An Overview of Child Care Costs and Government Funding

An Overview of Child Care Costs and Government Funding


Although it has priceless benefits for youngsters, early childhood education and care does come at a real cost for families. 

Here, we consider the fees associated with early childhood education services and kōhanga reo, and look at how the government helps families pay for early learning and child care.

How much does early childhood education and care cost?

The cost of early learning and care varies between services and families. 

While Te Kura’s programme may be free, other early childhood education (ECE) services charge a small hourly rate or ask parents to pay by the term. Families might also be asked to make a donation or pay optional charges to cover the cost of providing extra items or services. And kōhanga reo have a whānau contribution system.

The cost of early childhood education services and kōhanga reo depends on:

  • The time a child spends there
  • The facilities or services offered
  • How many adults are employed to educate and care for children
  • Their qualifications 
  • Whether 20 Hours ECE or a Childcare Subsidy applies

To find out what your family needs to pay, speak to your ECE service or kōhanga reo directly. This is also a good chance to ask about things like payment systems and whether fees apply when your child is sick or on holiday. 

What is 20 Hours ECE?

Fortunately, the government recognises the importance of early childhood education and care in the years leading up to school age, and helps families with the cost.

To this end, the government subsidises 20 Hours ECE for all three-, four- and five-year-olds attending early childhood education. This means that if your child attends an ECE service or kōhanga reo that offers 20 Hours ECE, the government will pay for 20 hours per week of education and care. 

Parents may choose to use as many or as few of the 20 Hours ECE, up to six hours per day and 20 hours per week. However, keep in mind that the ECE service or kōhanga reo might have a minimum number of hours or days that enrolled children need to attend. 

How to apply for 20 Hours ECE:

  • Check if your ECE service or kōhanga reo offers it
  • If your child is three, four or five, apply when you enrol them
  • If they’re already enrolled, apply just before they turn three
  • Complete an ‘attestation’ with the enrolment agreement, choosing which hours you’re claiming

The subsidy is paid directly to the ECE service or kōhanga reo, so parents don’t need to apply separately with the Ministry of Education. 

Can parents change their child’s subsidised hours?

Yes. It’s possible to change your child’s hours or use 20 Hours ECE at another service or kōhanga reo over the school holidays. Just make sure the enrolment form and attestation reflect the changes. 

Also, if your child goes to more than one ECE service or kōhanga reo, then you can split the hours between them (up to 20 hours a week and six hours a day). 

What costs do families bear under 20 Hours ECE?

In terms of what is payable by parents, ECE services and kōhanga reo can charge families their usual enrolment fees and ask for optional charges or donations. 

As this subsidy is based on age and hours, families have to pay ECE fees if their child is under three or attends for more than 20 hours per week or six hours per day.

What is a Childcare Subsidy?

A Childcare Subsidy is a payment that helps families with the cost of pre-school child care. 

It is normally paid for up to nine hours of child care per week (for those not working, studying or training), but some families may receive it for up to 50 hours a week. 

You may get a Childcare Subsidy if:

  • You’re the main carer of a dependent child, aged under five and attending an approved early childhood programme for three or more hours a week
  • You’re a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident
  • Your family is on a low or middle income

For a Childcare Subsidy, approved early childhood programmes include:

  • Kindergartens and pre-schools
  • Child care centres and crèches
  • Play centres and play groups
  • Kōhanga reo, Punanga Reo, Aoga and other programmes with a language and culture focus
  • Approved home-based care

A Childcare Subsidy is calculated depending on the size of your family, your income and how many hours your child is cared for each week. 

Families getting 20 Hours ECE can’t get a Childcare Subsidy for the same hours, and you should apply for a Childcare Subsidy at least three or four weeks before you need it to start. 

How else does the government help families?

Flexible Childcare Assistance helps sole parents who are working when child care programmes are closed, e.g. weekends or nights. The weekly payment helps pay for child care after hours, whether it’s provided by a family member, friend, neighbour or child-minder. 

The government also helps families with its Working for Families Tax Credits and Accommodation Supplement

For school-aged children, the Out of School Care and Recreation (OSCAR) Subsidy assists families with the cost of before-school and after-school programmes for up to 20 hours a week, and school holiday programmes for up to 50 hours a week.


NZ Education
Te Kura
Ministry of Social Development 
Working for Families

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Thursday, 03 January 2019

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