For mums and dads heading back to work or study, topping the list of priorities is finding good childcare. By Bronwyn McNulty.
Some of us are lucky enough to have parents on hand to help with looking after the kids, but most of us will eventually need the help of paid professionals.
Five or 10 years ago, waiting lists were long, and getting your child a spot often seemed impossible – that was before you even considered whether you liked the place or not!
Fortunately, times have changed thanks to an increase in the number of childcare centres, and the increase of early-childhood education and care funding, from $1.7 billion in 2004-05 to $3.7 billion in 2008-09*.
There are different forms of childcare on offer, from nannies to Family Day Care and long day care centres. The first thing to do is examine all the options and determine which one will work best for you and your family.
To help you understand the pros and cons of each choice we have compiled this overview of the most popular forms of childcare in Australia today.
To find a childcare service near you, try visiting the Australian Government’s My Child website: ifp.mychild.gov.au/ChildCareService/Search.aspx
What are your options?
LONG DAY CARE
Long day care centres are usually provided in purpose-built or specially adapted buildings, and can be run by private companies, local councils, community organisations, individuals and not-for-profit organisations. Some forward-thinking employers even provide day care facilities for the children of their staff.
Generally long day care centres care for babies up to school-aged children. Children are usually grouped according to age, and most centres have an early education program to ensure children are mentally stimulated while they are being cared for.
Gowrie Child Care Centre in Erskineville, Sydney, recently celebrated its 70th birthday and, with 68 children on its books, the facility is on the large side. Resident early childhood teacher Vicki Muller says that apart from the long hours (7.30am-6pm), the trained staff, and social and educational aspects of long day care centres appeal to parents.
“Through centres like ours, families meet other families from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures, which is great for networking, and the children get to socialise with other children their age,” Muller says. “In long day care centres the environment is specifically set up for children and based on their interests.”
Centres usually operate between the hours of 7am and 6.30pm, although opening and closing times will vary slightly.
Most provide meals and snacks for the children.
The majority of long day care centres are approved childcare services, which means parents may be eligible to claim Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate.
Large centres with frequently changing staff can feel impersonal.
Waiting lists, especially in metropolitan areas, can be high.
More information: Contact long day care centres directly or enquire at your local council.
FAMILY DAY CARE
Family Day Care is run in the homes of approved childcare ‘educators’. In Australia there are more than 13,000 educators, and 93,700 children are enrolled in Family Day Care services.
All educators are skilled, experienced and trained, with many holding formal childcare qualifications. They have to complete pre-service training before opening a Family Day Care centre, and services must comply with Australian government guidelines, national standards, state and territory regulations and the National Childcare Accreditation
Council to ensure the provision of a safe and good-quality learning environment.
“The key difference is that Family Day Care provides a nurturing family-like environment, with the small group setting enabling children to build those intimate bonds that are so critical to their early learning and social development,” says Carla Northam, CEO of Family Day Care Australia. “Because of the closeness, the educators are regarded more like family than a childcare provider.”
Fees are charged on an hourly basis, generally ranging from $5.50-$7.50 per hour, and a daily minimum may be set depending on the care provider.
The Australian government’s Child Care Benefit (CCB) is available for families, as is the 50 percent Child Care Rebate (CCR).
Some educators also offer before- and after-school care for older children.
The small group setting means that siblings don’t have to be split up into different groups.
Some carers may offer minding services overnight or on weekends.
If you or your child don’t get along with the educator, there are not many options apart from changing childcare centres.
Hours can be limited.
More information: fdca.com.au
A nanny can be employed on a casual basis, part-time or full-time to look after your child in your home. An au pair is a nanny who lives with a family, fulfilling the role of a nanny in return for a bedroom, meals and some pay depending on the hours they work.
Families can advertise privately for a nanny or go through an agency, such as Sydney-based Select Nannies. Those listed on the books must have spent at least one year working in childcare or possess a Certificate III in Children’s Services or a Diploma in Children’s Services, as well as references, a good driving record, no criminal record, a clean police check and a First Aid Certificate.
The agency defines the duties of a nanny as including childcare during agreed hours, supporting the “physical, social, emotional, creative and intellectual” development of children, protecting children from harm, preparing appetising and nutritionally balanced meals and snacks, and maintaining good communication with parents.
Another important part of a nanny’s role is to keep the house clean and tidy, particularly in regards to any mess made by the children. They are usually also required to bathe, pick up and drop them off at preschool or school, and play with and take children to extracurricular activities or on outings.
