If there’s one topic of conversation that’s likely to bind parents together it’s the cost of childcare. Actually, scratch that – it’s childcare in general. How difficult it is to find, how much it costs, how important quality care is. With more and more families requiring two incomes to service mortgages, and more women wanting to continue on their career paths after having children, childcare is a hot topic. And with Statistics New Zealand reporting an increase in the birth rate (for the year to September 2010), it’s not a topic that’s going away any time soon.
Finding affordable, quality childcare is not always easy. Availability has long been a problem, though the experts say that this is improving, but the other problem is that new mums don’t always know what they’re looking for.
“Essentially, parents want the same thing – they want their children to be safe and happy in a childcare environment that is fun, educational and nurturing,” says Roxanne Elliott from careforkids.com.au, an Australian website aimed at linking parents with childcare options in their area (helpful websites in New Zealand that also contain childcare centre directories are Childcare Online and NZ Childcare). Roxanne also points out; ?But you need to think about the type of care your child needs."
To do this, she suggests considering your child’s temperament, likes, dislikes, health, interests, behaviour, social interaction and need for individualised attention. You must also, of course, take your own budget into consideration. You may feel that your child would do better in a small, home environment, but can’t afford the cost of a nanny. Family Daycare, also known as In-home or Home based care, where a small group of children are looked after in a family home, may be an affordable alternative.
Speaking of affordable, the cost of childcare is very dependent on what you’re looking for. “There are no regulatory constraints on childcare fees,” says Roxanne. “It all comes down to what the market can bear.”
Fortunately, there are measures in place to help parents afford it, in the form of various subsidies. Navigating your way through the subsidies on offer can be confusing – and they do change regularly. “Subsidies are based on your individual set of circumstances,” says Roxanne. “My suggestion is that you go to a Family Assistance office or to Centrelink and meet with someone to discuss your circumstances. It’s the best way to get a good understanding of what your subsidies will be.” In New Zealand, your local Work and Income Centre will be able to assist you with understanding what subsidies you may be entitled to.
The truth is that it all depends on where you live. Childcare costs and subsidies vary from centre to centre and are not regulated. If you happen to live in an area where availability of childcare is low and demand is high, you will pay more. Suburbs close to the CBD of any city will always be in this boat, mostly due to land values.
“the problem is that the cost of land is prohibitive in these areas, so there will always be chronic shortages,” says Roxanne.
In most areas, the availability of care has been a big issue, but Roxanne says this has improved, with one exception. “Overall, the real issues are for those seeking care for under-two year olds,” she says.
Of course, the cost of your care also depends on the kind of care you’re looking for. To give you an idea:
From 1 July 2010 all three, four and five-year old children are able to go to early childhood education (ECE) services for six hours a day, 20 hours a week at no charge. 20 Hours ECE applies to all teacher-led ECE services, k’hanga reo and Playcentres. This doesn’t necessarily mean however that these 20 hours are totally without cost to you, as depending on the provider, they may charge for additional services over and above what the subsidy covers (such as food and resources). For more information on 20 Hours ECE visit the Ministry of Education website, or discuss directly with your local Childcare provider.
For more useful resources to help find the right childcare for your child, visit the NZ Childcare Association website.