Decisions influencing early learning and childcare use: understanding social policies and social contexts

Study commissioned by the Scottish Government to explore the factors that may influence and the lived experiences of parents’ and carers’ decisions on the use of funded early learning and childcare (ELC) use in Scotland.

This document is part of a collection

3 Decision making process

3.1.1 As outlined in Section 1.3 above, most participants either used funded ELC currently, or planned to use it in the near future. As such, most participants were able to comment on their decision making experiences.

3.2 Main reasons for using ELC

3.2.1 Parents gave largely similar reasons for using ELC across the different settings, and regardless of whether they were using funded hours or had to pay privately for childcare (due to their child not yet being eligible).

3.2.2 The two main reasons participants cited for using ELC were:

  • to support their child’s development by giving them more chances to socialise, develop, and have different experiences outside of the home; and
  • to allow parents to go back to work/earn money or to go to college.

Children’s learning and development

3.2.3 The most common reason participants gave for applying for ELC for their children was to enable the child to meet and interact with other children:

“My main reason is socialising my son. So he gets out to play and he gets to meet new friends, etc.” (Mother of one, a four-year-old using funded ELC hours in a local authority nursery, lone parent)

3.2.4 Second, and related to that interaction with others, was the education and skills that their child learnt in an ELC setting, as well as the range of different experiences and exposure to other adult care givers. A few also suggested this was valuable preparation for school, both in terms of learning and social skills. Several also said they thought developmental issues were more successfully addressed/supported at nursery, such as speech difficulties, potential autism, shyness or separation anxiety.

3.2.5 This exposure to other children and new settings, both to socialise and to learn from, was considered particularly important for some children with additional support needs:

“To… meet with other children, to learn from other children, for example, how to sit and eat and all that information because he is a special needs child and he needs to actually be around more children. And also staying at home a lot, it also affects his emotional and mental health, so it’s always good to actually go out and meet new people and have new friends.” (Mother (via an interpreter) of four, two teenagers, one in primary school, and a five-year-old using ELC funded hours in a local authority nursery)

3.2.6 Another important factor for families where English was not their first language and where it was not the main language spoken in the home, was for their child to learn English and develop their language skills:

“They preferred their daughter to go to the nursery to mingle with other children because, next year, she’ll go to school, so she’ll be prepared for that. And to also learn new words and learn English as well because when she is in nursery, she learns more.” (Mother (via an interpreter) of three, a teenager, one in primary school, and a four-year-old using funded ELC hours at a local authority nursery)

3.2.7 The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children was also discussed as a reason for using ELC. Parents noted that the Covid-19 mitigation measures had meant their children had had no, or very limited, exposure to settings and experiences outwith their own home, or to other adults and children outwith their immediate family. It was felt that attending ELC would help their child to build confidence in this respect, and would help tackle separation anxiety which, it was noted, some toddlers had developed - indeed, some were described as ‘Covid’/‘lockdown babies’ or ‘clingy’:

“Their clingy-ness just became exaggerated and they don’t even go to my mother by themselves without major tantrums if I’m in the room or if I’m anywhere nearby. It has to be me for everything, even people that they’re really familiar with… So it then became really important for me to find somewhere - an environment that they were really happy in… I thought that’s going to be the best transition for them to being not with me.” (Mother of twins, two-and-a-half-year-olds, not yet eligible for funded ELC, family provided childcare, lone parent)

“He stopped eating, he wouldn’t talk, he was going back a step. He stopped walking at one point… and that’s when my health visitor said she thinks he was suffering quite badly with social anxiety… She said it would be really beneficial if we managed to get into a nursery setting just to help try and bring him on cos obviously he was born at the start of the pandemic.” (Mother of one, an eligible two-year-old using funded ELC hours at a Family/Early Years Centre, young lone parent with a disability in the household).

