Child care options guide

How do you find quality child care that matches your requirements?
 
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  • Updated:1 Sep 2009
 

01 .Child care issues

Child and teacher

Most parents use some form of child care for their children, most commonly while they are at work - but how do you find quality child care that matches your requirements?

In brief

  • Long waiting lists and lack of choice over which days, the number of days and the type of child care available are the major problems when looking for child care.
  • High costs and staffing issues (high staff turnover, too many children looked after at once) are problems many parents have to deal with once their children get into care.

Community or private child care?

Community-based centres or family day care schemes can be run by local councils, parent collectives, churches or charities. They’re non-profit, and rely on government grants and fund-raising to cover operating expenses, including wages, that aren’t covered by fees. Employers can also sponsor a centre or scheme on a not-for-profit basis.

Other centres are run by private individuals or companies on a for-profit basis. Private centres can still receive government funding if they comply with certain regulations and guidelines. The owner of the centre pays for the building, equipment and wages.

ABC Learning: The collapse of Australia's largest child care provider, ABC Learning Centres, in November 2008 left hundreds of centres in the hands of receivers and created a unique and challenging situation for parents, communities and the child care sector. Of the more than 1000 centres over 650 continued to trade as normal, of the rest the overwhelming majority of centres continued with new operators, most of them private companies.

Waiting lists

Depending on the availability of child care in your area you may need to put your child’s name down at one or more centres as early as possible — before they’re born — and from then on regularly check with the centres to see if a vacancy has come up.

Your local council should be able to supply information about the types of service available. Your baby health care clinic or state department of health or community services may also be able to advise you.

To find child care services in your local area:

  • Use the search facility on the website of the National Child care Accreditation Council (NCAC www.ncac.gov.au).
  • Call the Child Care Access Hotline on 1800 670 305 for a complete listing of all Child Care Benefit approved services in your area. The Child Care Access Hotline also provides information on vacancy details. Vacant Child care places will also be added to www.mychild.gov.au.
 
 

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02.Types of childcare and alternatives

 

What type of child care?

The quest for child care firstly involves matching the most appropriate type of child care with your family’s specific requirements, and then deciding on the best individual service available to you within that child care type.

The main types of formal child care are:

Alternative childcare options are:

Long day care centres – birth to 5 years

Long day care centres—also called day nurseries, day care centres or creches—provide child care for children from birth to 5 years in a group setting. Care is usually available full-time or part-time and extended operation hours provide support for families who work or study.

Care arrangements vary in long day care centres. Children may be organised into small family groupings or, in larger centres, children will be grouped according to their age.

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Family day care – birth to 12 years

Family day care provides home based small group care for children from birth to twelve years, the other children may be older or younger than your child. Care is usually full-time or part-time but may include up to 24-hour care, occasional care, emergency care and before- and after-school care.

Family day care workers are organised and approved by a sponsoring family day care agency—usually a local council. The carers are supported and supervised by regular visits from the co-ordinating unit. The coordination unit puts parents in touch with several family day care workers who they can visit before making a choice. In most schemes carers aren’t employed by the co-ordinating unit; they’re self-employed.

There are regulations governing the number of children a family day care worker can care for, and schemes must comply with safety guidelines and restrictions which apply to the carer’s home.

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In home care

This is care in the child’s home and is targeted at families who cannot use other forms of approved care including families

  • with three or more children under school age
  • who have a child or parent with a disability
  • who work non standard hours
  • in rural or remote areas

The program operates in the same way as family day care. Government support with the cost of care is available for in home care.

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Pre-schools and kindergartens

Pre-schools and kindergartens are the oldest type of child care in Australia, traditionally they’ve provided only shortened day care, which isn’t ideal for many working parents.

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Before and after-school care and vacation care

This type of care is provided for school-age children, often while their parents work or study. Care, including age-appropriate activities, is provided before and after school, on pupil free days and/or in school vacation periods.

Services generally operate in primary schools, community centres or halls.

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Occasional care

This type of child care is provided on an occasional basis in purpose-built centres, neighbourhood houses or parent co-operatives. There are generally restrictions on the number of hours occasional care can be used by any child each week.

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Children with special needs

Supplementary services are available for children with special needs through the provision of a special program, training and/or facilities. Discuss your child’s special needs with your different services and their eligibility for support or funding.

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Alternatives

Informal child care

Having a relative or friend care for your children can be a flexible and inexpensive arrangement. You’re leaving your children with someone both you and your child know and trust—you know exactly how reliable the carer is.

