If the thought of weighing up the how, when and where of childcare feels overwhelming, you’re definitely not alone. One of the biggest steps you’ll ever take is transitioning from the bliss of one-on-one time with your child at home to waving goodbye as you head off to resume your career or simply focus on yourself again.
And with many childcare centres having long waiting lists to get in, it’s never too soon to start thinking about your options. So, where to begin? Here, we breakdown the key considerations around choosing childcare.
Understand what you’re looking for
It’s important that you and your partner are clear on how you want to make childcare work for you. Asking yourself the below questions may help in this process:
- What types of childcare are available? Many Australian families rely on help from within their own extended families along with centre-based care with trained staff and a structured program, but there are other more flexible options available such as home-based care, family day care and occasional care. It may be that one particular type best suits your family, or a combination.
- When will we need care, and for how long? Be as clear as possible about what your schedule will look like, and if you’re able to be flexible on which days of the week you’ll need childcare, that’s a bonus.
- Which location/s will suit us? Consider options close to both home and work. For example, a facility close to the office may give you more flexibility for drop-off and pick-up if you’d prefer to commute with your child.
- When do we need to start applying? It’s never too early. Give yourself plenty of options and put your name down wherever you can once you know you’re pregnant. They will note your expected timing and days required and add you to the waiting list. If you are offered a place, don’t hesitate to say yes (so you don’t miss out) and then make your final decision after visiting.
- What are our deal-breakers? Decide what you won’t budge on. It might be size, location or budget, but understanding any deal-breakers will help you narrow your search.
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Do your research and make a shortlist
Comparing apples and oranges can be challenging, but the Australian Government’s new National Quality Framework is an excellent research tool. Designed to improve performance across early education centres, it’s a simple rating system to quickly assess which centres are scoring well against different criteria, such as their educational program, health and safety, the physical environment, quality of staff and community collaboration.
Consider which factors are most important to your family (it might be all of them!) and compare the NQF ratings of your preferred providers through the Starting Blocks website.
Crunch the numbers
In 2017, the median weekly out-of-pocket cost of 50 hours of approved long-day child care services was $443. That’s almost $90 per day.
In a major shake-up, the Australian Government is overhauling the way it helps families with childcare fees. From July 2018, the new Child Care Subsidy will replace the current Child Care Benefit (CCB) and Child Care Rebate (CCR) with a single, means-tested subsidy more tailored towards low and middle income families.
To find out about your eligibility and calculate your estimated entitlements under the new scheme check out the Child Care Subsidy resource centre.
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See for yourself
You’ve done your research, you’ve made your shortlist, and maybe you’ve even reached the top of the waiting list for a centre of your choice. Now, visit your shortlisted providers and:
- Talk to the staff and see how they engage and interact with the children (and you)
- Observe how the centre makes you feel
- Talk to parents and seek out recommendations and advice
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions
- Start to see childcare as an exciting opportunity for your child.
Childcare is one of the most important decisions (and investments!) you will have to make as a new parent. Do your research, take advantage of the National Quality Framework ratings, talk to people who’ve been there before so you know what to expect, and take the time to find the right fit for you.