Parents’ professional life and wellbeing

3.2.8 For the parents themselves, many indicated that using funded ELC had either allowed them to begin working, re-enter the workplace after a break, or increase the number of hours they worked, thereby boosting the family’s financial position:

“So previously, when I had my children, I was a stay at home mum and my husband worked. But using the funded hours, it meant that I could then go out to work, which was fantastic and it meant that it wasn’t impacting our finances in that we were no longer having to spend money on additional childcare, we had the funded hours, it was fantastic. So when he’s at nursery, I’m at work, and it works perfectly.” (Mother of three, one in primary school, a baby, and a four-year-old using funded ELC hours in a private nursery, from an ethnic minority background)

“…the main reason is work. I would love not to work but needs must. So yeah, absolutely, the main driver is work, so that [the child] is looked after while I’m working.” (Mother of one, a four-year-old using funded ELC at a private nursery, lone parent with a disability in the household)

3.2.9 Others said it had allowed them to go to college or undertake training courses.

3.2.10 Some participants were also appreciative of having more time to themselves (either as respite or to allow them to catch up on household chores), and more opportunities to meet other people (notably other mothers in similar circumstances):

“When I had my daughter… all my friends used to say to me, we’ll come round and see you, and when I had her, I’ve never seen any of them since… I felt like she was the only one that I was with every day and I did the same thing every day… so I was like, I need to get out and meet new people and meet new mums. And going [to the nursery], I’ve actually met loads of new people.” (Mother of two, a four-year-old using funded ELC hours in a local authority nursery, and a two-year-old using (non-ELC funded) childcare in an Family/Early Years Centre)

3.3 Those involved in the decision

3.3.1 Participants generally reported that childcare decisions were made mainly alone or with partners, and only very rarely involved wider family or friends. Some health visitors or other service/support providers had suggested parents should/could use funded ELC to help their children’s development, confidence, social skills and language skills, and this had prompted some to pursue a funded ELC place.

3.3.2 Several parents did indicate, however, that being aware of the experiences of other parents had influenced their decisions around ELC use. This was largely in terms of which providers they wished to use or avoid. A few had also received offers of childcare support from family members (or had discussed the possibility of this) and so this factored in their decisions. Other participants noted that they had talked over the options with extended family members. Ultimately, though, the decisions had been made by members of their immediate household.

3.4 Choice of provider

Accessibility and convenience

3.4.1 People’s choice of provider was largely determined by accessibility, i.e. closeness to home or work:

“…it was halfway between my place of work and my husband’s place of work, so either of us could drop-off or pick-up, either way.” (Mother of two, a baby, and a three-year-old nearly eligible for funded ELC, was using a private nursery)

“It’s our choice because our oldest child goes to the same school [attached to the nursery] and it’s just close to our work and close to our house.” (Mother of three, a teenager, one in primary school, and a three-year-old using funded ELC hours in a Family/Early Years Centre, from an ethnic minority background)

3.4.2 Where parents had older children, they often chose to use the local authority nursery attached to the sibling’s school. This was mainly for ease of drop-off/pick-up, but also to help with transitions and because they perceived this may provide consistency and continuity in the learning experience (if the child then went on to attend the attached school):

“Well, when [my older child] started school, what we found was that the children who had been to the nursery attached to the school already, they knew each other and they were sort of comfortable with going to the school building and some of the staff and things as well. So, it’s partly that, but also what we realised was there was more of an emphasis on numeracy and literacy and I know they’re still young but we felt that that’s what was lacking in the private nursery.” (Mother of two, one at primary school, and a four-year-old using funded ELC hours at a local authority nursery, from an ethnic minority background)

Characteristics of staff

3.4.3 The individual personalities and perceived professionalism, friendliness and approachability of staff (including childminders) was also very important to parents. Some noted this had been assessed through visits to providers in advance, while others cited knowing staff or having previous experience through older children:

“The staff are friendly, [we have] known the staff for many, many years since my oldest was small. So, we all know they are really trustworthy and honest people and really good with children… they all kind of try to look after our children in their best interests.” (Mother of three, a teenager, one in primary school, and a three-year-old using funded ELC hours in a Family/Early Years Centre, from an ethnic minority background)

3.4.4 Conversely, one parent (whose child had health issues and additional support needs) was not happy with their provider. The parent indicated a lack of care and attention from the staff as one of the main reasons for this:

“There’s massive trust issues because they failed to recognise my daughter wasn’t coping.” (Mother of one, a four-year-old using funded ELC hours in a local authority nursery)

3.4.5 Other characteristics that were sought in staff were that they were warm, nurturing and attentive to children’s needs. Although this was perhaps not always the main factor driving choice, it was still something that parents looked for in finalising their decisions. It was also one of the main elements that reassured parents that they had made the right choice for their child after taking up a place.


