Choosing the right childcare for you and your child.

Deciding on the right form of childcare for your child is every parent’s nightmare. From the moment the little cherubs enter our lives we’re racked with guilt about whether we are doing the right thing? Choosing childcare either because we’re returning to work or just because we need a break is fraught with this same guilt. We’ve put together an overview of the different types of childcare available throughout Australia and New Zealand to help you through the initial steps.

How Do I Choose?

Whoever you choose to care for your child, you must feel comfortable with your decision. Planning is the key to a successful placement and you should start this planning well in advance of you needing the care. Many childcare centres and Family Day Care schemes have long waiting lists, and other options such as selecting a nanny can be very time consuming.

Visiting and talking to the carers will be your best chance of finding the perfect place for your child. If possible try to drop into the centre or Family Day care home outside of your appointment time so that you can see how things “really” work and try to visit at a couple of different times of the day. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, you’re entrusting these people with your baby. For example, ask to see the meal prepared for that day, take a look at the nappy change area and assess its cleanliness, ask to see the baby’s sleep area, ask questions about how the staff would respond to a specific first aid or safety situation.

Here are a few other points to consider when thinking about each option.

  • Do you want individual care for your baby?
  • What sort of interactions will my child have with the carer?
  • Am I able to drop in unannounced and be made to feel welcome?
  • Will the carer be able to meet my child’s individual needs?
  • Can you be flexible and provide alternative care if your arrangements break down?
  • What hours of care will best suit your needs?
  • Is cost a factor in your decision?
  • What skills does the carer possess? For example, First Aid certificate, qualifications in Childcare.
  • What is the policy for when my child is absent?
  • What are the health policies and are they adhered to?
  • What facilities and resources are available to help my child develop socially, creatively and developmentally?
  • What about toilet training?
  • How are safety and professional standards monitored?

Tips For Drop Off

The first few times you leave your child in the new childcare situation it will be traumatic for both of you. Rest assured your little one will cope better than you, and will be off playing within minutes of you leaving. Here are a few tips to help you both through the difficult separation.

  • Try to set up some time to visit the centre, family day care home or organise a few meetings with the nanny in advance of the big day, this will make it less scary.
  • Spend time finding out about the routine that will be followed so that you can talk about it together.
  • Be positive, talk positive and act positive when speaking about the new arrangements.
  • Make a big deal out of getting a new bag or hat especially for “kindy”.
  • Be honest with your child and try to answer their questions about where you will be while they are at “Care” or “kindy”.
  • Make sure that all of your child’s things are labelled clearly and that they are aware of what belongs to them.
  • Don’t send a special toy to daycare or “kindy” unless this is OK with the carer as these special toys can create problems between the children.
  • Make sure that you pack a full change of clothes (or two) into the bag, accidents will happen.
  • Try to make the initial visits reasonably short, eg, a couple of hours.
  • When you leave for the first time, spend a little time settling your child into an activity, let a carer know that you are intending to leave, make sure that you say goodbye and leave reasonably quickly. Dragging the farewell out can increase the anxiety for your child.
  • Use a positive phrase such as, “I’m going to work now, have a great day and I’ll be back soon”.
  • Try to have something for yourself to do when you leave your child so that you have something to focus on. Don’t be at all surprised if you cry, it’s normal.
  • Give your child some time to settle in and then make a quick phone call, it will help put your mind at ease.
  • Take a look at our Huggies Forum for some real life tips from mums who have been through the same thing.

Your Choices

Family Day care

Family day care is a government regulated and accredited service that provides care and learning experiences for children from birth to 12 years within the registered carer’s home. Carers are generally self-employed and work in partnership with a family day care scheme operated by either local government, church or a similar community body. Family day care currently has 12,000 carers and more than 100,000 children enrolled in the service across Australia and is a well established member of the child care community.

Many family day care carers have formal qualifications and all are offered induction training and ongoing professional development opportunities. A local coordination unit supports carers with training, resources and regular home visits and ensures that carers and their homes meet government standards. The coordination unit also helps parents choose a suitable carer and is there to closely monitor children’s wellbeing, progress and learning while in family day care. The coordination unit can also manage relief care if a family’s usual carer is unwell or plans to take leave.

A carer can look after a limited number of children:

  • Up to four or five children who have not started school. This limit depends on the state or territory legislation
  • Up to seven children under the age of 13, in total, including their own.

This small number allows for more individual care in a home environment. As there are only a few children the spread of germs is generally less than in a childcare centre.

A benefit of family day care is, depending on your particular carer, you can arrange flexible hours including overnight stays, weekend care, after school hours, part time and holiday care. This is useful for those mums and dads who work shift work.

Fees for family day care are set by the individual carers and may vary according to location, the carer’s qualifications, the hours of care and the age of the child. However, the typical fee range is $4.50 to $7.50 an hour. Some carers provide food, nappies and transport and these costs will be added to the hourly rates.

