Childcare can seem like a minefield, right?
For many parents, finding the right childcare centre stirs up a range of emotions. After all, you are leaving the most precious person in your life in the hands of a stranger. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Childcare can be a special place that nurtures and enhances the development of children. It can be an environment for learning, development and growth through play and socialisation with others. A home away from home, so picking the right childcare service forms an important part of parents lives.
Before you begin your search for the right childcare centre, ask yourself why you are looking for care in the first place. This will help guide you to the right type of service.
The type of care may differ depending on your overall objective. For example, if you are looking for someone to look after your child for an hour or two whilst you run errands, long day care may not be the most appropriate service, and family, friends, a babysitter or perhaps an occasional care centre may be the best option. On the other hand, if you are looking to provide early education for your kids, then a long day care or a quality family day care service may be a better option.
Once you know what type of care best suits your needs, then it’s time to find the perfect childcare centre. Here are some tips for what to consider when choosing the right centre for your child.
1. Determine the type of childcare service you are looking for
There are many types of childcare services to choose from. Before you begin your search, it’s important to decide on the type of care that is suitable to your family needs. Childcare can be categorised into the following:
- Long Day Care (incorporating different educational philosophies, including early learning, Montessori or Reggio Emilia just to name a few)
- Family Day Care
- Occasional Care
- OSHC – Out of School Hours Care
- Informal care via friends & family
- Nanny Service
- Au Pair
2. Type of Education and Philosophy
Childcare has evolved considerably over time. Senator David Leyonhjelm famously referred to childcare workers and services as people who…
‘wipe noses and stop the kids from killing each other’
which has received huge amounts of backlash. And rightfully so!
Childcare offers not only care for kids, but quality early learning programs and education with many offering a specific education philosophy such as Montessori or Reggio Emilia inspired programs. Whichever it is, consider what is right for your child and your family and more specifically, does the centres’ philosophy align with your parenting beliefs?
3. Location of the childcare centre
With ever demanding work and life schedules, consider the location of the childcare centre that is convenient for you. Is the centre close to home or work? How does this affect your morning or afternoon routine? Will you be able to get to the centre in time to pick up your child? As trivial as the last point may seem, it’s important to consider this as many services charge hefty penalties for late pick-ups.
4. Availability & Waiting List
Childcare availability can be an issue and in order to get into a specific centre that you had your heart set on requires early planning. We’ve heard of centres that have very long waiting lists of up to 3 years, so leaving your search to the last minute and expecting that a spot will be made available for you, will leave you frustrated and disappointed. We highly recommend registering your details with your preferred childcare centre as early as possible.
Placing your child on multiple waiting lists can become an expensive exercise, as some services charge an administration fee to do this, so be sure to keep this in mind. Also, ask if the fee is refundable if you enrol your child at that centre.
There are a few online resources where you can check for childcare vacancies, emptyspot.com.au being one of them. You can easily see which centre has a permanent or a casual spot available and compare the centres and their services.
If you can’t find a permanent spot at a centre of your choice, don’t despair, some centres offer casual childcare when one of their existing families is away or their child is not going attend on a particular day.
5. Childcare Costs
Childcare costs can take a big portion of household expendable income, so it is no surprise that careful consideration of the costs is needed.
Costs can vary significantly between services and locations. Lowest fee isn’t always the cheapest, nor is the most expensive always the best. You have to balance the fee for the service the childcare centre delivers and if you are happy with the centre overall. Also, consider what inclusions form part of the daily fee, as costs can easily blow out if you need to supply your own food, nappies etc.
Don’t forget that the Government subsidises childcare. Whilst many argue that it doesn’t cover anywhere near enough of the childcare expenses, any form of subsidy can go a long way. Do you know what rebates you are entitled to? Are there any additional or hidden fees?
We prepared a concise overview of the new Child Care Subsidy – The New Child Care Subsidy – An Overview for Parents.
Contact the centre as they should be able to help you calculate the level of assistance you may be able to receive. Alternatively, contact Centrelink for assistance.
As busy parents, flexibility is key. Not only to accommodate work schedules (permanent, casual or shift work) but also unexpected personal commitments. It’s worthwhile considering if the childcare centre allows flexibility with the days of care that you have booked for your child. Does the childcare centre allow you to change your days and are there any penalty fees in doing so? Do they offer additional casual spots over and above the permanent days that you have already booked? What systems are in place to make this process easy?
Platforms such as emptyspot.com.au make access to flexible childcare easier for parents by allowing them to book a spot when the need arises, even after hours.
7. Licencing and Registration
The National Quality Framework stipulates that childcare services must be registered. We strongly recommend you only use a licenced and registered childcare service in your state. You can check if the centre is registered on the ACECQA website or by doing a search on the emptyspot.com.au website.
Emptyspot.com.au ONLY lists registered services.
8. National Quality Standards (NQS) Rating
Each centre is rated against a set of standards known as the National Quality Standards and it is a requirement that the rating is displayed publicly. It is a vigorous assessment process that rates each service across 7 quality areas, all specifically developed to act as a benchmark for quality education and care of services.