3.4.6 Continuity, stability and familiarity with providers was another key factor for several families. Those with multiple children explained that, where older siblings had used a particular provider, they were often the provider of choice again for younger siblings. This was mainly because a rapport had already been established with the childminder/staff, and parents were familiar with the environment and what to expect.

3.4.7 Similarly, for those who had used a childminder or private nursery since before the child was eligible for funded ELC, most noted that stability was an important factor when deciding whether to continue with them for the funded ELC provision. Indeed, one participant indicated that ensuring stability had been important when choosing their provider at the outset. They had begun using a private nursery before the child was eligible for funded ELC provision, but noted that they had chosen this because it was a funded provider so they knew they could continue using this and not have to move provider in order to access the funded ELC provision in future:

“Mainly the location was the first thing that attracted me to it and knowing that it worked in partnership with the council... So I knew that it was an option, that I might never need to move him. So to me, I wanted to start off somewhere that I had that option to not move him.” (Mother of one, a three-year-old about to become eligible for funded ELC hours, was using a private nursery)

3.4.8 For many of the parents with eligible two-year-olds, being in contact with other support services was often the catalyst to apply for and use the funded ELC provision. These service providers were often the ones who made parents aware of their child’s eligibility, and supported them through the application process. In several cases, families had already been accessing support or attending mother and baby/toddler groups at Family/Early Years Centres, and so they were more confident in sending their child to the nursery/eligible two-year-old provision offered by the same provider:

“The one that she goes to now, we went to a mother and baby group within that centre and they referred her to just one day a week to start with before she turned two. And then when she turned two, they said, right, do you want her placed here, so I filled out the application form and that’s how she got it.” (Mother of three, two adult children, and an eligible two-year-old using funded ELC hours at a Family/Early Years Centre, lone parent)

3.4.9 Again, for these parents, being familiar with the building and the staff was helpful:

“For my daughter anyway and for me, we knew the staff… I did look at other ones but I didn’t go and visit them or anything like that. I knew of them and what they were like and things. But I think just because I was already at this one and already had been doing groups, it was a familiar place.” (Mother of three, two adult children, and an eligible two-year-old using funded ELC hours at a Family/Early Years Centre, lone parent)

Perceived quality and/or reputation of the provider

3.4.10 The perceived quality and/or reputation of providers also helped families make decisions around who they wanted to use. If an establishment was known to be good in local circles, or peers had a positive view of the provider, this was likely to feature in decisions:

“I’ve heard quite a lot of good things about it, like quite a lot of stuff, like the parents obviously that go to my daughter’s school, they had wee ones that had went to that nursery and they said they do recommend it, the teachers are really good. So, it made me feel a bit more confident thinking, ‘Okay at least I know somebody that’s had somebody in there’.” (Mother of two, one at primary school, and a two-year-old using funded ELC hours in a local authority nursery, young parent)

3.4.11 A few families had done more extensive research in order to assure themselves of the quality of each provider, such as phoning and meeting with a large number of different providers, reading inspection reports, reading reviews and forums, etc. before making their choice. Others, however, had not gone to such extents, often applying to those most local to them and accepting what had been offered. Those on low incomes appeared to be less likely to extensively research their options in relation to funded ELC and were more likely to simply accept what was offered by the local/chosen nursery compared to working parents and those with higher and more secure incomes (although it should be noted that not all higher income families indicated that they had done extensive research).

3.5 Deciding between nursery and childminder settings

3.5.1 While most participants in the sample were using, or were planning to use, a nursery setting, six participants were using childminding services (although only three were using funded ELC hours with them).

