Starting up an OSCAR service

Are you thinking of starting an after school care or school holiday programme? Are you new to the OSCAR sector?

This page outlines the basic steps for establishment of an OSCAR service and where you can get more advice and guidance. (What is OSCAR?)

Are you thinking about starting up an after school or holiday programme?

There are many good reasons why your community might need this kind of programme. 

  • Is it because you see that children need more opportunities and activities in their out of school time?
  • Have you got access to a facility and see the possibility to set up a programme there?
  • Is there a lack of services to support working parents in your area?
  • Are you passionate about arts, sport or maybe music and want to share your skills and experience with children?

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Artilcle 31, states: "That every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child ..." When children have access to good quality out of school activities, the whole of our society benefits.

OSCAR (Out of School Care and Recreation) is just one possible model for making a positive vision for children into a reality. Being an "OSCAR service" usually means becoming "MSD Approved" under the Ministry of Social Development's Standards for OSCAR services. However, you can run children's programmes after school and in the holidays without becoming MSD Approved – there are no regulations that make this mandatory.

You may be interested in the OSCAR model because you have heard that there is funding available for MSD Approved OSCAR services. MSD do fund over 700 OSCAR providers but these funds are fully committed and very few new services are added to this group.

MSD Approval is also required if there are parents using your service who wish to apply for OSCAR Fee Subsidy from Work and Income. You might also want to become MSD Approved to provide parents with the re-assurance that your service meets minimum standards and has been externally accredited.

The Approval process is a bit of work, so you will want to weigh up all these factors, but whether or not you decide to go down the OSCAR pathway, we encourage you to follow the initial steps outlined below and use the MSD Standards as a guide to basic operational requirements.

Head over to our page on MSD Approval if you are already committed to this direction. Otherwise we suggest you read on a bit more.

What are my first steps?

What kind of programme and why?

Out of school services for children can come in all shapes and sizes:

  • The programme may be focussed on a certain activities (e.g. sport, performing arts, cultural expression) or offer a broad range to cater for different ages and interests
  • Some programmes focus more on social outcomes (building confidence or good social skills)
  • A certain age group might be the focus
  • Some might operate one day a week, others operate every day, ranging from short periods of a few hours, to the entire day
  • Fees may be charged, some are very low-cost of free
  • Staff may be paid employees, volunteers or a mix of both. 

Your service will largely take shape according to the needs that you identify in your community. It will be helpful to get feedback from families that might use your service. Useful local networks to tap into could include schools, early childhood facilities and other local groups such as churches and parent groups.

If your service is going to be aimed at supporting working parents it will probably need to offer a 5-day per week service and hours to suit this group of parents.

Will my service be viable?

As you start to get a better picture of the needs in your community, you can make some assessment of its feasibility. This should include

  • Where will the programme be located?
  • Where are the children who will use the service and how will they get to it?
  • What other children's services of a similar type are already operating in your area?
  • Is the venue appropriate for children and the programme?
  • How much will the fees be?
  • What will it cost to operate? 

Refer to this link for a sheet outlining a simple feasibility process.

Refer to the MSD Standards

Whether or not you decide to apply for MSD Approval, the MSD Standards provide a useful set of guidelines for the operation of a children's service. The main standard in the MSD Level 3 Social Sector Accreditation Standard. The practical service requirements for OSCAR are outlined in the "OSCAR Specialist Standard", which are a separate attachment to the main standard.

The requirements for OSCAR in the MSD standards include:

  • Staffing ratios and minimum staffing levels, age requirements etc.
  • Employment requirements including background checking and police vetting
  • Health and safety requirements including emergency procedures and risk assessment
  • Enrolment, attendance and sign in/out procedures
  • Procedures to ensure children arrive safely from school to the programme

Link to the full MSD standards

Frequently asked questions

What are the most important policies to have in place if I don't get MSD Approved?

This page has some useful guidance on minimum paperwork and systems to have in place when you open your doors. You might also want to check out the "Holiday Programme Survival Guide".

What legislation applies to OSCAR?

The OSCAR sector is not governed by any specific regulations. An operator of an after school or holiday programme will need to comply with relevant legislation such as the Vulnerable Children Act, Health and Safety at Work Act, Employment Relations Act, Human Rights Act, Privacy Act etc. There are also "duty of care" obligations should be considered when assuming the care of children. For more on some of these legal issues please consult our FAQ section.

How are OSCAR services funded?

Some programmes are fully funded by fees and have entirely paid staff. Others operate on a mix of fee income, grants, donations (e.g. use of facilities at no charge) and voluntary staff. Work and Income will subsidise fees for eligible parents if they attend an OSCAR Approved service, so this may offset some of the costs for some parents.

The Ministry of Social Development provides grants to over 700 organisations that provide OSCAR services. The programmes must be approved under the MSD Level 3 Social Sector Accreditation Standards and meet other operation criteria. These grants are not usually open for new programmes, as the funds are entirely allocated to ongoing contracted providers. Any new services are only considered at the discretion of MSD, should funds become available. Link to MSD funding information.

OSCAR services may also be eligible for other grants and funding assistance but information on these sources of funding is best obtained through your own local and regional funding information networks e.g. local councils, Department of Internal Affairs etc.

Who can help me if I have more questions?

Please refer to the advice and support information on the contacts page.

There are more FAQs at the Ask OSCAR page

On this page

Are you starting up an after school or schoool holiday programme?

We explain some basic steps and help you to answer some important questions:

What is the need?

Is the OSCAR model
the right option?

Will my programme
be feasible?

What standards and
guidelines apply?


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