If cancer or its treatment affects the way you look after your child or children, support may be available.

Cancer treatment and childcare

Cancer and its treatment can affect family life and normal routines. As a result, you may need more support to look after your children.

You may need to make frequent visits to the hospital for tests and treatments, or to see your healthcare team. You may find it difficult to do all the things you used to do. This can make it hard to look after your children in the way you want.

This can be upsetting and difficult to accept. But the need for extra support is usually temporary. After your treatment ends, you will gradually get stronger and be able to do more.

Asking for help with childcare when you have cancer

It is important to ask for help when you need it. This can feel difficult, but getting the right support can reduce the stress you feel. This means that the time you spend with your children is likely to be more enjoyable and relaxed.

You could ask for help from:

  • family or friends
  • healthcare professionals
  • school or nursery staff
  • social services
  • certain charities.

You can explain that you need some help with childcare while you are having treatment. This could be for part of the day or a few hours, depending on how you feel.

We have information to help you talk about your cancer diagnosis.

Help looking after children

Help to care for your children can come from different places. These suggestions may give you some useful ideas. If you feel overwhelmed, ask a family member or friend to support you with getting the help you need.

Family and friends

For some people, support from family or friends is enough to help them care for their children. A family member may be able to do some of the things you usually do. Children often adapt to this and learn that it is part of what it means to be a family.

Family or friends can do practical things like housework, cooking or shopping. This can give you more time to spend with your children.

They may also be able to help with day-to-day activities. This might include picking up children from school and nursery, or taking care of them when you have hospital appointments.

It is okay to ask for help. People are usually happy to help and are just waiting to be asked.

We have information about talking to children and teenagers about cancer.

Talking to your child’s school

If your child is at school, it may help to contact the headteacher or form teacher about any care the school can provide before or after school. You could call or email them first to arrange a meeting at the school.

Some schools have a member of staff who manages the welfare of children. Or there may be a school nurse you can talk to. They may also be aware of local childcare services.

Parents of your child’s friends may be able to help on days when you have your treatment.

Talking to your healthcare team

It can also help to talk to members of your healthcare team about local childcare support. This might include your GP, cancer doctor or specialist nurse.

They can also suggest other sources of support for a child whose parent has cancer.

Flexible working

If you are employed, your employer may be able to offer flexible working to help you work around childcare and cancer treatment. You could talk to your manager or Human Resources (HR) department about this. If you have a partner and they are employed, they could also ask about more flexible working.

You may find it helpful to contact our work support service for more information about this and your rights at work. has information about various types of flexible working such as flexitime, home working, compressed hours and job share in England, Scotland and Wales

NIDirect has information about flexible working in Northern Ireland.

Related pages

Social Services

Your local social services department is a good place to start finding out about possible childcare options. It can provide a range of care options and support for children, their families and carers.

Someone from social services will assess your needs. Sometimes, it is possible for them to provide a package of care. This is a combination of services to meet the support needs of parents and families.

They may be able to organise help with shopping, housework and applying for benefits. This can mean you have more energy to spend quality time with your children. You can also talk to our welfare rights team about applying for benefits on 0808 808 0000.

You can contact your local council’s Family Information Service to get a list of the childcare services and family hubs in your area. Family hubs bring together different organisations and services to make it easier to access help. This will include local childminders, day care nurseries and out-of-school care. In some areas, this is called a Childcare Information Service.

Social workers

Social workers can be a useful contact and source of support. They can advise you about the childcare available in your local area. You can ask your GP or a teacher at your child’s school for a referral to a social worker. They can talk to you about what support might help while you have your treatment.

Charities and organisations

Some charities provide free support and practical help with looking after children.

  • Home-Start

    Home-Start provides free support and practical help to families. The volunteers are trained parents. They visit families in their own homes for a few hours a week. They can help look after children, or just be someone to talk to.

  • Carer’s Trust

    Carer’s Trust has care centres across the UK. Many have trained carers who can provide practical support in the home so the carer can take a break. They can also look after children when a parent or carer has cancer.

Financial help with childcare costs

There are different kinds of help available towards childcare costs:


You might be able to get some help from the government. This might be some free childcare, or help to pay for childcare. Depending on your situation, help may include the following:

  • Working Tax Credit helps with the cost of government-approved childcare. How much you get depends on how much you earn.
  • If you get Universal Credit, you may also be able to get help with childcare costs. You usually need to have a job, or a job offer. If you live with a partner, they will need to have a job or job offer too.
  • A number of hours of free childcare – the number of hours depends on the age of the child, whether you work or receive other support, and where you live. Schemes vary based on if you live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
  • You can get Tax-Free Childcare at the same time as any free childcare schemes, if you are eligible for both.
  • If you get Housing Benefit, some of your childcare costs can be considered when calculating the amount of this benefit you could get.

To find out more visit or

You may also find it helpful to:

You might also be able to get help with childcare costs from a charity or your local council. Your local Citizens Advice office can help with this. Search for your local office to make an appointment.

Macmillan’s financial guides and welfare rights advisers are here to help. Call us free on 0808 808 0000.

Free school meals

These are available to anyone who already claims certain benefits such as Income Support. Contact your local authority for details of how to apply. You could also talk to a teacher at your children’s school about this.

The following links may help if you live in:

If your child is eligible for free school meals in England, they may also be able to access a Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programme. This is a programme that provides free healthy food and activities to children during some of the school holidays.

The Osbourne Trust runs local respite activities for children whose parent has a cancer diagnosis.

Grants for school clothing

If you are on a low income, you may be able to get help with school uniform costs in:

In Northern Ireland, you can also contact your local education and library board for details of how to apply. Your child’s school should be able to help you with this.

In England, contact your local council for information about school uniform grants.

Other organisations that can help

Other organisations which provide emotional support include:

  • Hope Support Services

    Hope Support Services supports young people when a close family member is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, such as cancer.

  • Ruth Strauss Foundation

    Ruth Strauss Foundation provides emotional support for families to prepare for the death of a parent.

  • Winston’s Wish

    Winston’s Wish supports bereaved children, young people, and their families.

  • Fruitfly Collective

    Fruitfly Collective helps families talk about cancer, death and grief, and to support children by giving them coping tools and knowledge that they are not alone – it also produces Pip’s Kit to help children who have a parent or carer with an incurable illness.

If you are having difficulties with childcare, you can contact a Macmillan cancer support specialist on 0808 808 0000.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals Cassie Davis, Information Service Manager, Laura Edmondson, Macmillan Welfare Rights and Money and Work Advisor, Heather Jinks, Social Worker and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Rachel Bryce, National Nursing Advisor for Systemic Anti-Cancer Therapy, Centre of Clinical Expertise and Jacqui Graves, National Nursing Advisor for Primary Care, Centre of Clinical Expertise.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 August 2023
Next review: 01 August 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.