Child care is a hugely important facility for many families in Australia. Some parents need to make use of these resources while their child is still a baby so they can go back to work while others need five days of help to maintain their careers.
There’s nothing more important than your child’s wellbeing, so knowing how to choose child care that is right for you and your child is a vital step to negotiate.
Determine the type of child care service you are looking for
There are many different types of child care available. From intimate family day care centres to large centres with multiple rooms of children. Each centre offers a different experience to children so knowing about the ratings, services, staff and philosophy of all the local child care services is important.
Type of Education and Philosophy
It’s a parent’s role to guide their child towards a healthy future. Choosing the right daycare is an important step towards doing this. Looking at the type of education and philosophy of child care centres can help you make your choice. Some may serve vegan food, some may focus on teaching children through risky play and others may see themselves more as a stepping stone towards school. The philosophy of one school might not appeal to all parents, but it should appeal to you.
Location of the child care centre
The location of a child care centre will play a huge factor in whether you want to enrol your child there. As they’re mostly used while parents are at work, it makes most sense to have them somewhere on your commute. Some parents prefer to use ones close to their place of work, while others might like one closer to their home to make it easier for grandparents and other carers to make the pickup.
Availability & Waiting List
There are two ways to look at availability. The first is that you might need care immediately and being put on a waitlist just doesn’t work for you. A waitlist may also indicate that it will be harder to change days later on if you need to.
However, if you’re planning ahead, knowing that there’s a waitlist can actually be beneficial. This shows that the day care centre is popular with other parents, and there’s normally a very good reason for that.
Child care Costs
Child care costs vary from one institution to another, but you’ll generally find that centres of similar standards and locations are within a small range. If a centre seems much cheaper or more expensive than others, it’s important to ask why. Remember too that many parents in Australia are entitled to a child care subsidy that brings down costs significantly.
Our schedules aren’t always set in stone. Do you need different days on different weeks? Will you need later hours than someone who works a standard 9 to 5? Make sure you assess all options and find a centre that really works for you.
Licencing and Registration
All types of day care are required to be registered and licenced, meaning you can be sure of what type of service your child is receiving.
In all cases, day care facilities will need to be aware of:
- local government requirements
- working with children checks
- child protection laws
- health department rules
- food safety needs
Family day care educators also need to have a valid first aid certificate.
National Quality Standards (NQS) Rating
Every child care centre in Australia is given a National Quality Standards (NQS) rating on an annual basis to show how well the centre measures up in seven key areas, including education, safety and leadership. Each area is rated on a sliding scale (from ‘significant improvement needed’ to ‘exceeding national quality standard’ and an overall rating for the centre is based on this. The highest ranking centres may be eligible for a rare ‘excellent’ rating.
Size of Child care Centre
There’s no right or wrong answer about the size of child care centre you’re looking at. Smaller centres tend to have a more intimate feel and often your child will build stronger bonds with the other kids and teachers on site. However, there’s nothing stopping bonds developing in bigger centres which, often, have a wider range of facilities and activities for their children. Likewise, there are pros and cons to going with a chain of centres or an independently-owned option.
While a room (or building) full of children is unlikely to be the cleanest place you’ve ever been in your life, it’s important that day care centres uphold a certain level of cleanliness. Not only does this make it a nicer place for children to spend their time, it also helps minimise outbreaks of gastro and other illnesses.
Have a look out for tell-tale signs of neglect on a tour and also look at NQS ratings for cleanliness levels.
Happiness is hugely important for children and, again, while the odd tantrum isn’t out of place, scanning the faces of children and educators in a daycare centre can tell you volumes. Smiles and laughter multiply quickly, so having a positive atmosphere in a facility with lots of options for play, adventure and engagement will mean you get to pick up a jolly child every day, rather than a bored and cranky one.
The National Quality Framework states that child care centres have a minimum staff to child ratio. In NSW, this is one for every four for children aged up to 2 years old, 1:5 for 2- to 3-year-olds and 1:10 for 3 to 5-year-olds.
While most centres will have those ratios spot on, others may hire extra staff. This means there are more hands and eyes available to interact with children, run activities and keep things clean.
Food, Nutrition and Meal Options
Food options vary from centre to centre. While some provide nothing (or maybe morning/afternoon snacks) and expect you to pack a lunch, others will do all the catering.
Some parents prefer to pack a lunch, ensuring they know what their child eats and making sure to avoid intolerances. Others prefer to have a night off and let someone else take care of food. This can expose a child to a wider range of ingredients and meals, meaning they become less fussy eaters.
Friendliness, Professionalism & Communication
The staff at a centre will be a huge part of your child’s life, knowing that they’re friendly, professional and communicate well with parents is vital. Speak to as many educators as you can on your tour, watch how they interact with the children and ask about how the centre will communicate with you during the day.
Reputation, Parent Reviews & Word-of-Mouth
Sometimes it can be hard to tell how good a centre is while you’re on the search and it’s only once you’ve been there a while that its best (or worst) features shine. If you know other parents with young children, speaking to them to find out what they like about the place they send their child is often the most valuable tool. Failing that, looking online at reviews can help give you an idea about what sort of things a centre does well (or badly).
The facilities offered by a centre tell you a lot about what your child may get up to. If there’s a large outdoor space with a climbing frame, sandpit and swing, then there’s a good chance they’ll spend a lot of time being active and outside. Without that sort of space, they may be inside more, perhaps listening to stories and doing craft. Having a good mix of facilities and activities available to them will help your child explore and find out what they really enjoy.
Go with your gut
Sometimes you just walk into a room and know it’s right. It might be the way the staff greet you, the way kids are freely playing or the vibe of a room. Our gut feelings are the result of millennia of evolution and sometimes we just have to listen to those instincts.