The key to making child care work is doing what best suits you and your child. Here are some ideas to help you start planning your child care choices.
Signing up early for child care
Planning ahead can help you find a child care service that suits your family. You should organise child care early because:
- there can be high demand for places
- many formal child care services have waiting lists
- regional, rural and other areas often have limited child care facilities.
It’s a good idea to register your child with services even if you’re only thinking about a return to work or other change. Although some services charge a fee for registering your child or placing her on a waiting list, registering now means you’ll have the option later.
To find available child care places in your area, phone the Child Care Access Hotline on 1800 670 305 (freecall). This is the national hotline funded by the Australian Government to help parents find child care vacancies.
Starting child care: what age?
There’s no best time to start child care – it all depends on what suits your family and child.
There are some advantages to having your children, especially a newborn, at home longer, including:
- easier breastfeeding
- a chance for you and your child to bond
- time to get to know your child
- one-to-one nurturing contact with your child.
The first time you leave your child in care, no matter what his age, is likely to be challenging. Some children will cry the first few times you leave them, but things usually get easier after this. Having a good relationship with your child’s carers and educators is a good start. They’ll let you know if your child is having trouble settling in.
Choosing care for your child
Different types of child care all offer slightly different things to you and your child.
You might want to have your child cared for in a home environment, or you might prefer the structure and formality of a child care centre. You might try several different types of child care before you find what works best for your family.
To get a better idea of what’s on offer, you could visit local child care services or carers to see what you think of them. Trust your own reaction and instinct, as well as doing research on the options available. If it feels right, chances are it will be.
Some services are given a quality rating to help you decide. You can find quality ratings for services at Starting Blocks.
Questions to ask about child care services
When you’re looking at different options for child care centres, family day care or occasional care, asking the following questions can help you work out whether the service is right for you and good quality.
- Are structured activities, naps and mealtimes planned? Is this plan on display?
- Is there a chance for quiet time or rest during the day?
- Will staff report back fully on your child’s day?
- Is there easy-to-access information about the service’s policies, level of staff training, hygiene and discipline procedures?
- Is the environment stimulating and safe?
- Does the centre or home have a relaxed and happy atmosphere?
- Do the staff spend time talking to and encouraging the children?
Relationship with parents
- Do you feel welcome to discuss any issues with staff?
- Can you and your child do an orientation program?
- Can you drop in at any time to visit and observe your child in the environment?
- Will other family members be encouraged to be involved in activities?
- Does the centre or home seem bright and interesting, with plenty of light and lots of toys and activities?
- Will your child have the chance to explore and create?
- Do toileting, nappy changing and rest times meet individual needs?
- Check the ratio – for example, is there at least one carer or educator for every four babies?
- Is there plenty of room and outdoor equipment for your child to enjoy?
- Does the service offer a healthy selection of snacks and drinks?
- Are meals provided, or do you need to supply them?
- Do snacks and meal arrangements meet children’s individual needs?
- Does the centre follow Australian dietary guidelines for children? The centre should be able to show you their menu and policy on nutrition.
- What happens when your child is sick?
- Will you pay for days you don’t attend?
- What happens if you’re late for a pick-up?
- Who else can pick up your child?
- What do you pack for your child?
- How can you help your child adjust to child care?
- What is your service’s quality rating?
Information to give carers
Once you’ve chosen the child care setting that best suits your family, you’ll need to give some information about your child to her new carers and educators. This is likely to include information about:
- your child’s wellbeing, including sleeping patterns, emotional and social preferences, and any unusual events that might be affecting her
- any food allergies, intolerances or other medical conditions your child has
- any help your child needs with toileting
- learning activities your child enjoys
- any concerns you have about your child’s development
- any cultural or individual differences in practice that need to be considered sensitively and positively.