We recommend that you check the childcare centre’s rating by asking the centre directly, or alternatively, check the ACECQA website.
9. Size of Childcare Centre
Childcare services come in all shapes and sizes. Family Day Care services cater for small groups of children at the carers home, whilst long day care centres can vary significantly from 20 kids to 200+. Whichever centre you consider, make sure the centre is equipped to handle the level of children under their care. National Quality Framework stipulates certain requirements for centres depending on the number of places at the centre, however as a parent, you need to feel comfortable with the type and level of care that will be provided. We have seen some large 200+ place centres that are treated as mini schools with some amazing facilities, educators, systems and procedures to cater for a large number of children. On the other hand, some smaller 30-40 place centres offer a really focussed and homely feel that may not be replicated in larger centres.
Our recommendation is to go and check them out. See how you feel and how your child adapts to each type of centre. Sometimes your child will get a vibe that will tell you if they’re comfortable there or not.
It may seem like it’s simple and straightforward, but cleanliness can play an important part in choosing the right childcare centre. How does the childcare centre present? Is it clean and fresh or dirty, tired and run down? What are the hygiene procedures like? Are the staff nicely groomed and well presented?
Childcare is meant to be a place of happiness and joy whilst creating a learning environment to nurture and develop our children. What’s the vibe like in the childcare centre? Do the kids seem happy? How do they interact with other children and staff? Do you get a good feeling from the centre and does it feel inviting?
12. Staff ratio
The required number of staff that care for children is governed by the National Quality Framework and associated legislation, with specific guidelines associated with each state. We suggest that you familiarise yourself with the requirements and make sure that you are happy with the number of staff that care for your child. Some childcare centres go above and beyond the minimum requirements not only in staff ratios, but also the level of qualifications held by each educator, so it’s worthwhile discussing this with the centre director.
Things to think about:
- How many educators will look after your child?
- What is the centre staff turnover like?
- Is the staffing roster consistent?
And don’t forget to ask to meet the educators that will look after your little one.
13. Food, Nutrition and Meal Options
It’s important that the childcare centre provides a healthy, well-balanced and nutritious food menu for your children. We suggest that you get a few sample menus from the centre and make sure you are happy with the meal options provided.
Kids can be fussy eaters, so check what flexibility the centre has in relation to this. Some centres will allow you to bring in your own snacks for your little ones, whereas others have strict policies on what can and cannot be brought in.
Also, if your child has special dietary requirements, be sure to let the centre know well in advance and ask how they will cater for your child’s needs.
14. Friendliness, Professionalism & Communication
Leaving your child in someone else’s care can be nerve-wracking and you may want to know exactly what your child is doing throughout the day.
From feeding times, to education and play, keeping abreast with your child’s development is important, so consider how the centre communicates this with you. How friendly and professional are the staff?
At the end of the day, they will be caring for your child, so you need to make sure that you are comfortable with them.
We have met some amazing staff that are kind, warm, welcoming, open and honest, who essentially become part of the family, so be sure to meet the educators at the childcare centre.
Things to think about:
- How is the information shared between educators and parents?
- What tools are used to communicate your child’s progress at the centre?
How often is this communicated?
- What feedback are you able to provide and how is this incorporated into the development of your child’s learning?
15. Reputation, Parent Reviews & Word-of-Mouth
Parents talk! And when it comes to childcare, many will share their experiences with others. This can be valuable, however it shouldn’t be solely relied upon. What is important to you may not be important to others and experiences and expectations will differ. Kids also adjust to certain centres differently so bear this in mind when choosing your childcare centre.
Consider reviews and testimonials, but ultimately visit the centre and make your mind up for yourself.
Childcare centres have come a long way over the last decade with some incredible facilities opening. From architecturally designed buildings, rooms and play areas, to play equipment that makes the inner child in us want to come out and play.
But having an architecturally designed childcare centre doesn’t necessarily make it the best. There are many other smaller or older centres that have fantastic facilities with a clever design to incorporate learning, exploration and play. The important thing is to consider how the facilities support the education and care for your little ones and whether they create a fun and safe environment.
Things to think about:
- What are the physical facilities like?
- Are the play spaces big enough?
- Are there enough toys and play areas for the number of children?
- Is the environment safe for children to play and explore?
17. Go with your gut
Ultimately trust your gut feeling. It doesn’t matter how amazing the centre is or how great the staff are, or if they have availabilities or the cost is low. Trust your instinct, and if your gut tells you to keep looking, then do just that.
Do your research. Check out a number of childcare centres before making your final decision. Go online, compare the centres, call them and speak with a director. Read parent reviews and shortlist a few that you are interested in and physically visit them. Some may even let you trial them for a day or two.
Begin your search by visiting emptyspot.com.au to see a range of childcare centres in your area, compare the services and book a tour. It’s a free website, to help you find a spot at a childcare centre near you.
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