Definition of key workers who can access childcare in Northern Ireland extended

At yesterday’s (4 June 2020) Northern Ireland Executive briefing, the First and Deputy First Ministers confirmed that the definition of ‘key worker’ for the purposes of accessing childcare will be extended from Monday 8 June, and committed to aligning the re-opening of childcare as closely as possible to its return-to-work decision making.

Further detail has now been unveiled by the Health Minister Robin Swann and Education Minister Peter Weir.

Extension of key worker definition

As a first step, the definition of key worker, previously set by the Department of Health, is being extended and brought into line with the definition used for schools. In a further move, the definition will also now extend to those working in other retail businesses permitted to operate by the Executive from June 2020.

This will enable a greater number of key worker parents to access the childcare they need in order to be able to go to work. It will also help some childcare settings to re-open, or increase the number of children they can care for, while operating in line with guidance from the Early Years Teams in the Trusts.

The full definition is available on the Family Support NI website.

There will also be a gradual increase in the number of families that a childminder can provide childcare for, initially increasing from two families per day, to three families per day, from 8 June.

Further advice and guidance anticipated

We expect that further guidance will be issued over coming days. In the meantime, the statement from the Health and Education Ministers highlighted ongoing infection control measures including:

  • The re-opening of provision (both childcare settings and childminders) must be overseen by Early Years Teams in the Trusts, who will have access to Covid-19 advice from the Public Health Agency;
  • There will continue to be restrictions in terms of group size and groups being required to be kept apart.

Importance of sustainability and ongoing support going forward

We very much welcome this announcement – for parents, childcare providers and employers – but even as lockdown measures continue to lift, we also recognise that childcare settings will not be operating at capacity for some time. Ultimately, some may struggle to re-open, leading to a reduction in childcare places at the very time when the economy needs working parents, and potentially a loss of employment for staff.

We will continue to make the case, in our work with Government Departments and through our position on the Covid-19 Childcare Reference Group, for the need for further support for the childcare sector in the coming months, beyond the end of June. This is essential as we look ahead and plan to ensure the future sustainability of our vital childcare sector and access to childcare that enables parents to go to work.

Where can I get more information?

Further information is available on the Family Support NI website.

You can also contact our Family Benefits Advice Service for guidance on the Covid-19 Childcare Support Package if you are a childcare provider, or as a parent seeking advice for you and your family. Call 028 9267 8200 or email