FAQs on supporting staff with childcare responsibilities


1) Some NHS staff have been unable to prove essential worker status. What support is available?
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.

2) How can staff be supported with the challenges of working from home?
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. You can read further information on supporting staff at home and work in our COVID-19 guidance.

3) Our staff are finding that some childcare services are still closed rather than reopening with safety arrangements in place. How can this be mitigated?
We understand that a number of childcare providers may be unable to re-open at this time, or open more widely. Parents can contact their local authority (LA) if their usual childcare provider is not open.

We also understand that some LAs have been scoping where there are gaps in the provision of childcare, and are looking to work with providers to scale up provision where possible. NHS organisations may wish to contact LAs with any concerns around provision to support this.

Staff can access their local Family Information Service, which is regarded as a first point of contact for updated information on childcare provision, using the childcare finder on the Coram Family and Childcare website

4) The financial burden for staff at the moment around childcare is concerning. How can staff be supported?
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  guidance. Many organisations also offer salary sacrifice schemes and should ensure these are promoted to staff during this time.

Staff can also be signposted to the Childcare Choices website, where they can check if they are eligible for free childcare.

You can find tips in our financial wellbeing section, as well as  guidance from NHS England and NHS Improvement on financial wellbeing.

5) What does the new national lockdown mean for childcare? - NEW 6 January

Following the Prime Minister's announcement of a third national lockdown on 4 January 2021, schools, colleges and universities (expect for a handful of specific courses) have been told to close and move to online learning, remaining open only for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

6) What does the return to full school closures mean for NHS key worker provision? NEW 6 January

As was that case during the first national lockdown, schools and colleges remain open for the children of critical workers. Children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker can go to school or college if required. 

It is not necessary for both parents to be critical workers. Schools and colleges should speak to parents and carers to identify who requires a school place. If it proves necessary, they can ask for simple evidence that the parent in question is a critical worker, such as their work ID badge or pay slip. Where a school is not following DfE guidelines and staff are experiencing difficulties in accessing provision, issues can be raised in the first instance through the local authority, or via NHS England and NHS Improvement's people directorate (childcare workstream).

Details of children of critical workers and vulnerable children who can access schools or educational settings are available from Gov.uk 

7) Does the childcare exemption still apply? - Reviewed 6 January 

Yes, the childcare exemption, announced on 21 September, still applies. It covers formal and informal arrangements for children under 14 and for vulnerable children, where this is necessary for caring purposes. It allows family members, eg grandparents who routinely provide informal childcare, to continue to do so. This exemption acknowledges that the restriction of inter-household mixing in areas of local intervention could cause hardship for families, and may affect the ability of essential workers, such as NHS front line staff, to do their job.

Irrespective of the childcare exemption, flexibility in supporting staff who may struggle currently to balance childcare is still a requirement. Staff who rely on care in informal settings such as through partners, relatives or friends are still likely to be affected by government policies on self-isolation and social distancing, as well as health concerns for those most vulnerable. Further guidance is available on the Gov.uk website.

8) What other childcare support is accessible during the period of national lockdown?

On 2 December, the government expanded eligibility of support bubbles, to mitigate the impact of the restrictions on parents of children aged under 1 (or under 5, but with a disability that necessitates continuous care) and for those households where a single adult cares for someone with a serious disability. Staff who are eligible to form a childcare bubble and eligible to form a support bubble can form one of each with different households. 

There are several ways parents and carers can continue to access childcare, in addition to childcare and support bubbles:

  • Early years settings (including nurseries and childminders) remain open.
  • Vulnerable children of critical workers can continue to use registered childcare, childminders and other childcare activities (including wraparound care).
  • Nannies will be able to continue to provide services, including in the home.

9) If staff have a child(ren) sent home to self-isolate, do they need to do the same?

No, if their child(ren) is/are not symptomatic, neither the parents nor anyone else in their household need to self-isolate beyond that child(ren). However, this changes of course if anyone in the household shows symptoms of COVID-19. 

Staff who are usually required to physically attend a place of work to carry out their duties, as well as those who currently work from home, may struggle to do so if their child(ren) is required to self-isolate.

Employers should exercise discretion and use the flexibilities they already have in place to support staff. 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.

More information can be found in our terms and conditions FAQ, under caring commitments. 

10) What support is available for NHS working parents/carers and their families? - NEW 10 December 

This year has been extraordinarily difficult for people working across the NHS and, for parents and carers with childcare responsibilities, finding a balance between work and family life can be hard to achieve. NHS England and NHS Improvement produced a guide focused around balancing home working and home schooling at the start of the pandemic which links to useful resources on a variety of wellbeing topics. The following organisations can all support NHS staff and their families: 

  • Cityparents programme currently offers free of charge access to everyone who works in the NHS, providing expertise and support to help balance work with family life, including podcasts, as well as support groups and webinars.
  • Place2Be has published a free programme to support the mental health and relationship building of keyworkers and their children. The programme, which is available to all NHS staff until 31 December, includes a series of webinars and an arts and crafts resource pack for parents/carers and children to use together.
  • PACEY: The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years provide practical and impartial support and information for families and carers and those advising them. They are welcoming all queries and offering support for keyworkers and their families. 
  • Every mind matters site: expert advice and practical tips to help you look after your own mental health and wellbeing and that of children and young people.

11) Has the self-isolation period reduced from 14 days to 10 days? - NEW 18 December

Yes, after reviewing evidence the Department for Health and Social Care has reduced the self-isolation period from 14 days to 10 days. This was set out in the UK Chief Medical Officers' statement on the self-isolation period from 11 December. Any new cases identified for self-isolation will be advised to self-isolate for 10 days. 

The Department for Education has updated guidance to reflect this change in educational and childcare settings. 



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