After-school and holiday care 

My daughter’s 12 and I’ve been told she’s not allowed to be at home by herself. Is this true?

In New Zealand it is illegal to leave children under 14 on their own without taking reasonable steps for their care and supervision. As a parent you have to make sure your child is safe. The law defines ‘reasonable steps’ based on the child’s age, situation and how long they’re left alone for. More information about this and other legal ages is on our Legal ages and ID page.

Sometimes it is tempting for parents to leave their children in the car - especially if a baby is asleep in the car - while they do shopping, or run errands, but this can be very dangerous. Cars can heat up very quickly, and babies soon become distressed. 

It’s also important to know that a babysitter has to be at least 14 years old.

Some helpful tips for choosing a babysitter are on the Plunket website.

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What options are there for after-school care?

If your child is under the age of 14 and you can’t look after them when they finish school, you have to arrange childcare for them. You can either find someone you know and trust to look after them (e.g. a grandparent, another parent with whom you can share care) or enrol them in an after school care programme. 

You can choose before- and after-school care from a range of providers, both commercial and not-for-profit. Many before- and after-school care programmes are held on-site in schools. How much you could expect to pay for the care will vary depending on the provider, the hours of care you require, and whether you are willing to pay in advance (e.g. for a whole term). If you have two or more children attending, you may be able to get a discount.

If you're worried that you can't afford before or after school care, you may be eligible for an Out of School Care and Recreation (OSCAR) subsidy. You can check the Work and Income website for a list of OSCAR providers in your area. For more information about OSCAR, see our Family Assistance page.

You could also consider finding a child-minder to supervise your child at home. Some helpful tips for choosing a child-minder are on the Plunket website.

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Where can I find out about school holiday programmes? Are there any low cost options?

There are many different holiday programmes available. Most after-school care providers run school holiday programmes, as do some organisations such as zoos, sports clubs, art galleries and museums. Some providers offer camps that run for one or two weeks at a time. This means that you can choose a school holiday programme that focuses on your child’s particular interests (e.g. on sports, arts, conservation).

You’ll need to check whether a particular programme will be run for the entire school holiday period or just part of it (for example, it may not run for the whole of the school’s Christmas holidays), and whether they are able to care for your child for the hours you require (e.g. find out what time you’d have to pick them up at the end of the day).

The cost of holiday programmes depends on the programme activities, the length of the programme (e.g. half days or full days), and who provides it.  

Holiday programmes run by community organisations and church groups are often aimed at lower income families (e.g. Community Services Card holders).  

If you are on a low income, you might be eligible for an OSCAR subsidy. Whether you are eligible will depend on your household income, your child’s age and whether the provider is an OSCAR-approved one. For more information on OSCAR subsidies, see our section on Family Assistance.

Your local CAB will have information about holiday programmes in your area, and about applying for the OSCAR subsidy.

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How do I know that my child will be well looked after at a particular school holiday programme?

You can ask other parents you know, to find out which programmes they recommend for their own children (and which ones they’d avoid). If you are interested in a particular programme it’s a good idea to talk to the people running it.

They should be able to tell you: 

  • what kinds of facilities and activities they provide
  • the earliest drop-off time and the latest pick-up time - and what to expect if you pick up your child late 
  • how many children they cater for 
  • how many carers will be available each day 
  • what experience, qualifications and skills the carers have (e.g. first aid, food safety)
  • whether all carers are police-checked 
  • how they will deal with accidents, difficult behaviour, special needs and emergencies
  • how they ensure the safety of the children in their care
  • whether they are an approved OSCAR provider, as this means they have been assessed by the Ministry of Social Development to fulfil certain minimum standards.

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How do I find out when school holidays are?

The specific dates of school holidays can vary from school to school. There will generally be four school holidays per year, one between each of the four school terms:

  1. around Easter, 
  2. around June/July
  3. around late September  
  4. the Christmas holiday, which starts in December and ends around late January or early February of the following year

The Ministry of Education website has the approximate dates for start and finish of school terms each year. Your child’s school can give you details about when their holidays start and finish.