Financial support is available to families using approved family day care providers through the Child Care Benefit and the Child care Tax Rebate. (New Zealand residents should contact Work and Income for further information).

Carers are visited regularly by trained fieldworkers who run additional play sessions and offer toy library services to ensure that children have a variety of stimulating play experiences.

Contact your local family day care scheme to discuss the type of family day care you require. The family day care coordination unit will help you find the person to suit you and your child. You can also visit Family Day Care Australia at www.familydaycare.com.au or Freecall 1800 621 218 to find out more.

A similar scheme is run in New Zealand by the New Zealand Home Based Early Childhood Education Association. You can find a provider on the Home Based ECE website.

Centre Based Childcare or Long Day care

Long Day Care centres are facilities that are operated by either private or government bodies and provide care that covers the normal working day for parents. Hours of operation broadly fall into 7.30am to around 6pm (of course each centre will have its own business hours) and most are open 10 hours per day Monday to Friday. They must be licensed by the Department Of Community Services to operate.

Childcare places seem to be few and far between and you may need to place your name on a number of waiting lists (which can be quite long) and this will normally incur a waitlist fee.

Daily fees will vary a great deal between each centre and you will need to establish what is being provided as part of the service. For example,

  • Will all meals be provided?
  • Are nappies included in the fee or will I need to provide my own?
  • Do I need to provide a sheet set for rest time?
  • Be aware, in the event that you are running late at the end of the day most centres will charge a late pick up fee. Find out what their policy is in advance.

Australian mums should be able to receive the Child Care Rebate through your childcare centre. This can be as a reduced daily amount or as a lump sum at the end of the financial year. New Zealand mums may be eligible for a subsidy for child care, but it is not guaranteed. You will need to confirm your situation with Work and Income.

Many centres will cater for children 6 weeks of age up to 6 years. In general the children are grouped by their age and developmental stage and participate in appropriate activities. The number of children and staff is strictly monitored with a certain proportion of staff being required to have formal childcare qualifications. Places for children under 2 are limited.
The National Childcare Accreditation Council of Australia is responsible for ensuring that Day Care Centres maintain a certain standard of care by monitoring them through the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System (Qias). Standards should be monitored on a daily basis by the director of the centre, also by having a number of carers working in one place there is a continuous back-up and monitoring of each other and the interactions with the children. Most centres have a regular pool of relief staff to ensure that staff/child ratios are maintained regardless of staff illness or holiday leave.

The New Zealand Education Review Office is responsible for ensuring that Day Care centres in NZ maintain a certain standard of care.

The minimum ratio of carers to children is:

  • 1:5 for children under 2
  • 1:8 for children 2-3
  • 1:10 for children 3-6

Occasional Care

Occasional Care is exactly that, it’s for occasional use and available for 0-6 year olds. Many mums use this care for casual appointments, study, casual work or just for the occasional break from the kids. It is often provided by community groups, churches, or local councils. The staff at an Occasional Care centre are not necessarily trained in childcare and some may be volunteers.

The minimum ratio of carers to children is:

  • 1:5 for children under 2
  • 1:8 for children 2-3
  • 1:10 for children 3-6

In some cases you may be able to claim some fee relief. Check with the Family Assistance Office for more information.

Nanny or Babysitter

The arrangements that you make with a nanny or babysitter are a private transaction between you and your chosen carer. They do not have to be licensed or approved by the government and as a result no Child Care rebate is claimable.

This type of care means that your child can be cared for in their own home environment and allows for greater flexibility in the hours you select, although this usually comes at a price with Nanny and Babysitting services charging quite a high premium.

Many people find using an Agency to help select their child’s carer useful. Agencies will have ensured that all of their candidates comply with the conditions of the Working with Children police check, have a current First Aid certificate and will have checked their references. They will also attempt to match all of your requested criteria to a suitable candidate which may possibly reduce the number of people you will have to interview.

Some issues you will need to consider when engaging a Nanny:

  • Are you happy to allow your child to travel in a car with the carer.
  • Will you provide a car and what are their driving skills like? Go for a drive yourself with them as part of the interview.
  • Will the Nanny be prepared to do light housework, meal preparation etc
  • What activities and programs will they engage in with your child.

In Home care

There is an In Home care scheme available throughout Australia that is coordinated and monitored by a government agency that assists with finding, and monitoring the care for some members of the community. The service was introduced in 2001 and access is still quite limited. To be eligible for this assistance you must fall within one of the following categories:

  • You are unable to meet your childcare needs with an existing service.
  • A shift worker or rural family who cannot access normal childcare services.
  • You are a working mother after a multiple birth (3 babies or more) and unable to access suitable childcare.
  • A family where the parent/s or child has an illness/disability.

Childcare Rebate is available for this service and is income tested. The income test is based on your total household income.
Visit the Department of Education, Employment and the Workplace website for more information.

Further Information New Zealand

For more information see Parenting advice or Parenting.