Finding quality childcare

Finding good, affordable childcare can be a tough gig.
 
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01 .Childcare survey

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Our survey of more than 200 parents found many are concerned about the cost of child care.

In this article you'll find information about:

For more information about education and child care, take a look at our factsheets.

A good childcare centre is like gold dust - hard to find and, these days, it seems, just as expensive. And once you’ve sold a limb to pay for it, you then have to join the back of a very long queue to sign up.

When CHOICE surveyed parents recently, asking about accessibility, affordability and quality of child care, what we found was concerning: 

  • Fewer than half of parents with children in long day care (LDC) were very satisfied with the quality of care;
  • Only one in five were very satisfied with the ease of securing a place;
  • And a paltry one in 10 with the cost.

“We’re currently trying to find child care for my 14-month-old baby and it’s a nightmare,” says Nicola from NSW, summing up the frustrations of many parents. “There are no places and high fees to get onto very long waiting lists. How are women supposed to get back into the workforce?”

Putting the quality in quality child care

Quality child care is essential – the first three years of a child’s life have been shown to have a huge impact on their development, learning, and wellbeing. At latest estimate, 410,500 children are enrolled in long day care across Australia. 

Shortcomings

In June 2011, the National Childcare Accreditation Council found many centres fell short in a number of areas:

  • 27% in ensuring toileting and nappy changing are positive experiences
  • 25% in supporting each child’s rest, sleep and comfort needs 
  • 23% in implementing effective and current food health and hygiene practices
  • 21% in assisting each child to be a successful learner 
  • 19% in ensuring potentially dangerous objects are not accessible to children

And a recent report found preschool children in Victoria and Queensland received, on average, a low level of support for expanding their knowledge and understanding. 

But even if you find out your day care centre is a poor performer, you may not be able to take your child elsewhere.

“I am not 100% happy with the only available option in our town,” Natalie from NSW tells us, “but unfortunately we have little choice.” 

Bringing child care up to standard

In an effort to ensure decent centres are available to everyone, the federal government recently launched a program to raise the standard of care throughout the country. The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care is designed to improve the quality of child care over the next few years. However, it’s also likely to raise costs. 

The National Quality Standard came into effect on 1 January 2012 and sets a new national benchmark for the quality of education and childcare services. Changes will be phased in until 2020, including lower staff-to-child ratios and more qualifications required of child care staff – this includes the requirement for employing an early childhood teacher for most long day care.

The new staff ratios for long day care are one carer for:

  • Four children up to two years
  • Five children of two to three years
  • 11 children of three to six years.

According to the Productivity Commission, as an effect of the reforms, fees are likely to increase by 15% for long day care and 5% for family day care from 2012 levels. Where that leaves parents and their children is unclear.

As of August 2013, one in five child education and care services had been assessed against the new standards, with only 56% meeting or exceeding the standards. Five per cent of centres are allowed to stay open even though they are not meeting certain requirements, with the understanding that they are working on overcoming those shortcomings.

To check if a service has been assessed and to see its rating, you can visit the national registers of The Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority.

 
 

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Getting your child into quality long day care can take several years.

CH0212_Childcare_filler_WEB“As soon as your pregnancy is confirmed, get on as many waiting lists as you can," Sacha from SA suggests. "I went on four, and none of the long day care centres had a spot available when I wanted to return to work. My child was 11 months old, and I’d been on the waiting lists for 18 months at that point.”

Finding long day care is much more of a problem for parents living in cities than for those in country areas.

  • About 70% of city parents responding to our survey did not find care easily
  • Only 44% of those living in a regional or rural area had trouble finding child care

Winning the waiting game

Parents responding to our survey give a clear sense of how hard finding good care – or indeed any care – can be. Here they offer tips on how to handle the wait. 

  • “You have to budget for a non-refundable amount of about $50 for each list you get on. Then you have to harass, beg, cajole, plead, stalk and bribe your way to securing a place. It’s the last disorderly frontier of an otherwise civilised society.” – Ray

  • “I placed my daughter on five waiting lists at birth. When it got closer to when I was to return to work I’d heard nothing, so I rang around all the childcare centres in the area. In the end the place I got had nothing to do with a waiting list, it was just pot luck.”
    Lizzie

  • “I spent months waiting for a place to come up in one of three local childcare centres. In the end, on the advice of several friends, I summoned up as much negative energy as I could, walked into a centre, and burst into tears. Within two days I was called back for an available spot. The fight to get a spot is like warfare. You have to pull out whatever artillery you have (sick parents, redundant partner, and above all, tears) in order to be considered.” – Sara

  • “In my area, often the only way to get a spot is to try enrolling your child in a brand new centre before it opens. I actually took to scanning the development applications in my area whenever I saw a building going up that looked like it could be a new centre just to secure a spot.” - Kate

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The average child care cost for parents who responded to our survey was $78.50 per day, with wide variations depending on the type of child care used and where they lived. The average daily cost:

  • For city parents: about $84
  • For parents in a regional or country area: about $62

As well as long day care and care given by relatives or friends, there are two other main child care options:

  • Family day care About 110,000 children in Australia are in family day care, where carers look after children in their own homes and usually operate within schemes managed by community or government organisations. Family day care is the cheapest option we found, with an average daily cost of $57 compared with $80 on average for long day care. Family day care also scored much better on quality in our survey, with 74% of parents very satisfied.
  • Nannies Respondents using nanny services also gave high ratings for quality, but the costs can be prohibitive for many parents, and prices can vary widely depending on hours of care and whether you share the nanny with another family. In our survey,
    the price paid ranged from $88 to $250 per day. While the Child Care Rebate (see below) helps with the costs of LDC and FDC, it’s not available for care by a nanny.

Julie from Victoria takes issue with this exception: “Nanny costs should be tax deductible, if not rebatable. Use of a nanny, although arguably a higher socioeconomic means of child care, frees up a spot for those who require other forms of child care.”

Government benefits

Child Care Benefit

  • The government’s Child Care Benefit is means-tested, with the maximum amount only available if you receive an income support payment such as a Centrelink pension or have a family income of less than $39,785. 
  • Cut-offs for a partial benefit depend on the number of children you have ($143,095 is the cut-off if you have two, for example).
  • The benefit is available for up to 50 hours per week if you’re working, training or studying. 
  • For 2011-12 it was $3.78 per hour (up to$189 per week) for approved child care such as LDC;
  • Registered child care, such as care by a nanny, was subsidised by only 63c per hour (up to $31.60 per week).

Child Care Rebate

  • The Child Care Rebate is only available for approved child care. It’s not means-tested and refunds 50% of your child care costs up to a maximum benefit of $7500, per child, per year.
  • The average annual rebate families received was about $2100 per child in 2010-11.

In a confusing bureaucratic twist, you need to apply for the Child Care Benefit to receive the Child Care Rebate, even if your income is above the cut-offs - no wonder about 100,000 families are missing out. You also need to be working or studying, or to have an exemption from both.

For more information, go to www.familyassist.gov.au or call the Family Assistance Office on 13 61 50.

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