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20th Mar 2024

How to choose an early learning and childcare service and make the most of supports to reduce your costs


Brought to you by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.

From subsidies to services, here’s what you need to know.

Choosing an early learning and childcare service is one of the first and most important decisions that you will make for your child, so deciding what’s right for you can seem overwhelming.

Your young children learn through play in a safe space. Going to Preschool, Full-day early learning and childcare or School-Age Childcare will provide your child with a variety of experiences to assist them to reach their full developmental potential.

So we’ve put together the perfect guide to make sure you’re asking the right questions to find a quality service and make the most of the supports available to reduce your costs.

What type of early learning and childcare service is right for me?

There is a wide range of early learning and childcare services – some parents may opt to use a childminder who minds children in their own home, or a nanny/au pair who minds children in your home. Some parents may use day care services. These services can offer part-time and full day services, which might suit your family better, depending on your needs or work schedule. 

Different services will have varying approaches to play and learning depending on their own play and learning philosophy.

When planning your early learning and childcare service, you should consider what type of service you need. One of the best ways to learn about a service is to speak to the provider directly.

Visit the provider, have a list of questions taking into consideration what’s important to you and your family. You will want to be sure that the service meets your family’s needs and most important that your child will be happy and cared for, and given every opportunity to learn, play and develop. 

As well as questions on the basics around costs – what are their hours, how flexible are they (are there fines if you pick your child up late etc) – you might also want to consider how healthy eating is promoted, how much time the children get to play outdoors and any restrictions when a child is sick. 

A helpful guide from Tusla that includes a quick checklist to help you in your journey is available here.

Is there help to meet early learning and childcare costs?


If you have a child aged between 24 weeks and 15 years of age, you can get a subsidy under the National Childcare Scheme (NCS). The NCS provides subsidies to help reduce families’ early learning and childcare costs. 

Anyone, irrespective of income, can apply for and avail of the NCS Universal subsidy. The subsidy is an hourly rate of support to a maximum of 45 hours per week. Families can also apply for an Income Assessed subsidy, which offers a higher rate of support, depending on your income.

The table here shows the rates of NCS supports:

Current NCS Universal Subsidy Rate per HourNCS Universal Subsidy Rate per Hour Increasing from September 2024Income Assessed Subsidy to a maximum per hour

The NCS is helping to make early learning and childcare more affordable with parents of over 155,000 children already benefitting from the subsidy so far this year.

In addition to the NCS, there are two years free preschool available for all families. The Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (ECCE) follows the same structure as the school year, running from September until June for three hours per day, five days a week. Children are eligible to start their first year of the ECCE programme once they have turned 2 years and 8 months of age by 31 August in the given programme year.

Most early learning and childcare providers have also committed to freeze their fees at 2021 rates as part of the Government’s new funding model, ‘Together for Better.’ You can check if your chosen childcare provider has signed up here. 

To find a place for your child, contact your local preschool or crèche and enquire what places are available.

All approved ECCE programme providers must offer free ECCE-only sessions. Parents who have children availing of the ECCE programme are not required to attend or pay for any additional services offered by their provider.

This is where you can get help

The quickest way to apply for the NCS is online using your MyGovID, which is associated with your public services card. Most parents already have MyGovID, but if you don’t you can sign up here:

You can also call the NCS Parent Support Centre on 01 9068530 to receive an application in the post. See for more details on the NCS and how to apply.

If you need help with these supports, you can call your local City/County Childcare Committee (CCC) for support and advice! CCCs are a local government funded support designed to help families access supports.

Almost 4,000 services offer the NCS and over 3,900 offer ECCE. You can use the Childcare Search function on to find these services and their fees. 

Currently, very few childminders are registered with Tusla and can offer the NCS or the ECCE programme. However, proposed new childminding regulations, currently subject to a public consultation, are making registration easier for childminders and opening up access to State supports. This means making NCS available for registered childminders and families using them.

The subsidies and advice supports are a great help for thousands of parents. Follow these simple steps to make sure you are included.