Child care for people who work non-standard hours

Published on Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Last updated on Friday, 17 December 2021

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How do I find child care if I work outside the normal 9-5?

Every family is different, and although many parents are employed nine-to-five, there are plenty who work non-standard hours. With night shifts, weekend rosters, very early starts, seasonal work and on-call arrangements, it can be challenging to arrange child care outside normal business hours. 

However, with some planning, it is possible for parents to juggle child care and non-standard work. Here are some ways that families can keep all the balls in the air. 

What child care options fit with non-typical hours?

The following child care provides flexibility and out of hours support for parents:

  • Home-based education and care
  • Education and care services (long day attendance) 
  • Nannies 
  • Au pairs
  • Babysitters
  • Family and friends 
  • Kid share (reciprocal child-minding)
  • Parents working ‘mirror shifts’

Home-based education and care: 

Sometimes called family day care, this ‘home away from home’ care caters to children from birth to five-years-old and can offer flexible hours and emergency care. 

Education and care services:  

Running all-day sessions and flexible-hour programmes, these child care services look after children from birth to school age. Long day care often runs from 7:30am to 5.30pm, with some child care centres open 11 hours.


There are a variety of nannies to suit the circumstances of all families. Before and after school nannies work around the opening hours of early childhood education (ECE) services. Night nannies usually start at 9pm and finish at 7am. And live-in nannies may work on a temporary, long-term, day or night basis, depending on the family’s needs. 

Au pairs: 

Providing live-in child care and light household duties, au pairs offer flexibility and support for parents. The au pair may work extra hours (at an agreed rate) and, in exceptional cases, they might work weekends and/or public holidays. 


This form of child care is usually an ad-hoc solution to out of hours care. However, a family and their babysitter can agree on a regular commitment and pay rate.

Care provided by family and friends: 

Many parents who work non-standard hours rely on the help of a grandmother, aunt, uncle, older sibling, friend or trusted neighbour to care for their child when ECE services are closed. Depending on the relationship, this care may be provided free-of-charge or paid for.

Kid share: 

Reciprocal child-minding is another option. Here a network of friends or colleagues take turns minding one another’s children on an on-going basis. 

‘Mirror shifts’: 

Another possibility is for mums and dads to work opposite shifts, so there is always a parent at home to look after their child. 

What’s the best approach?

Each family will find what works for them, but according to research by the Ministry of Social Development, many parents take the approach of mixing formal and informal care. This could mean that a child attends an ECE service during the day (like a kindergarten) and is minded by a relative or other child carer at night. 

What are the benefits of non-standard hours?

Although child care arrangements may be more complex, there are some positives to be gained from working non-standard hours. 

Depending on their shifts, working non-typical hours can enable parents to:

  • Earn better pay
  • Get work opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have
  • Be at home with young children during the day
  • Care for children when they come home from school 

What is 20 Hours ECE?

The government recognises the importance of early childhood education and relieves some financial pressure by subsidising 20 Hours ECE for three-, four- and five-year-olds. This means that the government will pay for up to 20 hours per week of education and care at an approved ECE service. 

Families working non-standard hours can benefit from 20 Hours ECE when using licensed home-based ECE services and education and care services, while nanny and au pair agencies may offer 20 Hours ECE too. 

How does the government help shift workers pay for child care?

The government also supports parents with: 

The Childcare Subsidy

This subsidy assists families with the cost of pre-school child care. It is normally paid for up to nine hours of care per week. However, if you’re a shift worker who works nights, and your child’s other parent or caregiver can’t look after them, then the government may fund up to 50 hours of care per week. This can include approved home-based care. 

Out of School Care and Recreation (OSCAR) Subsidy

This subsidy helps families with the cost of before and after school care (for up to 20 hours per week) and school holiday programmes (for up to 50 hours a week), and may be applicable for shift workers who work nights. 

Flexible Childcare Assistance

If you’re a sole parent who works when child care programmes are closed (for example, at night or on weekends), then Flexible Childcare Assistance can help ease child care costs too.  

A parent who satisfies the criteria may get up to $150 per week, for up to 26 weeks to help pay for child care, food, activities and travel. This care can be provided by a family member, friend, neighbour or child-minder. 

And if you get Flexible Childcare Assistance, you can still apply for the Childcare or OSCAR Subsidy to help with costs when child care programmes are open. 

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