Grandparents are the largest providers of informal care. While grandparents may enjoy this caring role, it has the potential to affect aspects of their lives such as their income, health, or access to free time, particularly if they provide large amounts of care.

Consequently the downside for parents may be guilt and worry about the wellbeing of the the grandparent and anxiety about how long they’ll be able to continue.

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Nanny or babysitter

Employing a nanny is one way of ensuring your child can be cared for at home. Stability and convenience are the major advantages, while finding the right person and the cost are the major disadvantages. One way to reduce costs is to share a nanny with another family.

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How to choose a nanny
  • Ask for a CV and look at the person’s work experience over the last five years. Enquire about any unexplained gaps. Ask for references and speak to the referees directly.
  • Ask in-depth questions, including “Why did they leave your employment?” and “Would you employ them again?”
  • Request a current Criminal History check. In some states you can request a Working with Children Check or Blue card.
Your obligations as an employer include
  • Salary and tax. You have to provide pay advice records and PAYG payment summaries (formerly group certificates) and submit PAYG tax.
  • Superannuation. Domestic workers who work more than 30 hours a week are entitled to super at the specified rate.
  • Holiday leave and sick leave. There are minimum leave entitlements for full-time and part-time employees, which vary from state to state.
  • Insurance. It’s strongly recommended that you have insurance that covers domestic employees in the event of injury in the workplace (your home) or on their way to and from work. For details of what you need regarding insurance go to the WorkCover website for your state.
  • Negotiate and document these details in an employment contract or agreement, along with details such as roles and responsibilities required and notice period.

Nanny agency services

A good nanny agency can make the process faster and easier, as well as provide peace of mind. However, it’s an unregulated industry, so it pays to do your research.

Choosing an agency checklist 
  • How long have you been in business and how much experience in the industry have you?
  • Where/how do you source your nannies?
  • What child care qualifications and/or experience do nannies have? Do they have first aid certificates?
  • Do you provide your nannies with training?
  • Do you insure the nannies on your books (WorkCover and/or public liability)?
  • How detailed is your screening process (Checking of references and qualifications, police checks)?
  • How do you go about matching nannies to families?
  • What support will I get during the recruitment process?
  • Do you assist with drawing up the employment contract between family and nanny? Can you give advice about employment law and my responsibilities and risks as an employer?
  • What ongoing support do you provide families? Do you offer back-up support if a nanny gets sick or fails to show up?
  • What costs are involved and what do they cover? Usually this includes a registration fee and /or a placement fee. The agency may have an arrangement where you pay the placement fee in two instalments — the first when you accept the nanny and the outstanding amount payable once a trial period has passed.

03.Child care checklist

 

Visit prospective child care services more than once, and spend time observing how the staff interact with the children and how the centre (or home if it’s family daycare) is run.

  • Do the children seem happy and engaged in activities, or do they look bored?
  • Does the centre or home look like a happy place to be?
  • Are you and your child welcome?
  • Are staff engaged with the children or sitting around chatting to each other?
  • Do they appear to know the children well?
  • Are there any quiet, private areas where children can look at books or play by themselves if they want to?
  • Has each child a cot or bed and/or a place such as a locker where personal belongings can be kept during the day?
  • Is children’s own work displayed around the walls at their eye level?
  • It’s critical to ensure that children have enough indoor and outdoor space because overcrowding and confined spaces can damage a child’s development.

Ask questions about how your child will be taken care of and how their needs will be met. You should be welcome to drop in and see your child any time. Experts recommend you visit unannounced from time to time.

Ask about staff turnover and qualifications, what the child-to-staff ratio is for your child’s age group, and how many children are in each room or group. Are any of the staff’s qualifications related to early childhood?

If the centre provides food, ask to see the menu.

  • How often is it changed?
  • Can it cater for special dietary requests?
  • Are quantities adequate, and are enough fresh fruit and vegetables served?
  • Are meal and snack times enjoyable?

Check that the equipment and play spaces are safe.

  • Are measures in place to keep children away from stairs, fireplaces or heaters?
  • Is the yard well fenced so children can’t find their way out?
  • Is the carer able to see the children at all times?

Licensing, National Standards and Quality Assurance

The National Child care Accreditation Council (NCAC) administers Child Care Quality Assurance (CCQA) systems for family day care schemes, long day care centres and outside school hours care services across Australia. NCAC sets quality standards and accredits services that meet the standards. You can find out whether the service is accredited by asking the services to show you their Quality Profile Certificate. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their results.

