As a parent, finding quality child care can be nerve-wracking. If you’re like me, then you get nervous leaving your car with a mechanic. So, imagine how much trust I had to place in a childcare centre before I left my child there.
Besides the cost and convenience factors, I needed to know that the childcare provider offered a healthy and stimulating environment, the appropriate level of physical and emotional care, and opportunities for socializing and learning.
In Australia, the National Quality Framework ensures all registered childcare providers and early learning programs adhere to the same minimum standards. While this helps ensure that all childcare and early learning programs meet a basic level of care and competency, it won’t help you differentiate one provider from another.
Childcare providers can differ in a number of significant ways, from the type of care to the quality of their facilities, from their care approach to their cost and more.
Some different care providers include:
- Childcare centres or long day care
- Family day care
- In-home care
- Pre-school or kindergarten
- Before or after school care
- Au pairs
- Mother’s help
If you’re looking for top quality childcare that suits your requirements and your child, but you’re not sure where to start, we have some tips to help you pick the perfect childcare provider.
What sort of care does your child need?
The type of care your child needs comes down to a few factors:
- The age of your child
Different types of childcare have different age cutoffs. It’s important to understand what types of childcare are available to your child before you start talking to different providers.
- The type of care
Are you looking for at-home care, a childcare centre or family day care? Do you want an early learning program or just child minding? Understanding the different forms of childcare and knowing what kind of care you want for your child is crucial and will help you narrow down the options.
- When you need care
Are you looking for full-time child care or part-time? After-hours care or during business hours only? When and how much child care you need will affect your choice of childcare providers.
- Where you need care
How far you’re willing to travel and what areas are convenient will obviously affect your choice of childcare providers. If you live in Preston, then looking for childcare in Reservoir or childcare in Coburg would make sense. Care for Kids has a handy childcare search function that can help you find care providers of all kinds in your local area.
- Your budget and available subsidies
How much you’re willing to spend and what subsidies you’re eligible for will determine the type and regularity of childcare you select. Before government subsidies, the average cost of childcare in Australia is estimated at about $109 per day. Calculating the cost of childcare can be tricky, but this handy childcare subsidy calculator can help.
- Your child’s temperament, interests and needs
Finding a care provider that suits your little one is important for the happiness and development of your child, and for your peace of mind. Have a think about what’s most important to your child in terms of care and development and be prepared to discuss these factors with your care providers.
- Your values, parenting style, and learning priorities
As a parent, you want to make sure you find a care provider aligned with your parenting style, beliefs and priorities. Quality childcare providers will generally be quite upfront about their education and care values and will be happy to discuss them.
Choosing a care provider
Once you’ve determined what kind of care you’re looking for, it’s time to start talking to and visiting different childcare providers. Remember to start local. If you live in Coburg, look for childcare in Coburg or childcare in Reservoir. I know this sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed home many people in Melbourne make their choice based on the prestige of location. Ultimately, all that does is increase your travel time and, chances are, how much you’re paying.
Some of the obvious factors to consider when looking at care providers include:
- Quality and reputation
- Staffing levels and qualifications
- Reviews and word of mouth
Quality childcare services will welcome enquiries and will usually be happy to organise an on-site visit for you and your child.
When visiting a childcare provider try to take note of the atmosphere. Is it relaxed or frantic? Welcoming or uncomfortable? Is it well-appointed or run down? Are the staff engaging with and playing with the children? Is there a stimulating play and learning environment?
Make sure you get a chance to talk to one of the care providers. This is when you want to discuss what you want for your child and find out whether or not the care provider aligns with your values and parenting style. While you should have a range of your own specific questions, it’s important to gather information about services, policies and procedures.
Some information to look for includes:
- Education and activities programs
- Social and cultural values
- Teaching and care approaches or philosophies
- Illness, medication or emergency procedures
- Parental involvement
- Food and drink provision
- Allergy processes
- Approach to behavioural management
- Sleeping arrangements
- Staff qualifications
- Staff ratios
- Available places and waiting list process
- Full fee structure
- Service hours
- Quality rating
- List of contacts for complaints, concerns and general communications
- Appropriate licensing
While collecting as much practical information as possible is essential, there is no substitute for actually seeing how comfortable your child is in the new environment. Observe them playing and interacting with staff and other children if you can. This may go a long way to helping you make a decision.