Most Aussie kids spend at least some time in childcare before school starts. For some children, the journey starts a little earlier than others. But for all children heading into care, nervous mums and dads have to find a service they’re happy to send their child to. After all, handing over your baby to someone else to look after, whether they’re a newborn or almost school age, is a big deal.
A little bit of knowledge can go a long way to helping you find the right childcare for your child. Knowing what to think about and where to get the right information is a good start. StartingBlocks.gov.au makes it easier than ever to compare childcare services.
Let’s take the hard work out of it for you. Here’s a quick guide to help you choose a childcare service for your cherub.
1. Know your childcare service’s National Quality Standard rating
You might know that all childcare services are assessed by your state or territory Government. It makes sense – they obviously have to pass a minimum standard and legal requirements to be able to operate.
But did you know that education and care services across Australia are all assessed against a National Quality Standard (NQS)?
Childcare services are assessed against the seven quality areas of the NQS:
- Educational program and practice: your child is supported to participate in play and learning
- Children’s health and safety: your child is protected from illness and hazards
- Physical environment: your child plays in a safe and well-maintained environment
- Staffing arrangements: there are enough qualified staff to give your child the attention they need
- Relationships with children: your child is made to feel supported and welcomed
- Collaborative partnerships with families and communities: local community involvement and respect for the beliefs and values of families
- Governance and leadership: your child is cared for in a positive and well-managed environment.
Childcare services are given a rating for each of these quality areas, as well as an overall rating based on these results. There are five ratings, on a scale from significant improvement required, working towards the standard, to meeting the standard, exceeding the standard to excellent. So it makes it really easy to compare services. You can see at a glance how a service is doing in the areas most important to you, as well as overall using StartingBlocks.gov.au.
2. What childcare option will suit you?
Now you know how they’re assessed, it’s important to think about what kind of care will best suit your child and your family’s needs, because not all services are created equal. They can be open for a few short hours up to 24 hours a day. Your child may be one of just a handful of kids or in a big room full of children. And the service might cater for your needs from birth right up to school, or just certain years.
As a starting point, there are three main types of care:
Long Day Care
- operates in a child care centre for at least 8 hours a day, typically Monday to Friday
- caters for children, from birth to school age
- typically best for those who work long days and need care for their children during business hours.
Family Day Care
- held in a homelike environment at the home of a registered educator
- caters for children, birth to 12 years
- great for parents who want their children to learn and play in small groups.
- sometimes known as kindergarten, it can be a standalone service or part of another service (such as a long day care) or school
- usually caters for children aged three to five years
- perfect for parents with children who are almost ready for primary school.
There is also Outside School Hours Care, which is regulated under the National Quality Framework (NQF) too. Other options, such as Occasional Childcare, Mobile Services and Informal Care are not regulated under the NQF.
It’s important to think about what’s going to work for you. Do you need care for full time hours or just occasional days and times? Does your child respond well in large groups or would they be suited to a more intimate home-based setting? Do you want your child to attend just one service prior to starting school or would you be happy to move them to a specialist kindy program when they’re old enough?
3. Find an approved child care service near you
Now you’ve thought about the kind of care you’re after, it’s time to put together a shortlist. And that means finding daycare services. While you could ask around or cruise the streets, the easiest way to do it is from the comfort of your own home. Google is an obvious place to start, but as all services are assessed against the National Quality Standard, it’s much easier just to search for quality rated services using StartingBlocks.gov.au’s ‘Find child care’ search.
You can find an approved education and care service in Australia simply by entering your postcode or a keyword search. The search will bring up the services near you, as well as their ratings, if they’ve received one.
4. Visit the service and ask the right questions
At the end of the day, nothing beats doing your own homework. And the best way to do that is to visit some services, have a look around and ask some questions.
Here are a few things to talk about:
- Hours: what hours do they operate and do they close throughout the year (e.g. public holidays, school holidays, Christmas)?
- Visitation: can you visit your child or call them at any time?
- Fees: will you be charged fees for public holidays or absences?
- Flexibility: can you change the days of care and how much notice is required?
- Inclusions: are things like nappies and meals provided?
- Staff: what skills and experience do the staff have?
- Numbers: what is the ratio of staff to children?
- Ages: what ages do they care for?
- Communication: how will you be notified if your child is sick or has an accident?
- Operations: what are their policies and procedures around sleep and rest, hygiene, medication and sun protection?
- Updates: how will you know that your child’s learning and development will be encouraged?
- Rating: has the service been quality rated, and if so, what is the service’s rating?
Even if your child is already in care, it’s never too late to see how your service is going. Head to StartingBlocks.gov.au to see if your childcare service meets the National Quality Standard.
This article is sponsored by StartingBlocks.gov.au.