Preferring a nursery setting

3.5.2 Those opting for nurseries tended to do so because they perceived that their child would be exposed to greater socialising opportunities, given the larger number of children being cared for within a nursery setting:

“He’s very, very sociable and always has been and I wanted to give him the best opportunities and, yes, he’s got delays and difficulties, but he needs to be in an environment that he can grow and develop the same as other children, has the same opportunities. And the childminding support is no different cos there’s likely to be more children there, but I suppose a nursery is more likely to have more children and more staff and hearing more voices, hearing more things, more activities.” (Mother of one, a four-year-old using funded ELC at a private nursery, lone parent with a disability in the household)

3.5.3 A few also felt that nurseries offered greater reliability, i.e. there was a sense that childminders carried greater risk (notwithstanding Covid issues) of being unavailable, either through illness or to accommodate annual leave.

3.5.4 Educational issues were also mentioned by a few, with participants being aware that nurseries would have to follow and implement the Curriculum for Excellence and prepare children for school, while it was less well understood that childminders would do this:

“I think it was always a nursery setting we wanted because childminders - they could be going on holidays or they get ill and I was quite keen on somewhere that was [always available]. I think I mentioned earlier about [the nursery following] Curriculum for Excellence and had links to the school so that when they became pre-school age, that it would be setting them up for school. I was keen for that.” (Mother of two, one in primary school, and a three-year-old using funded ELC hours in a private nursery)

3.5.5 A minority were also more comfortable with nursery settings on safety grounds (i.e. not using a ‘stranger’s’ home):

“Obviously childminders are very regulated and all that but there was something about my child spending the entire day with one other person and not having quite the same visibility and reporting structures and things, that just made me a little uneasy. And it was also very hard to find reviews and information and actual sources about how good a childminder was. So it just seemed a bit opaque I guess.” (Mother of two, a baby, and a three-year-old using a private nursery nearly eligible for the funded hours)

3.5.6 Others, who were using/planned to use a nursery, had not considered using a childminder, either because they had not realised they could, or because of the perceived social norm of children going to nursery when they turn three.

3.5.7 Several parents indicated that they had considered and searched for a childminder in order to use their funded ELC allocation, but could not find any availability in their area. Participants noted a mix of issues including childminders not having enough or any available spaces, as well as there being a general lack of childminders available locally[14].

Preferring a childminder setting

3.5.8 Those parents who were using childminder settings indicated that they preferred a smaller setting for their child. Those who had started using their childminder when the child was very young (to allow mothers to return to work after maternity leave), felt that childminders offered the flexibility in hours required, and they noted that they only had to pay for the hours used rather than fixed sessions. They also tended to prefer the smaller and more focussed setting offered by childminders. They then wanted the continuity and stability of the same provider once they were eligible for funded hours:

“Once [my first child] was over a year, I went back to work through an agency and with a childminder, I spoke to the childminder, said about my situation and they’re usually more accommodating and more flexible because of the agency work - some weeks I was working five days, some three days. So we agree on an amount of basic hours and then we could use more, [whereas] with a nursery I would have to probably pay for the whole session or whole month regardless.” (Mother of three, one in primary school, a four-year-old using funded ELC hours with a childminder, and a two-year-old (privately funded) with a childminder)

“We went for a childminder just because he was so young and because I liked the idea of the flexibility. Local to us, in terms of taking him from that age, it would have to have been quite a big nursery and I just wasn’t fussed him for being one of 20 kids or something in a baby room. It just did not appeal to us at all.” (Mother of one, a three-year-old using blended funded ELC hours with a childminder and nursery)

3.5.9 Similarly, those parents who began using a childminder only when they were eligible for funded ELC also preferred the smaller and more consistent environment provided. One suggested that this had allowed their child to make sustainable friendships:

“We really liked the set up that [the childminder] has with the number of children that are there… So quite small numbers and then the same children seem to be there consistently throughout the week, so [our child’s] made lots of really nice friendships as well. So I guess it’s kind of having an impact beyond the setting [because] we organise play dates, so it has other community aspects I suppose.” (Mother of two, one in primary school, and a four-year-old using funded ELC hours with a childminder)

