Choosing the right child care
With the wide variety of options available, finding and securing care for your child may seem like an insurmountable task and one of those jobs that's easier to keep putting off for another day.
However, if you know when you are returning to employment and/or when you would like care to start, it's best to start the search early.
There is a shortage of child care places in some areas so finding a provider you like and securing a spot with that provider may take some time.
Types of care available
The first step is to decide what sort of care is going to be best for your child and your family. With the range of care available it's worthwhile spending a bit of time researching the options:
- Au Pair - foreign national in Australia for up to a year to experience Australian life. Lives as part of the host family and receives a small allowance in exchange for child care and household duties.
- Babysitter - provides supervisory, custodial care of children on an irregular full time or part-time basis.
- Before / After School Care or Out of School Hours (OOSH) care - supervised care and recreation for school-age children: before and after school, on pupil-free days, during school holidays.
- Family Day Care - care and developmental activities for other people's children in the carer's own home. Primarily for pre-school aged children.
- In Home Care - care is provided in the child's home by an approved carer, available for families who do not use a standard child care service, or where child care needs cannot be met by an existing service.
- Long Day Care - care for children under school age, in premises especially built or adapted for child care. Private operators, councils, community organisations, employers and non-profit organisations may run long day care centres.
- Mother's Help - assists with child care and housekeeping duties under the supervision of the parent(s).
- Nanny - employed by the family on either a live-in or live-out basis to undertake all tasks related to the care of children.
- Nanny Sharing - nannies employed by two or more families undertaking tasks related to the care of children.
- Occasional Care Services - short periods of care for children under school age on either a regular or irregular basis.
- Pre-school / Kindergarten / Prep - planned educational programs for children in the years before they start school.
Which type of child care is best?
When choosing the best type of care for your child it's helpful to list your priorities and compare the options.
You should also take into account your child's individual needs. Variables such as your child's:
- stage of development
- learning style
- ability to interact with other children
- need for individual attention and
- ability to communicate.
These needs will affect his/her experience in care and may be better met by one type of care than another.
Regardless of which type you choose, the most important thing is to ensure your child receives quality, professional care in an environment that is fun, educational and nurturing.
While much of the background work can be done at home, once you have made a decision about which type of care you want for your child, the best way to choose a service provider is to get out and meet a few.
According to research by CareforKids.com.au the most popular forms of child care across Australia are long day care, family day care and nannies.
Long day care centres
Long day care centres vary greatly and the best way to get a feel for a centre is to take your child and go for a visit. Waiting lists can be very long, especially for a spot in babies' rooms, and you may need to pay a wait list fee to secure your place on the list.
Because of the great differences between centres it's worth visiting as many as you can and at least three before you make your final decision. If possible visit a privately managed centre as well as a centre run by council or a not-for-profit organisation.
Encourage your child to explore the centre while you are there and make a point of observing how the carers interact with him/her and the other children.
Have a think about the days and hours you require care before you visit and be prepared to ask lots of questions when you arrive.
CareforKids.com.au has put together a comprehensive child care centre checklist which should help you gain all the information you need to make an informed decision about whether the centre is right for your child.
Family day care
Family day care offers small groups and a more individualised style of care in a home environment. If you think this type of care would suit your child then the first step is to find a carer who you and your child like and can relate to.
Family day carers must operate according to state licensing laws, national standards and the Family Day Care Quality Assurance system as set by the National Childcare Accreditation Council.
Having said this, it is important to remember that all family day carers will have a different approach to things like mealtimes, routines and activities. The Care for Kids Family Day Care checklist should serve as a useful reminder of things to look for and questions to ask as you visit the carers in your area.
Nannies offer one-on-one care in your own home, because of the intimate nature of this kind of care the key to success is to interview as many people as necessary until you find someone who best fits your needs.
Using an agency to source a nanny may save time and could give you access to a wider range of candidates, however it can be expensive.
If you feel confident about conducting the interview yourself use the CareforKids Nanny checklist to help you prepare for the meeting and to ensure you cover all the important points.
Hiring a nanny comes with a set of legal obligations and unless you use an agency you will be responsible for deciding the terms and conditions of employment. It's important to be mindful of all your responsibilities when you start the recruitment process.
Regardless of which type of child care you use it's useful to make the effort to build a good relationship with your provider. This will ensure you receive regular updates about your child's progress and daily activities.