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
- breakfast club
- after school club
- holiday play-scheme
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 childcare for your child
The benefits for children who attend high quality registered childcare are:
- improved confidence
- helping them build relationships with other children
- improved social and communication skills
- better concentration
- having fun
- gaining independence
- improved language, literacy and numeracy skills.
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.
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
- Day nurseries
- Pre-schools (playgroups)
It should be noted that only registered settings can be used to claim Free Entitlement.
The following do not have to register but may choose to go on the Ofsted Voluntary Childcare Register.
- Nanny or au pair
- Activity-based care, such as sports, drama or language clubs
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)
- Day nursery
- Nannies and au pairs
- Local authority maintained nursery classes and schools
- Pre-schools (playgroups)
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:
- Tax-Free Childcare - You can get up to £500 every 3 months (£2,000 a year) for each of your children, to help with your childcare costs, if you're eligible.
- Universal Credit for Childcare - You may be able to claim back up to 85% of your childcare costs if you’re eligible.
- Childcare Element of Working Tax Credit (WTC) - If you are employed and receive WTC you may be eligible to have some childcare costs paid for.
Please note that many forms of financial assistance require you to use Ofsted registered childcare settings.
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.
Important childcare information during COVID-19 restrictions - updated March 2021
Childcare providers are permitted to remain open for all children under 5 during the current restrictions, with the exception of wrap-around-care which is only able to open for vulnerable children and all other children where the care allows their parents and carers to work, study or to meet other needs. All providers must follow Government guidance around taking protective measures to reduce risks.
Providers inform us if they close and we aim to maintain our website to show those that are open.
To minimise the risk of spreading infection, you are encouraged to limit the number of providers that your child attends, ideally ensuring your child attends the same provider consistently. Speak to your provider about increasing attendance before exploring additional or alternative childcare.
Extra help to find childcare places is available via our brokerage service. If you have been unsuccessful in finding an immediate place, need help in making enquiries, or are looking for a childcare place for the first time, complete our online form or contact us by phone or email.
When visiting providers you may wish to use our checklist as a prompt to ask questions and gather information.
If you are having difficulty finding a childcare provider to meet your needs or those of your child, or need help with your search contact us by phone or email.
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.
- Discover the Family Information Service (PDF, 1.7MB)
- Discover the Family Information Service - plain text version (PDF, 26KB)
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.