3.5.10 Another parent felt their child was also benefiting more from low numbers of children to care-givers compared to a nursery. They felt that there was more opportunity for the childminder to lead and correct social behaviours, and that this allowed for more personalised attention and child-led activities:

“In order to get a bigger group you have to go to nursery, and then the staff to child ratio is not as big, so I don’t know much they teach them social skills rather than [it happening] just by chance, as opposed to the childminder’s… there’s more teaching opportunity to mix well... [Also] they really just take the things that he enjoys and roll with it… We feel like his interests are getting listened to and explored as opposed to just topics that they would do at a nursery just to tick boxes.” (Mother of one, a three-year-old using blended funded ELC hours with a childminder and nursery)

3.5.11 The ages of the children each childminder had in their care at the time also appeared to be a consideration for parents. One parent felt their child benefited from mixing with older children which the childminder cared for before/after school, as well as having time with their own age group during the day. However, another (who was using a childminder before their child was eligible for funded hours) explained that, while they were content to use a childminder at that time, as soon as their child turned three they intended to move them to a nursery where they could mix with other children of their own age. They noted that their childminder did not have any other children of the same age, only younger, and the parent perceived this as possibly hindering their child’s development and progress:

“A childminder’s good when [they have] got a[nother] two-year-old but I think it’s better for [my daughter] to be mixing with all kids her age… If there was one closer, I definitely would have put her into a private nursery. I definitely think she’d benefit more from being in any sort of nursery.” (Mother of one, a two-year-old not yet eligible for funded ELC but using a childminder, lone parent, young parent)

3.5.12 The results of the current research are consistent with Scottish Government research conducted in 2021, which focused solely on childminder provision/ experiences[15]. This also highlighted the importance of flexibility in the hours which childminders can offer, as well as the importance of and perceived benefits such as lower numbers of children in the setting, more one-to-one attention and child-led activities, and a mix of age ranges allowing the children to learn from each other.

3.6 Choice restrictions

3.6.1 While most (although not all) participants were happy with the decisions they had made regarding ELC and the funded ELC setting/provider they were using/planning to use, several had felt constrained by the choices on offer.

3.6.2 For those using (or planning to use) nurseries, the main issue was the hours that were offered. It was noted these were generally fixed at each nursery they explored, either in terms of drop-off/pick-up times or the days of the week that were available. This was often due to nurseries offering fixed sessions per day (either half days or whole days), or capacity issues on certain days across the week.

3.6.3 A lack of different types of providers locally was also identified by a few participants, including a lack of childminder availability (as discussed at paragraph 3.5.7 above), as well as a lack of outdoor/forest school type nurseries, and Montessori nurseries. A general lack of different providers was also noted as an issue for those living in rural areas, meaning parents did not actually have a lot of choice in what was available to use locally:

“So I was just picking from what’s here… So with the nursery, personally I would love to send her to like maybe a forest school or a Montessori nursery. Like a nursery that has a philosophy behind it that I like. But there isn’t that choice.” (Mother of one, a two-and-a-half-year-old, not yet eligible for funded ELC, using childcare in a Family/Early Years Centre, from an ethnic minority background)

3.6.4 A few also noted difficulties in accessing/finding a suitable ELC provider:

  • one parent specifically commented that their allocated space for their eligible two-year-old was inaccessible - it was a 20 minute walk from their home which they felt was too far (especially for the child). However, the family had been advised that a place at the local school nursery would become available when the child turned three and they were looking forward to that to “make life easier”;
  • one parent (from a rural area) noted they had a nursery just a 5-10 minute walk from their house but they were having to use one a 15-20 minute drive away as the local one did not accept eligible two-year-olds and then could not cater for the child’s additional support needs after they turned three. This was inconvenient for the family and meant that their child could not utilise the full entitlement of funded hours. The family felt they had not really had any choice in their provider; and
  • one lone parent, who had the support of their health visitor to make funded ELC applications, had been unable to access a place with their first or second choice providers for their three-year-old. The participant had recently moved into the area, but this was after funded places had been allocated. They had been told a place may become available with the first choice provider in January, and had been encouraged to submit new applications for different providers.

