With targeted childcare initiatives and welfare-to-work programmes policy-makers have sought to address employment activation of lone mothers and negative outcomes for children in lone parent households. The present study examines non-parental childcare use and maternal employment among children living in lone and co-parent family situations at ages three and four and emotional and behavioural difficulties at ages four and five. The results demonstrate that negative outcomes associated with lone motherhood are explained largely by mother's age, education, material circumstances and area deprivation; and that maternal employment does not relieve lone mothers’ disadvantages in a way that alleviates the risks of difficulties to their children. However, in any family constellation, mainly group-based formal pre-school childcare does have a positive impact on child difficulties compared to drawing on informal childcare arrangements as main provider. In addition, and specifically for the difficulties of children in lone mother family situations, any non-parental childcare – formal or informal − for at least twenty-five hours per week is beneficial. Study findings support policy agendas which tackle families’ material hardship beyond promoting mothers’ employment, and through investment in formal childcare provision, and also through arrangements allowing lone mothers to divide their weekly load of childcare with another main provider.