Updated on 05/01/21 

We are currently in a new national lockdown, with many schools shut and people across the UK being advised to stay at home. However, the government has explicitly stated that in-home childcare is still permitted, meaning that you can still access support if you need it.

Here we break down some of the key guidance when it comes to childcare, such as what a childcare bubble is, how it’s different from a support bubble and what the rules are around paid childcare such as nannies or babysitters.

These rules are for childcare in England, as other parts of the UK have their own guidelines.

Are schools open?

In England, the new national lockdown means that primary and secondary schools must remain shut until at least the February half-term, at which point the government will review the situation and make an assessment on school openings. The only exceptions are for children of key workers and those children who are deemed ‘vulnerable’.

For most parents, these rules mean a return to homeschooling, which can be difficult to juggle – particularly if you also have to work. You are still allowed to book in-home childcare during this time, so this may be something to consider if you need support while homeschooling / working from home.

Bubble offers parents access to trusted, affordable childcare near you, which you can book on short-notice or use as a more regular form of support. Check out the free app on iOS or Android.

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Are nurseries open?

Nurseries are currently open to all children in England, unlike the first lockdown last year. This means that parents have the option of sending their children to nursery (if they feel safe and comfortable doing so).

What is a childcare bubble?

A childcare bubble is where someone in one household provides informal (unpaid and unregistered) childcare to a child aged 13 or under in another household. Childcare bubbles are exclusive, meaning that you cannot form multiple childcare bubbles with people from different households.

Who can form a childcare bubble?

Any household where there is a child aged 13 or under can form a childcare bubble with any other household, regardless of its size. If you live in a household with multiple children, you can still only form a childcare bubble with one other household. Once you have formed a childcare bubble, you must not change it or form another one.

When it comes to children whose parents do not live in the same household, you do not have to form a childcare bubble in order for the child to see both parents. All children under 18 are allowed to move between their parents’ homes in situations where their parents do not live in the same household, as part of the support bubble arrangement (described below).

Households are allowed to form a childcare bubble that is separate from their support bubble, so long as it is only one childcare bubble per household and it follows the government guidelines.

What are the rules on forming childcare bubbles?

If you are eligible, you must ensure that you only connect your household in a childcare bubble with one other household. This childcare bubble must not change, so you cannot switch between using members of different households for informal childcare. If you have relatives from two different households, for example, you can only form a childcare bubble with relatives from one of the households.

Although childcare bubbles are still allowed in England during lockdown, it is important to remember that these do not allow for play dates, parties or general social mixing – they are there to ensure that parents can continue their consistent childcare relationship with members of another household such as grandparents.

The government also recommends that people form childcare bubbles locally where possible, to reduce any unnecessary travel.

Can grandparents still provide childcare?

Yes, the new rules do allow some grandparents to look after their grandchildren. If children have grandparents who live in multiple different households, only grandparents from one of those households will be allowed to form a childcare bubble with the child’s household. 

For example, if a child has two sets of grandparents, each who live together in a pair, the child’s household can only form a childcare bubble with one set of grandparents. 

Alternatively, if grandparents have grandchildren who live in multiple different households, they are only allowed to look after children from one of those households, i.e. one set of their grandchildren.

However, with the new lockdown the government has reintroduced its ‘shielding’ advice, meaning that those who are deemed clinically vulnerable should not leave their house for any reason. If grandparents fall into this category, they may decide not to provide childcare in order to reduce their risks of getting ill.

Grandparent looking after child in a support bubble

Grandparents are allowed to mix with one household to look after their grandchildren

What other types of childcare are allowed?

Apart from childcare bubbles which provide support for families with informal childcare arrangements, the government has also explicitly stated that formal (i.e. paid) childcare is still allowed. This means that if you use in-home nannies or babysitters, they can still come to your house to provide childcare.

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In the new lockdown, the government restrictions mean that schools are not allowed to open except for key workers’ children and those who are vulnerable, however early years settings (such as nurseries) can still remain open.

If you have been affected by the school closures or have made the decision not to send your children to nursery during this time, it may be especially useful to book an in-home babysitter or nanny, so that you can finish your work and know that your kids will be looked after until you’re done.

