altogether if you don’t.

In addition, the Scottish Government is asking childcare providers to be sensitive to families’ financial situations when considering their charging policies as some families may not be able to afford extra costs at the moment, due to the pandemic.    

You can find out more about your rights at the gov.uk website.

If you’re not happy with what your child’s setting is asking you to pay and think it’s unfair, talk to the setting first and see if you can work something out. You can get advice on your rights from Trading Standards Scotland
 

Will school age childcare settings be reopening?

Breakfast and after-school clubs for primary school age children can now reopen. 

Can a nanny or babysitter look after my child?

Can nannies or babysitters look after my child in level 0-2?

Yes, nannies and babysitters can look after your children. In order to reduce risks it’s important to continue to follow the rules on indoor socialising.

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. 

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 look after my child in level 4?

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. You can also check if your employer can use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme here.

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?

Yes, informal childcare can continue at all levels but it’s important to consider the risks associated with this and take measures to reduce risks where possible.

Levels 0-2

If you’re in an area in levels 0-2 then other friends or family can look after your children. In order to reduce risks it’s important to continue to follow the rules on indoor socialising. Remember that indoors, children under 12 don’t count towards the number of people that can be together, but they do count towards the number of households. So for example in level 2 it’s advisable to only look after children from one other household.

Level 3  

For all areas in level 3, a friend or family member can still look after your children. 

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. However, it’s best to only ask a friend or family member 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)
  •  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

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

Who can access informal childcare in level 4?

You should only use informal childcare in level 4 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, 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.

What can I do to reduce any risks while using informal childcare?

In all levels we would encourage you to consider how to reduce risks associated with informal childcare. There are ways to reduce those risks by considering: 

  • where childcare is provided – for example, the risks of transmitting the virus are greatly reduced outdoors and also there are fewer risks if the child travels to the caregiver's home rather than the other way round.
  • how many households are mixing – for example, there may be increased risks associated with looking after children from multiple households or if children are going to multiple households for childcare regularly.
  • cleaning and food preparation – following the FACTS advice and ensuring regular cleaning will reduce risks of transmission. Avoiding sharing of utensils, crockery and cutlery and sharing of food also reduce risks.

Can I travel for childcare?

Yes, you can take your child to their regular ELC provider if they are in a different local authority area. If you use babysitters or informal childcare then you can travel between areas for the purpose of essential childcare. 

Here are the rules around travel in more detail:

Levels 0-2

If you live in an area in level 0-2 you mustn’t travel in and out of areas in levels 3 or 4 unless it’s for a permitted reason. 

Level 3

If you live in a level 3 area you mustn’t travel into a level 4 or level 0-2 area unless it’s for a permitted reason. 

Level 4

If you live in a level 4 area you mustn’t leave your local authority area unless it’s for permitted reason and you should try to travel within your local authority area as little as possible.

All levels

Permitted 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 our own household or 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 local restrictions, this would be acceptable for essential childcare 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 one 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 someone who’s shielding look after my child?

If a family member is on the shielding list, the rules don’t stop them from looking after your child, but it’s important that they feel comfortable doing so and that precautions are taken. 

If you’re shielding or vulnerable you may choose to avoid providing informal childcare at the moment – it’s entirely up to you. There’s lots of information on the Scottish Government website to help people who are on the shielding list make informed decisions during the pandemic. You could also talk to their GP or another health professional to get some advice on what to do.

Our page on staying safe during coronavirus has more advice on things you can do to stay safe, such as following FACTS guidance, wiping down surfaces regularly and keeping doors and windows open where 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.

I'm a new parent who needs support. Can someone come into my home to help me?

Whatever level you're in, another person can come into your home to provide care and support for a vulnerable person. This can include providing emotional support for someone whose wellbeing is at risk, including for those who are isolated because of disability or a caring situation or where they are a parent or carer of a child under one. So if you feel this applies to you, then a friend, family member or support worker can visit you in your home to provide this support. This person doesn’t have to be part of your extended household.

If you feel this applies to you, it doesn’t matter whether you are on your own with your child or live with someone else (for example, your partner or an older child). However, this person must be there to provide you with support because you’re feeling vulnerable or worried about your wellbeing, it isn’t just a social visit.

The person who comes to support you can travel from another local authority area or elsewhere in the UK if necessary. This is because travel for childcare or parental support services and travel to provide care, assistance, support to or respite for a vulnerable person are permitted.

When they’re visiting, make sure you stick to physical distancing and hygiene guidelines to ensure you both stay safe.