3.6.5 Covid-19 safety measures were also impacting on parents’ ability to make informed choices, it was felt. Several noted that they had been unable to visit service providers and/or discuss their needs as a result. This was particularly challenging for those with children who had additional support needs as it was increasingly difficult to ensure that providers fully understood their child’s needs and could provide a suitable environment and levels of support. This was considered to be adding to parent anxiety in such cases:

“She will be three next year and entitled to a nursery place, but it still gives me the fear because it worries me if she’ll get the one-to-one care she needs… Especially with Covid, it’s harder. I feel like sometimes when you are going to phone someone and you’re trying to explain and they’re just like, ‘uh huh, uh huh, uh huh’. Or it’s like, ‘well we can’t have you come and talk to us because of the pandemic, you’re not allowed in’. And I totally understand that we’re still trying to keep safe, but there are parents that have genuine issues and genuine fears for their child and it’s a lot easier for them to be able to sit down one-to-one with someone and say, look, this affects my child and I need to feel safe because I’m leaving my child here.” (Mother of one, a two-and-a-half-year-old, not yet eligible for funded ELC, not using any childcare, lone parent)

3.7 Utilising the full entitlement

Opting out of using the full entitlement

3.7.1 While most participants used their full entitlement of funded ELC hours, several did not. This was mainly because the hours offered by their chosen/allocated provider did not fit around other commitments (e.g. the need to pick-up other children at specified times or working hours), due to their child’s specific additional support needs, or because they felt the child was too young to be in nursery either for long days or five days a week. One family with a four-year-old in nursery, who had opted to use only three days of the five day funded ELC provision they had been allocated explained that they felt this was too much, not only for the child, but also for the parents who wanted to spend pre-school time together to help with family bonding and giving the child a more ‘rounded’ pre-school experience:

“It was just a personal choice. I just feel for her age [four-year-old], five days a week, away from the house, away from parents is too much. I understand if parents have commitments and they don’t have any other childcare options, but I just feel, this is your child, we’re trying to make family bonds, build relationships, teach some other things like morals and manners and things, that it’s not a nursery’s responsibility to teach.” (Mother of two, one at primary school, and a four-year-old using funded ELC hours in a local authority nursery, from an ethnic minority background)

3.7.2 Only one parent specifically mentioned that they did not use the full entitlement because their child did not enjoy being in an early years setting:

“I’m using at the moment around 20 hours [a week]… personally I want [her] to stay from nine till two or nine till one but… she does not like to go and I [have to] prepare her mind every day… [and] she says ‘OK, I only like to go when you pick me [up] early’.” (Mother of six, four at school, a baby, and a three-year-old using funded ELC at a local authority nursery, from an ethnic minority background)

3.7.3 In this case, the parent said they would only consider increasing the number of funded ELC hours used if they felt their child was happy/content to spend more time in the ELC setting. Others, however, suggested that they would consider sending their child for an increased number of hours as they got older, as they felt they would be able to cope better with more/longer days and in preparation for school.

Flexible use of the full entitlement

3.7.4 Regardless of the number of funded ELC hours used, several parents also mentioned that they would sometimes collect children early to allow them to pick-up older siblings from school, or dropped-off late/picked them up early on occasion to accommodate appointments, etc. or simply to spend more time together. One parent who had a large family, including four school age children and a younger child (under two-years old) explained that their three-year-old often did not attend nursery until 11am (despite having a place from 9am) simply due to the need to organise older children and get them ready for school, and then deal with issues related to the baby, before being ready to drop off the nursery aged child.

3.7.5 Participants valued flexibility in drop-off and pick-up times and highlighted that nursery staff seemed happy to accommodate such needs. One parent, however, suggested it may be good to know ‘formally’ that staff were content for children to be dropped off late/picked up early, rather than leaving parents to speculate if this was acceptable.

