Supporting staff with childcare responsibilities

COVID-19 health, safety and wellbeing

The Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed a number of changes to how schools, childcare and other educational settings would be expected to operate during the COVID-19 outbreak. The changes came into force on 23 March and will continue until further notice.

As part of the changes, DfE asked schools, colleges, nurseries and other registered childcare settings to remain open for children of essential workers where possible. Essential workers include all health and social care workers (frontline staff, volunteers, support and specialist staff). Only one parent/guardian is required to be a essential worker in order to qualify for a child to continue to attend school. Access and read the full DfE guidance for more information. 

Key implications to consider 

It's important for employers to understand the key implications of COVID-19 related educational and childcare closures on NHS staff as they manage their childcare responsibilities and how best to support them during this time. 

Education settings have closed

Staff are encouraged to contact their local authority to find alternatives if the school or nursery their children usually attend has closed. A tool is available on the website to find the appropriate local authority (LA) contact. NHS HR departments may wish to maintain information on open schools and nurseries to support their staff, and many local authorities are updating their social media pages and websites with information about open establishments.

The government has also provided guidance on childcare closures. Some alternative bodies, such as sports centres, have been offering free childcare arrangements where there has been high demand. It may be useful to advertise this to staff if it's appropriate for your region.  

NHS England and NHS Improvement is coordinating offers of help from approved childcare providers such as Busy Bees. This includes offers to reopen nurseries in areas of high need and with preferential rates for NHS staff. Details are being shared directly with the HR community across the NHS where appropriate. For more information, please email

Information about Friday 8 May bank holiday related educational closures and its implications on essential workers who have childcare responsibilities can be accessed on the website.


Lack of available alternatives

Where alternative education settings are not available, employers should exercise discretion and use the flexibilities they already have in place to support staff.

Staff who rely on care in informal settings such as through partners, relatives or friends are likely to be affected by government policies on social distancing.

Where staff are not self-isolating but are absent from work due to childcare issues, employers should refer to their local policies and procedures to determine pay.

Employers are also encouraged to speak to neighbouring trusts to ensure consistency and best practice across integrated care systems (ICS) and sustainability and transformation partnerships (STP).

You can find more information in our other forms of absence section.

Cost of childcare for staff

Some staff may find the increased financial burden of childcare required difficult at this time. Employers may wish to flag tax-free childcare options for staff who are parents of children 11 or under. More detail about key information on tax-free childcare for employers can be found in our dedicated guidance.  Many organisations also offer salary sacrifice schemes and should ensure these are promoted to staff during this time.

NHS staff who are unable to prove essential worker status

A template letter is available from NHS England and NHS Improvement, which can be used to support staff in confirming their essential worker status with education establishments.

Working from home and children

NHS organisations should encourage line managers to discuss the caring or childcare responsibilities of employees and adapt the duties and/or working hours of home workers to accommodate these. More information on enabling and supporting your staff to work from home during COVID-19 can be found in our dedicated guidance. 

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