Northern Ireland Childcare Survey 2021

Employers For Childcare has published the findings of its 12th Northern Ireland Childcare Survey. The survey has been tracking the views and experiences of parents and childcare providers in Northern Ireland since 2010 and is the most comprehensive research produced into Northern Ireland’s childcare sector, and those who use it. The findings are widely used by elected representatives and policy-makers to inform their work in relation to childcare.

This year’s survey particularly highlights the challenges experienced by Northern Ireland’s childcare providers – a third of the providers who responded to the survey described their financial position as “struggling” or “distressed” meaning they are focused on survival over the next year, or, in some cases, at immediate risk of closure.  It is right that our childcare sector received much-needed funding during Covid-19, but this has now come to an end, and with continuing uncertainty around numbers and occupancy levels, in addition to increasing costs through salaries and overheads, our childcare sector could be facing into a childcare crisis which would have a severe impact on parents’ ability to work, and therefore on the economy as a whole.

In the meantime, many parents continue to struggle to find and pay for the childcare they need with over a quarter reporting their family has difficulties meeting the cost of childcare.

Key findings:

  • The average cost of a full-time childcare place in Northern Ireland is £170 per week:
    • £186 per week for a day nursery
    • £166 per week for a childminder.
  • County Antrim has the highest average cost of a full-time childcare place – £174 per week, whilst County Tyrone experiences the lowest average full-time childcare costs of £150 per week.
  • Day nursery costs ranged from £120 per week to £245 per week with the range for childminders being from £100 to £300 per week.
  • 71% of childcare providers reported that they are either just breaking even or are making a loss.
  • Almost a third of childcare providers describe their current financial position as ‘distressed’ or ‘struggling’, meaning that they are at immediate risk of closure or are focused on survival over the next 12 months.
  • 41% of parents report regularly having to use means other than their income to pay for childcare including savings, overdrafts, credit cards and even payday loans – rising to 55% of lone parents.
  • A third of parents aren’t claiming any financial support towards the cost of their childcare.
  • 69% of parents report that there is insufficient provision of childcare in their area, an increase from 61% last year. This rises to 73% of lone parents and 87% of parents who have a child with a disability.
  • More than half of families (54%) report challenges in accessing the formal childcare they need, and raise the issues not just of cost but also of flexibility and accessibility.
  • For 44% of parents, difficulties in accessing or affording the childcare they need have impacted on their ability to work. This rises to 58% of mothers, compared to 27% of fathers.
  • Parents reported that quality, accessible and affordable childcare is:
    • Good for children: 98% agree it has a positive impact on the learning, social and emotional development of children
    • Good for parents: 98% say is it key to enabling parents to work
    • Good for the economy and society: 94% believe childcare is essential to the economic and societal recovery from Covid-1

What childcare providers told us…

“The pandemic has mainly affected my setting throughout the various lockdowns in which our numbers of children attending significantly reduced yet we focused from July 2020 to stay open to support keyworker parents. I am proud to say I work with an amazing team who push forward despite the many obstacles in our way as the welfare of our children is always the most important factor.” 

“I need to increase my fees due to not having as many children but I feel I can’t or parents will struggle to afford childcare.” 

“Childcare is the forgotten essential workforce, we need it to keep the parents in work and are so badly underfunded.” 

Childcare sector should be better supported and funded in order to maintain & provide the high standard of care & service to children & their parents and promote their well-being, & meet their Needs. Hence it will also help to support & improve our Economy. Thank you!” 

What parents told us…

“Both my husband and I work full time. My husband is on minimum wage and so his entire wage goes on childcare. It is unaffordable when you have no alternative support. I have sleepless nights worrying about the cost of childcare. It is soul destroying.”

 “Better funding is needed for childcare as fees that cost the same as or more than mortgage or rent discourages people working and forces working people into debt. Our childcare costs are more expensive than our mortgage.” 

“Childcare needs to be more affordable. I’m in a reasonably paid part-time job but I couldn’t afford to go full-time as 90% of my wage would go on child-care costs which is pointless. One parent (usually the mother) of most families has to work part-time as they can’t afford full-time childcare.” 

“I gave up work and my career to care for our children because I felt I had no other option. This impacted my well being, mental health and our family’s ability to buy a home. I feel I now have very limited career options for the future.” 

“The quality of care is excellent! But it is tailored to people who work 9-5 not nurses married to farmers with unpredictable hours and long days/shifts.” 

Looking ahead

As work progresses on a new Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland, it is vital that Ministers and the Executive take on board the views of parents and the childcare sector, as expressed through this survey and those we have produced over the past decade. For too long parents and providers have been calling for investment in our childcare sector to make it more affordable for parents to access and sustainable for providers to deliver. There is a not-to-be-missed opportunity for the Executive to show their commitment to building back better and investing in a world-class childcare infrastructure, that supports parents to work, aids the wider economy and society and critically, invests in the social and educational development of our children.

Our ask, is that this is the last Childcare Survey in which parents and childcare providers tell us that they cannot continue as things are – and that by the time we publish our next report, we will have seen much-needed and long-overdue progress towards delivering the support that is so critically needed by this vital economic sector.

Download the full report and the Executive Summary from this page.

If you have any questions about the report, contact us on 028 9267 8200 or email

We would like to thank the 2,200 parents and childcare providers who completed this important survey. The report highlights and reflects their views, attitudes and experiences.