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

This article outlines the main considerations for an OSCAR start up. There are some important questions to ask at the early stages and we will also offer some practical advice, starting with a few commonly misunderstood aspects of the OSCAR sector.

  • The OSCAR sector is not governed by any specific regulations. However any after school or holiday programme needs to comply with relevant legislation such as health & safety and employment laws.
  • There is no organisation called “OSCAR” that a programme is required join or register with. There are regional networks that provide professional support and training for OSCAR services as well as other benefits for their members. What is OSCAR?
  • Although many OSCAR services are based in schools, the Ministry of Education does not have any role in funding or monitoring these programmes. The principal government role in OSCAR is through the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Work & Income.
  • There is currently no government funding aimed at assisting with the establishment of OSCAR services. MSD funding for OSCAR providers is fully allocated to over 700 services and there are very limited opportunities for new providers to access this funding.
  • If a programme refers to being “OSCAR Approved” or “OSCAR Registered” this will usually mean it has obtained MSD Social Sector Accreditation for OSCAR providers. This requires that the programme complies with minimum standards such as staffing ratios, staff screening and child-centred practices. MSD OSCAR Accreditation is not a mandatory process, but most OSCAR programmes are accredited.
  • There is no required qualification for people working in an OSCAR service. Under MSD Accreditation, services are required to have staff with first aid qualifications and training in other basic programme areas such as: safety, child protection and programme supervision. 

Looking at all this, the OSCAR sector can appear to have very little “red tape” and this has encouraged services to open in a wide range of communities. Unfortunately there are also OSCAR start ups that within 2 years are no longer running. So even if you have key elements like a venue and suitable staff already in place we recommend that you think carefully about some important questions:

  • Does my community need an OSCAR service?
  • Would my proposed service be feasible?
  • What about the legal aspects? What do I need to know?

Does my community need an OSCAR service?

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 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 experiences, the whole of our society benefits.

There are many good reasons why your community might need an after school or holiday programme.

  • Is it because you see that children need more opportunities and activities in their out of school time?
  • Is there a lack of services in your area, providing child care for working parents?
  • Are you passionate about arts, sport or maybe music and want to share your skills and experience with children?
  • Do children in your community need support for their cultural, social and/or emotional development and you see fun, group-based activities as an effective way to deliver this?

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 Accredited” 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 Accredited – it is a voluntary process. MSD Accreditation is explained further here.

So formal MSD Accreditation may or may not be on the horizon. You may have a facility in mind and even have the perfect person to run your programme – maybe yourself. Great! At this point it is a good idea to look holistically at some fundamental factors that are critical to the success of any OSCAR service:

  • Where is the likely location of my service and where are the schools, housing areas and parent’s likely places of work? Think of this as defining the potential ‘catchment’ for your programme.
  • What is already on offer for these families in this location? Other OSCAR services, sports groups, cultural and recreational groups, after school tuition and specialist classes/workshops.
  • Then look at why would a parent use your service – keeping in mind whatever else might be on offer in your community. Factors to consider might be hours, accessibility, activities offered and pricing.

If you find other similar services on offer already in your community, we recommend that you give careful consideration to what benefit there would be in opening another similar service. OSCAR services operate on very tight budgets. While they strive to deliver a professional service, in purely financial terms they are seldom seen as lucrative “businesses”. The arrival of a new programme serving the same community - while possibly good for parent choice – can end up harming the sustainability of all services in that location.

Successful start-ups usually find real gaps in provision and work from there. Keep in mind that, while surveys and feedback from potential users of the programme might give some indication of demand, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of demand until your service is up and running.

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

  • Where are the children who will use the service and how will they get to it?
  • Is the venue appropriate for children and the programme?
  • What will the programme cost to operate and what is a realistic fee? 

Refer to this link for an outline of a simple feasibility assessment. Some of these topics are discussed further below.

What kind of programme could I offer?

Programmes can come in many shapes, sizes and characteristics:

  • The programme may be focused on 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 e.g. intermediate age children.
  • Fees may be charged; some programmes manage to be very low-cost or free.
  • Programmes might open one day a week, others operate every day, ranging from short periods of a few hours to the entire day. 
  • If a service is aimed at working parents it usually needs to offer a 5-day per week service. 
  • Most after school services close by 6 pm, sometimes earlier. Holiday programmes may close for most children at 3 pm but then offer longer hours of care, with additional fees.
  • Staff may be paid employees, volunteers or a mix of both.
  • After school operators do not always offer holiday programmes, and smaller holiday programmes can be hard to sustain financially if all the staff are paid. For similar reasons operators are often cautious about opening a before school care service (see further below.)

Your basic service operation 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.

It is also very likely that once children start attending they will have some everyday input into what activities the programme should offer. Regional OSCAR networks also have a great deal of expertise and ideas for how to organise your daily programme. For holiday programmes we recommend OSCN’s Holiday Programme Survival Guide.

What about before school care?

Demand for before school care services is generally lower than that for after school care, however those parents are often in difficult circumstances and looking hard for options. After school operators tend to take a cautious approach to adding a before school programme, especially if they have MSD Accreditation which usually requires a minimum of 2 staff to be on site at all times. (A limited exemption to the 2 staff requirement can be applied for in some circumstances.) There can also be difficulties engaging staff (paid or unpaid) for limited and early hours.

What about the legal aspects? What do I need to know?

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, Privacy Act etc. There are also "duty of care" obligations to be considered when assuming the care of children.

For more on some of these legal issues please consult our extensive FAQ section.
Legal liability article
Duty of care article

If I decide to not obtain MSD Accreditation, what policies and forms should I still have in place?

Even if you don’t apply for MSD Accreditation, the MSD Standards provide a useful set of guidelines. The main standard is 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

If you are getting ready for your first day, you might find this FAQ article useful as it covers some of the basic paperwork and systems that you should have in place. For other helpful “first day” advice, we recommend OSCN’s Holiday Programme Survival Guide.

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 MSD Accredited service, so this may offset part of the cost for some parents.

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) contributes 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 on-going contracted providers. Consideration of new services for this funding is 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.

There are more FAQs at the Ask OSCAR page

If you can’t see the answer you need, feel free to make contact here.

On this page

Are you starting up an after school or school 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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