Handing your children over to someone to look after is a pretty huge thing, so how do you choose which child care service is best for you?
Not long ago, I was asked by a new friend which daycare I used. I didn’t answer her straight away as I had to set my face in its humble, definitely-not-gloating, please-don’t-hate-me expression. You see, I’ve never had to use daycare. I’m that annoying person who has deeply reliable and dependable parents (who happen to be ex-paramedics) that also work reasonably flexible hours. My own workplace is also very keen to accommodate me in the hours that suit me best.
Then there’s this writing job that I fancy too, which I am able to pop a story or two into my sexy editor when I can. Yep, I’m disgustingly lucky and trust me…I know how good I’ve got it and appreciate all the help I have from my little village. Not all parents are so lucky with help from family and friends and that’s when child care can save the day!
First Things First
Before you even begin to consider where you might like to have your cherubs hang out for the day, have an honest think about what you really need and expect from a daycare and ask yourself, ‘So, what are the most important aspects for my family?’
Answer some simple questions to help narrow it down:
- Do you want a home or centre care environment?
- Will you need all-day care or just a few hours in the morning or afternoon?
- Is there a minimum of qualifications and experience you would like the staff to have?
- Does the service offer a Kindergarten program?
- What learning and play opportunities do you want your child to have?
- Will the service be flexible to accommodate the children’s individual needs and interests?
- What is the carer-to-child ratio?
- Are different age groups separate or together?
- Can I claim Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate if I choose a certain child care and learning service?
Even though you may love the look of the brightly coloured centre three minutes from your front door, if you only want care for three hours, two days a week, you may want to consider other options. Why? Well, to be honest, the dollars, mainly. Let’s take a look at how the child care options differ from each other.
Day Care Centres
Centre-based or long day care is usually provided in a building or part of a building that has been created specifically for use as a child care centre. Centres may operate between 7.30am and 6pm and offer professional care for children between the ages of 0-6 years. Daycare centres will mostly have rooms that are specific to each child’s age or developmental stage. This helps a great deal when you have babies who need naps and bigger kids who are powering through their boisterous day!
You’ll need to check if your local centres provide meals or if you are required to pack a lunch box. If they do make the food or order it in, don’t be shy in asking to see a sample menu and make sure your child’s dietary needs are met adequately. They’re usually pretty spot on in professional centres and you’ll be asked upon application to alert them to any allergies or dislikes your child has with regard to food and environment.
Most Long Day Care centres will have an early education component to their program so children will learn as they are cared for and some will have an approved Kindergarten program for children around the age of 4 years (the catchment is July to June) and is extremely beneficial to assist children with the transition to primary school.
Long day care centres are run by private companies, local councils, community organisations, individuals, non-profit organisations or by employers for their staff. Approved services must also show that they are meeting certain quality standards.
The costs of long day care centres can vary anywhere from $70-$180 per day. All of the people I have spoken to about this have said once your child has a place in the daycare, you pay for the entire day (unless the centre offers morning or afternoon sessions) regardless of how long they are actually there for or if your child is absent from daycare altogether.
Family Day Care
Ok, I’m going to abbreviate to FDC, because everyone knows Family Day Care as FDC, kinda like KFC…but not really.
FDC educators (the people that care for your child in their home) deliver flexible home-based education and care for children. This may be all-day, part-day, casual, overnight, before and after school or kindy, part-time and school holiday care. My sources tell me the hourly rate starts at $7 and, that is depending on how well you know your daycare Mum, might see you only paying for the hours your child is actually there, even if you have previously booked them in for a longer session but they’ve become germ-infested or some such thing.
FDC educators and services must meet their obligations under the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care and comply with the Early Childhood Services Education and Care National Law and National Regulations, and any other applicable state and territory regulations when providing care to children. An educator may provide care in their home for the maximum number of children, including their own children, in accordance with the National Law and National Regulations.
Contact your local FDC service provider for availabilities in your area and talk to other parents about their experiences with them.
The majority of Family Day Care services are approved child care services. This means that families using the service may be eligible for Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate.
Outside School Care
Outside-school-hours care centres provide care for primary school-aged children, before and after school (7:30-9am and 3-6pm), during school holidays and on pupil-free days. Centres are usually located on primary school sites in the school hall and/or playground. Some centres are located in a child care centre, community facility or outside-school-hours care centre near the primary school. Many centres offer a snack as well as the ‘Sporting Schools’ exercise program.
The majority of outside-school-hours care centres are approved child care services. This means that families using the service may be eligible for the Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate.
In-home care is when a professional person (educator, nanny, teacher, whoever you find that fits the bill) looks after your children in your own home. They may be day-to-day or live in. It’s up to you.
In-home is helpful for families with children who cannot be cared for by other child care services perhaps one of the following reasons:
- Your child has or lives with another child who has an illness or disability
- You live in a rural or remote area
- Your work hours are outside of available childcare
- You have two, three, four, maybe more young children and sometimes, a salary for an in-home educator can be less (yes indeed) than the combined total of other childcare services.