New guidance from Department of Health for childcare providers in Northern Ireland on re-opening

Further guidance has been published on the Family Support NI website to assist childcare settings and childminders who are currently providing childcare, or are planning to re-open. This guidance takes account of changes announced last week by the Ministers for Health and Education and rolled out from Monday 8 June, including the extension of the definition of ‘key workers’ for the purposes of childcare.

There are two sets of guidance, one for childminders, and one for day care and school age childcare settings, with some key points set out below. There are consistent themes across the documents, for example in relation to infection control, COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment, but also specific information for each type of setting in relation to re-opening. Key points are set out below.

Guidance for childminders

Any childminding setting that is considering re-opening, must first inform the Early Years Team in their Health Trust, so that the temporary “pause” on registration can be ended.

On Monday 8 June, the restriction that childminders could only care for the children of two families at any given time was relaxed, and the number was increased to three families at the one time. It is anticipated that this number will increase again to four families at the one time in July, and then to five families in August. It is important to note that, at each stage, this will be subject to medical and public health advice.

This is an important development for childminders, and will assist in planning either for re-opening, or for taking on more families, over the coming months.

Parents are being advised to check the Family Support NI childcare search for availability of childcare in their area so childminders should ensure that they keep the Early Years Team and Family Support NI up to date.

Childminders must continue to comply with the Department of Health Minimum Standards as they relate to ratios, that is, with the specified maximum number of children who may be cared for as identified on the Registration Certificate. This number includes their own children under 12 years of age.

Guidance for day care and school age childcare settings

When a provider wishes to re-open, they must first receive the endorsement of the Early Years Team in their Health Trust who will establish if there is sufficient demand. There is recognition that this will change over time. The guidance sets out that minimum demand should be the lesser of:

  • 25% of the total number of registered places or
  • 15 children of key workers and / or vulnerable children.

The Trust will also work with providers on their plans and ensuring that care can be provided safely. There is further guidance set out on group size and restricted numbers, with advice on establishing small groups or ‘Play Pods’ within childcare settings. The intention of ‘Play Pods’ is to ensure that the same staff and children stay together, in small groups, across a day, limiting the number of interactions between individuals.

This guidance should assist settings in planning for re-opening and also reassuring parents who are considering sending their children back to childcare.

Where can I get more information?

The full guidance, and further information, is available on the Family Support NI website. Please also consult the Childcare Partnership website for relevant COVID-19 resources including free virtual training during COVID-19.

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. Call 028 9267 8200 or email