Child care services are licensed by state/territory regulations. These regulations specify operational hours, staff qualifications, group size, staff-to-child ratios and other requirements. Licensing regulations vary from state to state. Contact details for licensing authorities are available on the NCAC website.

Long day care centres, family day care schemes and outside school hours care services also have National Standards. For information check the relevant National Standards document on available the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations website.

High child care costs are a concern for many parents, see below for some government benefits which can ease the pain.

Child care Benefit

Child care benefit is a Government subsidy. Your income level and care type determine how much you can receive. All eligible families can receive a benefit for up to 24 hours per week. For up to 50 hours you usually need to be working, training or studying for at least 15 hours per week (or 30 hours per fortnight).

If your income is $37 960 or less or you receive an income support payment you may be able to get the maximum amount. The maximum income limits are:

Number of children in approved care Income limits for 2009–2010

  • One child: $131 560
  • Two children: $136 375
  • Three children: $153 995
  • Each additional child add $29 077

Families using approved care can access greater benefits than families using registered care.

Approved child care must meet additional requirements set by the Australian Government. This includes having a licence to operate, having qualified and trained staff, being open certain hours, and meeting health, safety and other quality standards as set out under the Australian Government Quality Assurance Accreditation system.

Maximum benefit

Approved child care, per hour per child:

  • One child: $3.60
  • Two children: $3.76
  • Three and more children: $3.91

Registered care, per hour per child: $0.602

Example: Claire’s three-year-old son Ben is in long day care for 50 hrs a week at a cost of $200. Claire’s annual income is $36,000, which means she will be entitled to 100% of the Child care benefit ($3.60 per hour). This means her Child care benefit entitlement is $180.00 per week so she pays the child care centre the remaining $20.00.

At the end of the quarter, Claire will also receive 50 per cent of the amount she paid the child care centre back as Child care tax rebate.

To work out how much child care benefit you can get, use the Australian Government ready reckoner to calculate.

Child care Tax Rebate

If you are using approved child care for work, training or study related reasons, you can receive 50 per cent of your out-of-pocket child care costs, up to $7778 (indexed) for each child each year.

There is no income test for the Child care tax rebate. If you are eligible for the Child care benefit but don’t receive it as your income is above the maximum limit, you’ll still receive the Child care tax rebate.

Grandparents

If you are an eligible grandparent who has primary care of your grandchildren and are in receipt of an income support payment, such as a pension from Centrelink, you may receive Grandparent Child care benefit. Grandparent Child care benefit will cover the full cost of child care for up to 50 hours per child, per week.

More information

For more information and to find out if you are eligible for any of these payments visit www.centrelink.gov.au or www.familyassist.gov.au.

You can also telephone Centrelink on 13 6150 or visit your nearest Family Assistance Office and a Customer Service Officer will be able to help you.

You can also find some fact sheets on the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations website.

Child care Access Hotline

For information on child care vacancies, child care services in your area, quality issues, types of child care and government assistance with child care cost.
Website: www.mychild.gov.au
Freecall 1800 670 305 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 9pm EST)

National Child care Accreditation Council (NCAC)

For information on child care services available in your area, quality control and some useful factsheets
Website: www.ncac.gov.au
Phone (02) 8260 1900 or 1300 136 554 (local call cost) Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm EST)

Family Day Care Australia

Website: www.familydaycare.com.au
Freecall 1800 621 218

National Association of Community Based Children’s Services (NACBCS)

Website: www.nacbcs.org.au
Phone: (03) 9486 3455.

National In Home Care Association

Website: www.nica.org.au
Phone: (02) 6552 5088

Child care Associations Australia

Website: www.childcareaust.org.au; see the website for various telephone contacts in each state.

Family Assistance Office

www.familyassist.gov.au

Complaints

  • If you have a problem with a child care service it’s usually best to first raise the concern directly with the centre. The National Child care Accreditation Council (NCAC) has a factsheet with some tips.
  • You can also lodge a formal complaint with NCAC, see the factsheet.
  • If you think a child care centre is in breach of regulatory requirements (for example, it’s short-staffed, or the building is unsafe), you can complain to the state or territory body that licenses the centre. For a list of contacts for state and territory licensing authorities, go to www.ncac.gov.au