Childcare use and perceived impact on child development for families of 0-4 year-olds during COVID-19

Ipsos's latest research for the Department for Education gathered evidence during COVID-19 on the use of childcare in November/December 2020, and in January 2021, as well as on the perceived impact of COVID-19 on child development.

The author(s)

  • Tom Huskinson Head of the Survey Research Methods Centre
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Childcare use

A recent survey by Ipsos in January 2021, during a national lockdown due to COVID-19, found that nearly three-quarters (72%) of parents whose child used formal childcare before COVID-19 reported that their child was using formal childcare at the time of the interview. 15% reported that they intended to use formal childcare as soon as the national lockdown restrictions are lifted; 9% were not planning to use formal childcare again until at least March 2021 (even if restrictions were lifted before then); and the remaining 4% either had no intention of using formal childcare again, or were unsure whether they would use formal childcare again.

In addition, when comparing formal childcare use with the previous term (September to December 2020), 74% of children using formal childcare in the previous term were using formal childcare in January 2021, and one in five (20%) were using no childcare at all (neither formal nor informal childcare).

Among parents whose child was not receiving formal childcare in January 2021, the most common reasons were that the parent never used formal childcare (23%), that the childcare available was too expensive (15%), and that childcare was not needed as the parent(s) was on maternity or paternity leave (13%).

Parents whose child was not using formal childcare in January 2021 were asked what would encourage them to use formal childcare over the coming months. Parents most commonly cited the end of the national lockdown (44%), followed by childcare at a reduced or no cost (22%), when older/vulnerable relatives had been vaccinated (16%), and when they/their immediate family had been vaccinated (also 16%).

Nearly half (47%) of parents whose child used informal childcare before COVID-19 reported that their child was using informal childcare in January 2021.

Impact on child development

More than half (54%) of parents whose child used formal childcare before COVID-19 reported that the overall disruption to schools and childcare settings since March 2020 had harmed their child’s social and educational development.  Around two-thirds (68%) of parents were concerned about the impact of the current national lockdown on their child(ren)’s social and educational development.

The survey wave in November/December 2020 overlapped with a national lockdown due to COVID-19 between 5 November and 2 December 2020. This survey found that most parents whose child received formal childcare before COVID-19 were either using formal childcare at the time of the survey (90%), or were expecting to be using childcare again by January 2021 if formal childcare was available (3%). The remaining parents either intended to use formal childcare again when they felt it was the right time (3%), had no intention using formal childcare again (2%), or were unsure if they would use formal childcare again (2%). 

Technical note

Ipsos conducted interviews online with a representative sample of 1,000 parents of children aged 0-4 in England in November/December 2020, and in January 2021. Interviews for the November/December 2020 survey were conducted between 25 November and 4 December 2020. Interviews for the January 2021 survey were conducted between 22 and 26 January 2021. Data for each survey are weighted to match the population profile of parents of children aged 0-4 in England by region, social grade, and the age of the selected child (i.e. the randomly selected child aged 0-4 about whom child-level questions were asked).  Data between waves are not directly comparable due to changes made to the questionnaire.

The author(s)

  • Tom Huskinson Head of the Survey Research Methods Centre

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