Childcare when a parent or carer has cancer
Cancer and its treatment often disrupt family life and normal routines. As a result, your childcare needs may change and you may need more support to look after your children.
This information looks at different childcare options when a parent or carer has cancer. It also includes information about the support that’s available to help you look after your children. We also have information on talking to your children when you have cancer.
We hope this information answers your questions. If you have any further questions, you can ask your doctor, nurse or social worker.
Being diagnosed with cancer can have a major effect on a parent’s or carer’s everyday life. It’s often difficult to carry on doing the things you normally do. You may need frequent visits to the hospital for tests, treatments or to see your specialist. The effects of cancer or treatment may mean that you’re unable to care for your children as you normally would.
This can be upsetting and difficult to accept. Usually this situation is temporary. After you finish your treatment you’ll gradually get stronger and be able to do more.
Try not to feel guilty if you’re struggling to care for your children. It can be difficult to ask for help, but with the right support, some of the stress can be reduced. Then the time you spend with your children is likely to be more enjoyable and relaxed.
It’s important to ask for help when you need it. Social workers can be a useful contact and source of support in this situation. They can advise you about the childcare that’s available in your local area.
Cancer can bring many unexpected expenses, including paying for extra childcare. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to claim additional benefits and financial assistance to help you cope with any extra costs.
There may also be certain child benefits or tax credits you can apply for:
Child Tax Credit is paid if you’re responsible for any children under 16 or in full-time education. The payment is means-tested (based on your income and savings).
Working Tax Credit is a means-tested payment made to working people on a low income to top up their earnings. It includes payments towards the cost of childcare.
Some local authorities may also help with the cost of childcare.
You can get more information about tax credits from HM Revenue & Customs.
You can get advice on benefits and how to claim for them from our benefits advisers. We also give grants to people with cancer that can be put towards extra childcare costs.
Help looking after children
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There are several sources of help that may be available to help you care for your children. These suggestions may give you some useful ideas.
For some people, support from family and friends is enough to help them care for their children. Another family member may be able to help you or take over some of the things you usually do. Children often adapt to this and can learn that it’s part of what it means to be a family. You might want to ask family or friends to do practical things like housework, cooking or shopping. This can give you more time to spend with your children.
Family and friends can often help with day-to-day activities like picking up your children from school and nursery or taking care of them when you have hospital appointments. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, no matter how small the amount of help is. People are usually only too pleased to help, and are just waiting to be asked.
If you have children at school or in nursery, it’s a good idea to let their teachers know about your situation. They can then be more sensitive to your child’s needs and let you know if they have any concerns about them. There may be specialists that you’re able to talk to such as a school nurse or child psychologist. They may also be able to help support your child with what they might be going through.
Social services provide a variety of care options and support for children, and their families or carers. Sometimes it’s possible, following an assessment of your needs, for social services to provide a package of care. They work to ensure parents, families or carers have access to the support they need, when they need it.
You can contact your local council’s Children’s Information Services to get a list of the childcare services available in your area. This will include local childminders, day care nurseries and out-of-school care.
Some charities can provide free support and practical help with looking after children.
Home-Start provides free support, practical help and reassurance to families in various circumstances. Their volunteers, who have parenting experience, visit families in their own homes and help look after children.
The Carer’s Trust provides a care scheme that offers practical support in the home. They have trained carers who can take over from and support existing carers. They also help families when a parent or carer has cancer by looking after the children.
If you, or your partner, are employed, it may be possible to ask your employer about whether you could adopt a ‘flexible working’ scheme during your treatment. This may give you more flexibility with childcare. Gov.uk has information about various types of flexible working such as flexitime, home working, compressed hours and job share.
Childcare can be provided by various people and at different costs.
Childminders provide experienced care within their own homes. All childminders have to be registered and are inspected regularly to make sure they meet child welfare standards. You should ask to see their registration and inspection certificates. A childminder can look after up to six children under the age of eight, but no more than three of them can be under five, and only one child can be under one. Children over eight can also be looked after as long as it doesn't affect the care of the under-eight-year-olds.
Costs vary depending on the services they offer. Your local council can give you a list of registered childminders in your area, or the Gov.uk website can provide you with local childminder contacts. You can also find adverts in your local paper.
These are usually untrained carers who provide a basic level of childcare and domestic duties in your home. They don’t have to be registered and may not have relevant childcare experience. Au pairs often come from another European country to study English. They help in the home for a maximum of five hours a day and have to be provided with an allowance, meals and their own room. You can find out about au pairs by contacting an agency either through your local paper, the phonebook or on the internet.
These provide full- or part-time professional care for children from 0-5 years old. Some provide out-of-school care. They can be private, voluntary or run by a local authority. Prices vary across the country. All three- and four-year-old children in the UK are entitled to free care from local authority nurseries for a minimum of 12.5 hours per week (15 hours per week in England) for 38 weeks per year. You can search for nurseries on the Gov.uk or Day nurseries websites.
Nannies look after children in the family home and care for children of all ages. There are live-in nannies as well as nannies that visit on a daily basis. Nannies aren’t always trained and don’t have to be registered, although they can voluntarily register. You may prefer to use a registered nanny.
Costs vary depending on where you live and whether the nanny lives with you or not. You can find out more by getting in touch with a nanny agency. There’s also information on the Department for Education website that you might find helpful.
These provide supervised childcare for a limited period of time. Costs vary.
These clubs provide care and play for school-aged children, usually until the age of 11. They're often available before and after school. Some school clubs are also available during school holidays. Costs vary.
We hope this information gives you some useful ideas about different options available to you and helps you find the childcare you need. Usually the need for extra support is temporary. When your treatment is over, side effects such as tiredness will gradually improve, and you’ll be able to get back to your normal family routine. If you're having difficulties with childcare and would like to talk things over, you can contact one of our cancer support specialists.
4Children provides support to parents, children and young people. It offers information about standards and details of clubs and play schemes.
Formed from the merger of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroads Care, Carers Trust works to improve support, services and recognition for anyone living with the challenges of caring for someone.
Day Care Trust
Day Care Trust provides free information on a variety of childcare issues including childcare options, where to find childcare and how to find help with childcare costs.
Department for Education
The Department for Education has a 'childminding and childcare' section on the website that provides information about childcare facilities. It can also give details of local nurseries, playgroups and Sure Start centres. These centres offer a variety of advice and support for parents and carers.
Department for Work and Pensions
The DWP gives confidential advice on benefits for people with disabilities or chronic illness.
Gov.uk replaces Direct.gov and gives information about public services including advice on choosing childcare, childcare benefits and flexible working schemes.
HM Revenue & Customs
HMRC may help you to get financial help towards childcare costs.
Home-Start provides free support, practical help and reassurance to families in a variety of circumstances.
National Childminding Association (NCMA)
The NCMA works with registered childminders, nannies and other individuals and organisations, such as local and national government, to ensure families have access to high-quality, home-based childcare, play, learning and family support.
National Children's Bureau
The National Children’s Bureau promotes the voices, interests and well-being of all children and young people across every aspect of their lives.
With thanks to Christine Davis, CLIC Sargent Social Worker, and the people affected by cancer who reviewed this edition. Reviewing information is just one of the ways you could help when you join our Cancer Voices network.