Childcare options

Types of childcare and the help available towards costs.

1 Overview

Childcare is the care and education provided at any setting (place) in which your child is looked after without you being present. This may be at a:

  • pre-school playgroup
  • day nursery
  • childminder
  • nanny
  • breakfast club
  • after school club
  • holiday play-scheme
  • crèche. 

You may need to use childcare if you are working, studying, training or simply need time without your children. However, you may also want your child to attend childcare for new opportunities to play, make friends and for their learning and development. 

Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) registered childcare, for children under 5, includes not only care but early education. Free entitlement (early education) places are available for all 3 and 4 year old children and some 2 year olds

The childcare you choose depends on the age and development of your child and what you want for them. The type and length of care you need will depend on what fits in with your daily life and needs. 

Early Years providers are responsible for supporting any child regardless of their needs. They are able to ask for support and advice from us and should work with you as the parent to plan and support for your child’s needs.

All settings should meet the requirement of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice 2015.

2 Benefits of Ofsted registered childcare for your child

Childcare provides numerous benefits, offering essential support and contributing to the overall well-being of both parents and children.

Benefits for children

Childcare provides children with an enriching environment that supports children's early learning and development by giving them access to a range of new learning experiences. This can support the foundations of lifelong learning and well-being.

The benefits for children who attend high quality registered childcare are:

  • improved confidence
  • learning how to interact and play with other children
  • improved social and communication skills
  • better concentration
  • having fun
  • gaining independence
  • improved language, literacy and numeracy skills.

Benefits for parents

Childcare plays a pivotal role in supporting parents looking to re-enter the workforce or increase their working hours.

The benefits for you when accessing childcare for your child are:

  • facilitates pursuing career opportunities and professional growth
  • contributes to family’s financial stability by allowing parents to work
  • provides a safe and consistent environment for children, easing parental concerns
  • fosters a positive family dynamic as children benefit from social and educational aspects of childcare
  • connects parents with a supportive community of parents and early years professionals, offering emotional and developmental support
  • builds confidence in parents' ability to successfully balance work and family life.

If your child accesses an early years and childcare setting, they will follow the early years foundation stage statutory framework. This is the guidance that all early years and childcare providers must follow to ensure high quality care for your child.

This guidance also provides a framework for providers on how best to support children’s learning and development. You can read more about what to expect in the early years foundation stage in this guide (PDF, 6MB) from the Department for Education.

3 Registration levels for childcare

The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) is responsible for checking, registering and inspecting services that care for children and young people. Not all childcare settings are required by law to register with Ofsted.

Registered childcare

Ofsted registered settings must comply with Government guidance about learning, development and care, and are inspected periodically.

All childcare staff in Ofsted registered settings have a 'suitable person' check carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

The setting types shown below must register with Ofsted if they look after children up to eight years old for more than two hours a day, for pay or reward.

  • Breakfast/after school clubs and holiday playschemes
  • Childminders
  • Day nurseries
  • Pre-schools (playgroups)

It should be noted that only registered settings can be used to claim Free Entitlement.

Non-registered childcare

The following do not have to register but may choose to go on the Ofsted Voluntary Childcare Register.

  • Crèche
  • Nanny or au pair
  • Activity-based care, such as sports, drama or language clubs

Informal childcare

In addition to the more formal types of childcare many parents also rely on family and friends to help cover all or some of their childcare needs.

4 Types of childcare

Listed below are the types of childcare available for each age group. Use the links to find out more about each type of childcare.

0-under 2 years

2-5 years (not started school)

4-16 years (started school, or up to 18 for SEND)

5 Help with the cost of childcare

All 3 and 4 year olds, and some 2 year olds, are entitled to free early education and childcare.

For detailed information, including eligibility, how to apply and how to access a place see our pages on:

As well as Free Entitlement, the following options can also help with the cost of childcare:

Please note that many forms of financial assistance require you to use Ofsted registered childcare settings. 

There is a useful childcare calculator on the GOV.UK site to help you estimate how much help you might be entitled to. Other information is also available on the Childcare Choices website.

6 Search for childcare

The Family Information Service offers free, impartial, up-to-date information on activities, services and childcare to all families.

We are the only locally authorised source of information on registered childcare across West Sussex and receive daily updates direct from Ofsted.

Search for childcare providers in West Sussex (external link)

When visiting providers you may wish to use our checklist as a prompt to ask questions and gather information.

When placing your trust in non-Ofsted registered after school and extra-curricular clubs or activities, you want to make sure your children will be happy and safe, whilst ensuring it is suitable for them. For advice and guidance for parents and carers on out of school activities, see Safe Clubs for Children.

If you are having difficulty finding a childcare provider to meet your needs or those of your child, or need help with your search, please complete our online form for parents or contact us by phone or email.

If you are a professional supporting a child/family and would like help with accessing childcare, please complete our online form for professionals.

7 Contact the Family Information Service

The Family Information Service (FIS) provides information and support about childcare, family activities and support services to parents and carers of 0-25 year-olds.

The service is free, regardless of how many times you call. 

Further information on how the FIS can help can be found in the document below. 

Find how to raise a concern or complaint about a childcare provider.

Areas we cover

We hold childcare information for West Sussex only. If you live or work close to the county border, you may wish to contact a bordering family information service to obtain childcare information for that area too.

If you are unsure which counties you border, use the map below to find out.

Last updated:
1 May 2024
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