The task of finding child care and early learning options for the little ones can be daunting for any modern-day parent. In Australia there are many different services available for kids aged from birth to 5 years, and a variety of terms to describe them. Sifting through the array of options is enough to send anyone into information overload, but the good news is that with so much available you’re bound to find what’s right for your family. Here’s what you need to know to set you on the right path.What are my childcare options?
Occasional child care operates on a casual basis for short periods of time, and can be accessed regularly or on an ‘as needs’ basis. It caters for children from birth to five years old and suits those who are after a temporary service. It provides a flexible option for parents to access child minding, and can be a good option at short notice. Many local swimming pools, leisure centres and gyms operate crèches. Neighbourhood houses are also good options, and offer other programs for children including foreign language playgroups and toy libraries.
Long Day Care
Long day care works well for parents who work full days and need their kids to be looked after during business hours. It runs in child care centres for at least 8 hours a day, usually Monday to Friday, and caters for children from birth to five years old.
Long day care can be in privately run day care centres and community based centres, always run by qualified staff. These centres are subject to very strict regulations with rules about things such as how the centre is run and maintained, the quality of care and food provided, and the number of children in attendance. Australia has several chains of popular childcare centres with good coverage across various states, as well as many independent operators.
Family Day Care
Family day care is a great option for parents who would like their children to learn and play in small groups, in a home-like environment. It is held in the home of an approved early childhood educator who will have no more than four children under school age in their care at any one time. Family day care operates under the same national quality framework as other forms of day care, and is also highly regulated – meaning that your child can access quality care and early learning opportunities straight from somebody’s home!
More information: www.familydaycare.com.au
In Home Care
Nannies and au pairs are able to provide care for your child within your own home. These types of services are flexible and can work in well with family’s needs. You will be able to individually negotiate working hours and tailor care activities. If your nanny is a registered care provider, you may be eligible for government childcare rebates. Nannies and au pairs can be found through specialised employment agencies. The Raising Children Network has put together a very useful guide on employing nannies in Australia.
Australia is a big country and sometimes things you need can be quite far away! But if you can’t make it out to a childcare service, you might be able to find an option that comes to you. Mobile services travel through communities to offer occasional, preschool or long day care services in rural, urban and remote areas. Generally this is for children up to five years old, and is a good option for parents who live too far away from other services.
Not technically childcare because parents are part of the fun, but nonetheless this is a long-running institution considered valuable by many. Playgroup is an informal session where kids and their parents, grandparents or caregivers meet together in a relaxed environment. They are mostly set up and run by parents and caregivers, with a range of activities put together for the kids such as music and singing, art and craft, imaginative play, outdoor play and outings. This can be a great way for you and your child to connect with your local community, make friends and build a support network. Playgroups are generally free, or incur a small fee of $5 – $10 to cover costs.
More information: www.playgroupaustralia.org.au
Outside School Hours Care
More for school-aged kids, this refers to before school care, after school care and vacation care services. You’ll get the most relevant information from schools, who will generally maintain lists of options in the local area.
As with anywhere, you can also access childcare options by making arrangements with friends, family, neighbours, babysitters and the like.
What’s the deal with preschool?
Preschool caters for children aged three to five years. It can be a standalone service or part of a long day care or family day care program, and is considered an important stepping stone before starting primary school. Australia takes early childhood education very seriously, and a lot of effort is put into providing quality early learning. You can find three year old and four year old streams. Almost all kids in Australia attend preschool before starting school, but the only state where this is compulsory is Western Australia.
In some states it’s called preschool; in some states it’s called kindergarten. In some states it’s called both – and you may also hear of pre-prep or early learning centres. It’s a real mishmash of terms.
To learn more about the differences in preschool services (and who calls them what!) across states, check out this guide put together by the Raising Children Network. For more comprehensive information, head to the education department website for your state or territory.
Tips for choosing a service
• Consider your family’s lifestyle. How many hours of care do you need? Do you want your child cared for in a home environment or a centre? What kind of learning and play opportunities do you want your child to have?
• Start early. There can be long waiting lists for childcare facilities, so you’ll have to be proactive about finding out your options and putting your child’s name down well in advance.
• Visit in person. Take a tour of the facilities, meet the caregivers/teachers, and ask any questions you have. You may wish to ask about qualifications and experience of the staff, the kind of routine your child will have, the carer-to-child ratios, and whether government rebates are available through their service.
What about the cost?
Childcare in Australia is undeniably expensive, and as an expat you may not have the benefit of having extended family or grandparents around to help shoulder some of the cost by chipping in some babysitting hours. As a guide only, typical childcare costs are:
• Centre-based childcare: $80 – $120 per day
• Family day care: $6 – $10 per hour
• Nannies: $20 – 30 per hour
• Au pairs (living in your home): $200 – $250 per week
Depending on your personal circumstances, you may be eligible to receive support from the Australian Government through the Child Care Benefit or Child Care Rebate. These payments are subject to residency requirements and there is a ‘No Jab, No Pay’ policy, meaning that if a child isn’t fully immunised, parents can’t receive the assistance. Get onto the Department of Social Services for further information.
Where do I go for more information?
There are a multitude of options available. Some good places to find reputable information in Australia include:
• The Child Care Access Hotline. You can call them on 1800 670 305 for information about types of child care available and vacancies. It runs from 8am to 6pm on weekdays and is free unless you care calling from a mobile.
Your local council. This is an excellent jumping off point for information about child care, playgroups and early learning information in your local area, and is a highly recommended resource.
• Starting Blocks. You’re faced with making many decisions about your child’s early years. This is the government’s new, family friendly resource to provide parents with information about early childhood education and care to help them make the best choice for their child and family. Set up to be the ‘go-to’ place for under-fives, you can learn about your child’s developmental milestones, find tips on starting childcare and what you can do at home, as well as search for services complete with quality ratings, as judged against national standards. www.startingblocks.gov.au
• MyChild. Australia’s online child care portal. You can find information on different types of child care and how to get assistance with costs. There are searchable databases of child care services and preschools/kindergartens. In some cases you will also be able to find information on vacancies and fees. www.mychild.gov.au
The journey to finding the best childcare for your youngster is one that every parent can empathise with. What tips do you have for families who are looking into childcare and early learning opportunities for their kids?