Flexibility: a nanny can do as much or as little as you need, when you need them to.
Children are cared for at home.
Great for parents who work long or irregular hours.
Nannies are not considered approved childcare when it comes to the government’s Child Care Rebate.
You may need to try one or two before you find a good fit for your family.
More information: search the internet for nannies in your area.
“We have always had a nanny and, while we’ve had our ups and downs, on the whole, it’s been pretty good.”
Occasional care is professional childcare for children on a casual basis. It is, as the name suggests, aimed at families who only need childcare occasionally.
Many occasional care centres are community-based and not-for-profit. They have flexible operating hours, with parents booking in for as little or as long as needed. However, there are waiting lists, so it can be tricky getting care when you need it, unless you book in advance.
The hours of operation vary greatly. For example, Chatswood Occasional Child Care on Sydney’s North Shore, is open from 8.30am to 4pm, Monday to Friday, and parents can book in by phoning or emailing the centre. It is administered by a parent committee and funded by the Department of Community Services.
Meanwhile, the Balmain/Rozelle Occasional Care centre in the city’s inner west is only open on Mondays from 9am to 1.30pm and Tuesdays from 9am to 3.30pm, and is run by the local council.
Suitable for parents who require occasional care for only short periods of time.
A good way to get young children used to childcare because children can attend for as little as one hour.
There is no guarantee that you will get the time you need.
More information: visit careforkids.com.au to search for occasional care in your area.
HAVING A NANNY
Sonya, mum to Scarlett, 11, Audrey, 9, and Harper, 3, says her family couldn’t function without their nanny.
“We have always had a nanny and, while we’ve had our ups and downs, on the whole, it’s been pretty good.
Initially we did have one who said she was in Australia for a year, but she only stayed six weeks, without giving us any notice [she left]. She sent a text message and that was it!
It’s very difficult to put children into any childcare centre and hold down a full-time job because kids get sick. Also,
I didn’t want my kids in a centre from a young age.
The nanny is great because she can help us with the washing and get the kids dinner before we get home from work. Also, it means we haven’t had to rush little kids out the door by 7.30am so we can get to work on time – instead the nanny arrives and gives them a relaxed breakfast.
Now that our children are a bit older, the nanny can pick them up after school and take them to their after-school activities, which they couldn’t do if they were in after-school care or long day care.
The only downside is there is no rebate on nannies, but with three children it’s a pretty economical solution.”
Child Care Rebate
The Child Care Rebate is not a means-tested rebate and is designed to help parents and guardians who are working, studying or training with out-of-pocket childcare costs.
If you are using approved childcare for these reasons, the government will provide you with 50 percent of your costs.
To find out whether you are eligible for the rebate, and how to claim, visit mychild.gov.au and click on Child Care Rebate.
FAMILY DAY CARE
Angela Noel, mum to Olivier, three-and-a-half, and Elodie, one, sends her children to Family Day Care educator Nicola Rich three days a week.
“I felt like Family Day Care was a compromise between me not being able to stay at home with my children and a large day care centre. I drop them off at 8am and pick them up at 5pm.
With Family Day Care there are not many children and you have the same person looking after your child every day. That was important to me, to establish that bond with Nicola.
[The kids] really enjoy going there and, after my husband, the person I trust the most with my kids is Nicola. She knows them so well.
I find that when they are with Nicola, who has studied childcare, they do a lot more activities and recreation, such as art and craft, and water play, than they do when they’re with me!”
“Quality early experiences are connected with a range of positive developmental and learning outcomes for children across different curriculum areas such as numeracy and literacy.”
Why put your child into care?
Apart from the obvious reasons for placing a child in day care – so that parents can work or study – sometimes they just need a break. But there’s something in it for the kids, too: quality childcare promotes social, language and cognitive development, with influences that can be seen into adulthood, a 2010 Cornell University study has found.
“Quality early experiences are connected with a range of positive developmental and learning outcomes for children across different curriculum areas such as numeracy and literacy,” it was reported in the article, ‘Putting Children First’, published in the
National Childcare Accreditation Council’s September 2011 magazine.
“High quality early experiences for children with disadvantages or risk factors have been shown to provide protective factors, which result in improved life chances for children well into their adult lives,” the report continued.
More than 870,000 Australian children were using approved childcare in the September quarter 2009, says a Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) report. This means the number of children using childcare has increased by eight percent from the September quarter 2005.