How to Start the Childcare Process

CEO of Early Childhood Australia, Samantha Page looks at early-childhood care and education options and the services they offer. 

Entrusting the care and education of your child to someone outside the family can be daunting, and warrants careful consideration. All approved providers of early childhood education and care are required to meet certain standards, but it’s up to you to decide who will best serve your child’s needs. Here are some factors to consider before taking the plunge.

Type Of Service
There are different types of education and care services to meet a range of needs and budgets. If you’re about to resume paid work and need regular care for reasonably long hours each day, you’ll be looking at long daycare and family daycare services.

  • Long daycare centres are usually open from 7.30am to 6pm, and offer care for a range of ages, from babies to children about to start school. Children are generally grouped by age (babies, toddlers and preschoolers) but some centres have mixed-age groups and others offer morning or afternoon sessions as well as full-day care.
  • Family daycare services also offer care that covers standard working hours. Family day care educators operate in their own homes and are trained and supported by a team that oversees family daycare services. Family daycare caters for smaller groups in a more intimate setting and often includes children across a range of ages. Family daycare is usually less expensive than centre-based long daycare.
  • Preschools (also known as kindergartens or Kinder in some States and Territories) are available to children in the year or two before they start primary school. Age requirements and eligibility vary. The service is delivered by qualified early childhood educators in stand-alone centres, within schools or in long daycare centres. Preschools generally operate during school hours or in shorter sessions, for two to three days a week. If your work hours are more limited or if you’re trying to meet your child’s growing need for social contact and activity, preschool might work best.
  • Occasional care is another option if you’re looking for respite to attend an appointment and so forth. This type of service is provided by some long daycare centres, which means you’ll need to enrol in the centre, but you can request care only for the days or hours you require. Each centre will have its own protocol for occasional care (booking seven days in advance, for example), and occasional-care places on any given day are subject to availability.

Most of these options are approved child-care services, which means families using them may be eligible for the Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate. Approved services are also required to meet the new National Quality Standard for Early Childhood Education and Care.

If you’re returning to work you may be looking for care options near home or work. For many people, this means choosing between options separated by a long distance. Think about your support network and whether your workplace is family-friendly before deciding. If you have family or friends who live or work near your home it might make sense to choose child care nearby so they can do drop-offs or pick-ups when you can’t, or collect your child if they’re sick and need to leave care early. If your workplace accommodates having a child around on occasion, then choosing a care provider close to the office is a good option.

Transport is another key factor.

Children usually travel well in a car, but if you use public transport or cycle to work, make sure your child is also happy to make the journey or choose a care provider close to home. Also, bear in mind that your journey from A to B probably takes you past several child-care providers. Consider your route to work, and explore the options along the way.

Some providers have waiting lists for new families, but many will have vacancies throughout the year. The best way to check the availability of childcare places is to use the Federal Government’s search tool on the ‘My Child‘ website. You can search by town, postcode and service type, and the database includes long daycare, family daycare and occasional care providers nationally, as well as preschools/kindergartens/Kinders in most States and Territories.

You should enrol your child in an early childhood service only when you’re comfortable you’ve made the right choice. Visit every provider you’re considering, armed with plenty of questions and plenty of time to look around.

If you need to visit the same service more than once, then do so.

By the time you fill in the enrolment forms, you should have a good understanding of the service’s philosophy, the educators’ backgrounds and the kinds of routines and experiences they offer your child.

Samantha Page is CEO of Early Childhood Australia.

Words by Samantha Page

Guest Contributor