Depending on your individual family circumstance, when you return to work after maternity leave, you may be looking at enrolling your child into a Child Care Centre. Some families have grandparents or relatives to care for their children, some opt for Family Day Care, or some stay at home with their children and extend their parenting leave. If you fall into the category of needing to access Child Care for your child, it’s really important to inform yourself as much as possible well ahead of time. Many Child Care centres are highly sought after and have lengthy waiting lists. You may even need to put your child’s name down shortly after birth! In short, it’s never too early.
Your first step, which is a very important one in the process, is choosing the right Child Care setting that will best suit your family and cater for your needs.
What to look for when choosing a child care centre
It’s a really good idea to begin looking at what child care centres are in your local area, check out their websites and make an appointment to meet with the Director and book a tour. This will give you a lot of information to consider.
I have experienced both a Child Care centre close to my work (half an hour drive from home), which suited really well for my first child while I was still working. But when I had my second child, I decided to keep my eldest going to care two days a week (read my reasons at the end of the article, so we moved her to a centre closer to home and this turned out to be a really good decision, even though I was apprehensive about how she’d adjust to a new centre.
Consider who’s going to do the drop off and pick up and factor this into the locations you are considering too. If you are thinking long term, your child may remain at that centre until they start school, which again is likely to be in the same area, so if they’ve made some friends at Child Care and/or kindy who are attending the same school, this makes their transition a little bit easier.
The My Child website is a good place to start. Simply enter your postcode and the child care centres in your area will come up.
What to look for on a child care centre tour
As soon as you walk into a centre and are greeted by a staff member, you’ll get a feel for the overall “vibe”. Does it feel welcoming? Is it homely? Is it calm? Do the children seem happy? Busily playing? Interacting positively with each other? How do the staff interact with the children? What kind of activities and learning experiences are set up? Is there evidence of art work and photographs on the walls? What is the outdoor area like? All of these factors contribute to a high quality child care centre.
What questions to ask on a tour of a child care centre
Don’t be afraid to ask questions as you take the tour. I’m sure that the director will cover many of these, but it’s worth keeping them in mind if they don’t come up. Lots of this information might also be in the parent handbook, which most centres will provide.
- What is the staff to child ratio in each room?
- Do the children have a primary caregiver?
- Is there a high staff turnover? (Eg ask the Director how long they’ve been there for)
- Are nappies and food provided?
- What are the sleeping arrangements and routines?
- Does the centre have a particular educational philosophy that they follow? Eg Reggio Emilia? Montessori? Play based learning? Nature Education? Do they teach another language? Do they offer a kindergarten program (see below for more info)
- What is their policy on swapping days? Raincheck days etc?
- Do they offer half days?
- What is their transition policy?
- Does the centre close over the Christmas/New Year period?
If you’re visiting several centres, take a few notes otherwise when you’re comparing, you’ll be struggling to recall which centre had which policy – as they can be quite different.
The type of staff at a child care centre certainly makes a huge difference. The right people are going to make your life so much easier and give you peace of mind that your child is happy, settled and well cared for. Something to consider is that if there is a high staff turnover (meaning your child may get attached to one educator and then one month later they leave). Staff who have been at the centre for a long time are clearly happy in their jobs and enjoy working at that particular centre. My child’s attachment to her carers/educators was so important to me. It’s also worth asking if the centre uses a method of assigning “primary carers” to each child. Basically this means that your child will form a closer bond with one particular carer.
Child Care Centre Ratings
Every Child Care Centre in Australia is assessed and rated by the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) based on these seven criteria;
- Education Program & Practice
- Children’s Health & Safety
- Physical Environment
- Staffing Arrangements
- Relationships with Children
- Partnerships with Families & Communities
- Leadership & Service Management
There are five ratings which a centre will be awarded once their assessment is complete. Most centres receive number 2, 3 or 4.
- Significant improvement required
- Working towards national quality standard
- Meeting national quality standard
- Exceeding national quality standard
The centres you visit may even have their rating proudly on display somewhere.
Click here to see a list of the centres awarded the highest rating of Excellent.
Some centres operate independently, or some are part of a larger chain such as GoodStart or Stepping Stones. My children have attended both types and from my personal experience I haven’t noticed a great deal of difference between the two.
Cost of Child Care
Most child care centres are between $90 – $100 per day, but keep in mind that you are likely to receive a Child Care Benefit and/or Child Care Rebate depending on your total family income. Food/nappies also come into this cost (eg it might be a lower fee if you supply your own).
This Centrelink Estimator is a great place to start to give you an idea of what Child Care is going to cost for your family – it takes about 5 minutes to complete (and please note; it’s only an estimate, not the official forms you need to fill in to receive the benefit).
What is the EYLF
It may surprise you to know, that Child Care Centres are actually required to follow a curriculum. This is what the EYLF (Early Years Learning Framework) is for, and it’s Australia wide to ensure consistency across centres and prepares children to enter school where they all learn under the Australian Curriculum.
Belonging, Being and Becoming are the three key principals of the framework. At this early stage in life children are developing their sense of identity and where they fit in the world. It’s essential that they feel they belong somewhere, that they are valued, that they are safe and cared for. The framework encourages young children to become their own individual person and recognises children’s individual talents and interests.
Sessional Kindergarten vs Kindergarten Program in a Child Care Centre
This is a really big question that many parents struggle with (I know we did). All children in Australia are entitled to one year of formal kindergarten in the year before they start school which is usually made up of 2.5 days a week in a traditional (session) kindergarten setting with hours between 9am – 3pm (roughly). Some kindergartens structure their days with 2 days one week and 3 days the next, but it all works out the same at the end of the year. There is minimal cost to families, and qualified teachers and staff operate under the Early Years Framework (as does a Child Care Centre). They have group time, play time, inside time, outdoor time, eating time, stories and songs as well as a myriad of rich educational experiences.
Many Child Care Centres run their own Kindergarten program, taught by a qualified teacher. This is important to note, this teacher has the same qualifications that a Kindergarten teacher would have. This gave me reassurance that my child would receive a quality education program in a centre she was already familiar with and staff whom she was comfortable with. The main reason it worked well for our family, is the fact that I could drop both of my kids off at 7:30am and get to work on time, and pick them up at 4pm. I wouldn’t have been able to make this work in a ‘traditional kindergarten’. One downside, is that you still need to pay child care fees, so it is a costly option overall. But from my personal experience, that is the only down side.
I or the Baby Hints & Tips writing team would be happy to answer any other questions you may have. Simply leave a comment below or ask a question via Facebook message. We can even post a question to our community if you’d like to get some other parent’s advice, opinions or experiencing regarding Child Care.