Check out some of our tips on how to create a Covid-secure environment when booking workers to come into your home.

Why should I use Bubble to find childcare?

Bubble connects parents with trusted, in-home childcare whenever they need it, which is particularly useful in cases where your family may not able to provide informal childcare (such as if grandparents are clinically vulnerable or have formed a different childcare bubble already.

The app allows you to book childcare as and when you need it, and connects you with local, verified babysitters and nannies. Sitters on the app must confirm that they do not have any Covid symptoms before booking a sit, and we ask everyone on Bubble to follow our guidance for ensuring safe sits.

Are childminders open? 

Similarly to nurseries, childminders are allowed to remain open during this lockdown for all EYFS children (birth to 5 years old). For children over the age of 5, they are only allowed to remain open for children of key workers and vulnerable children, for purposes such as wraparound care.

What is a support bubble?

If you live by yourself or are a single parent with children under 18, you can expand your close support network so that it includes one other household of any size. This is called a support bubble, and it allows you to have close contact with members from another chosen household.

If you form a support bubble with another household, you are allowed to visit each other, stay overnight at each others’ households and essentially act as though you are both from the same household. This also means that if a member from one household gets Covid symptoms or is told to self-isolate, the other household in their support bubble must also follow the same guidance.

Rules for forming a support bubble:

  • If you’re in a single-adult household, you can form a support bubble with another household of any size that is not part of a support bubble with anyone else. 
  • If you live with other adults, you can form a support bubble with one single-adult household which is not part of a support bubble with anyone else. 
  • If you share custody of a child with someone outside of your household, you can form a support bubble with another household outside of the other parent’s household.

 

For more information and specific examples on support bubbles, consult the government’s website.

What’s the difference between a childcare bubble and a support bubble?

A childcare bubble is different from a support bubble. While support bubbles are restricted to single-adult households, childcare bubbles can be formed between two households of any size, so long as that bubble is exclusive and you do not then request informal childcare from people outside of that household.

Childcare bubbles are also different in that they are limited to households with children aged 13 or younger, whilst support bubbles class a ‘single-adult household’ as one where there is only one person aged 18 or older. This means that if you are a parent who lives alone with children aged 14-17, you can form a support bubble but you cannot form a childcare bubble. 

Households are allowed to form a childcare bubble that is separate from their support bubble, so long as they use the same childcare bubble and support bubble exclusively and do not form bubbles with any other households.

FAQs

What is a childcare bubble?

Where someone in one household provides informal childcare to a child aged 13 or under in another household exclusively.

Who can form a childcare bubble?

Any household where there is a child aged 13 or under can form a childcare bubble with any other household.

What are the rules for childcare bubbles?

They must be formed exclusively between two households, and once formed the households in the bubble cannot change. They should not be used for playdates or parties, and where possible should be between local households.

Can grandparents look after children?

Yes, if they form a childcare bubble and adhere to all government rules (e.g. only connecting with one other household with a child aged 13 or under)

What is a support bubble?

When one single-adult household connects with another household (of any size) exclusively, so that they can act as though all members of the bubble belong to the same household.

What’s the difference between a childcare bubble and support bubble?

In a support bubble one of the households must be a single-adult household only, whereas in a childcare bubble both households can be any size, so long as one of them has a child aged 13 or under. Also, single-adult households are classed as having only one member who is 18 or over, so if you are an adult who lives with children aged 14-17 (only) you can form a support bubble but not a childcare bubble.

Can childcare bubbles stay overnight at each others’ households?

In our understanding, the answer is generally no. Childcare bubbles are to be used to provide childcare only, and not for the purposes of different households mixing. Where childcare is required overnight (e.g. if a parent works night shifts), then childcare bubbles would be allowed to stay overnight for the purpose of informal childcare.

Can I book a babysitter or nanny?

Yes, childcare is exempt which means that babysitters and nannies are still allowed to come to your home as part of a formal (i.e. paid) childcare arrangement.

 

The Bubble app (available for iOS or Android) connects parents with trusted local sitters, so that they can find the childcare that fits their family’s needs.