Desire for increases in the funded entitlement

3.7.6 A few families mentioned that an increase in the total number of funded hours that children were entitled to may be desirable to help them meet their work demands (particularly where parents worked full-time). However, there was some uncertainty around whether this would be good for the child. One parent suggested that it may only be desirable for the child if additional funded hours could be used for something different to the core provision:

“[Ideally] we would need more hours to cover our working. From nine till five, for example, would be great but I don’t know if it would be good for children, not being free all day… Or maybe a different type of activity that would give them that extra boost of excitement, you know, after school club or something like that.” (Mother of three, a teenager, one in primary school, and a three-year-old using funded ELC in a Family/Early Years Centre, from an ethnic minority background with a disability in the household)

3.8 Choosing not to use funded ELC

3.8.1 One participant with a three-year-old was not using funded ELC at the time of the interview, however, this was not through personal choice, but rather, difficulty in finding available places locally (as discussed at paragraph 3.6.4 above).

3.8.2 Another participant had decided against using the funded ELC provision for their eligible two-year-old. They were using funded ELC provision for their three-year-old, but had not taken up a place for the younger child. The older child had also been an eligible two-year-old but, again, the family had delayed their start in funded ELC provision as they felt the child was not ready for a nursery setting and had wanted to prioritise bonding with the children. They also felt that their younger child did not have any developmental or emotional issues that needed the input and support of a professional ELC setting, and as the mother was at home full-time, the family felt that the funded ELC provision was unnecessary:

“He hasn’t got the same developmental issues... and I’m still off, not really properly back at work. So I’m kind of like ‘why am I sending him [to childcare] if I can do it myself?’, it just seems a bit strange. He’s three [soon], and I think we will send him then… It’s not because of the nursery we haven’t sent him, it’s just because we didn’t feel that he needed it, even though he’s eligible, we don’t think he’s a particularly vulnerable or needy child in that way.” (Mother of two, a three-year-old using funded ELC hours in a Family/Early Learning Centre, and an eligible two-year-old not accessing any childcare)

3.9 Informal care

3.9.1 Several families were using a regular pattern of family support (typically the child’s grandparent(s)) to either provide all childcare or to top-up privately funded formal childcare where children were not yet eligible for ELC, and to top-up the 1,140 funded ELC hours being used. In most circumstances, this was described as being a financial necessity as families could not afford private childcare or the fees for additional hours with their current funded ELC provider. However, many in this situation also considered this to be an important opportunity for the child and the extended family member(s) to build bonds and relationships:

“I’m keen for [my child] to have those experiences from all kind of generations, just to give him that opportunity to learn from them and for them to learn from him. They can give different things than I can… and I guess I was quite close to my grandparents and I think that’s really important and we’re lucky to have that opportunity for him to do that.” (Mother of one, a four-year-old year old using funded ELC hours at a private nursery, lone parent, disability in the household)

3.9.2 It should be noted, however, that where parents were receiving support from family members to provide regular childcare, they were often reluctant to seek additional informal support to help with other chores/tasks, such as time for shopping or appointments. They described a sense of ‘guilt’ that they were already asking a lot from family members and felt that they could not ask for more. Two others, who used a grandparent for childcare one day each week, explained that this was all they would ask for as they did not want to over-burden them:

“As much as it’s really good to have my parents there to help, I maybe feel that I would need the support of my parents on days that I’m not working. Like, I then feel guilty asking them for more support and I feel that they’re already doing their part… it’s absolutely great that they’re there, it’s great that they can help me, but I feel guilty on a Saturday afternoon being like, ‘could you have [my child] for a few hours so that I can go shopping or do this?’ So I kind of feel like I only have childcare when I’m working. I don’t have childcare at any other times. So I find that quite hard.” (Mother of one, a three-year-old about to be eligible for funded hours, using a private nursery, lone parent)

3.9.3 Others who had family nearby felt that informal care from the grandparents was not an option, often due to their ill-health and/or a perception that it would be too challenging for them to look after a young child. Meanwhile, some families were unable to top-up care with informal help from family and friends as they had no-one nearby to support them. The only alternative in such cases was to pay for additional childcare hours, although for some, the cost of this was prohibitive and so parents were either constrained in the time they had available to work/go to college, or they ‘juggled’ the childcare between them through both parents working more flexible hours.



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