Thinking well ahead is a must if you want your child to go to the child care service of your choice. For example, you might have limited choice in your area, or you might not know how long the waiting lists are.
You should organise child care early because:
- there’s usually high demand for places
- most formal child care services have waiting lists
- regional and rural areas often have limited child care facilities.
It’s a good idea to register your child with services even if you’re only considering a return to work or other change. Taking the time to register will mean you’ll have the option later.
Occasional care and play groups are funded by the government to offer support and respite for at-home parents. These can also fill fast.
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.
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 care workers is a good start. They’ll let you know if your child’s having trouble settling in.
The 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.
If you plan to use a child care centre or family day care, it’s a good idea to ask yourself the following questions.
The program at care
- Are structured activities, naps and mealtimes planned? Is this plan well displayed for parents?
- 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 centre’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?
Facilities at care
- Does the centre/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 for every four babies?
- Is there plenty of room and outdoor equipment for your child to enjoy?
- Is a healthy selection of snacks and drinks offered?
- 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, if applicable, and policy on nutrition.
If you need to pack food for your child to take to child care, there are a few things to remember. Meat or dairy products being transported from home to the centre should be put in an insulated lunch box with a frozen drink bottle to keep the temperature below 5ºC. At the centre, the food should be put in a fridge straightaway. Expressed breastmilk can be transported in an esky with an ice brick to keep it chilled.
You might also want to ask:
- What happens when my child’s sick?
- Will I pay for days we don’t attend?
- What happens if I’m late for a pick-up?
- Who else can pick up my child?
- What do I pack for my child?
- How can I help my child adjust to child care?
Once you’ve chosen the child care setting that best suits your child and you, you’ll need to give some information about your child to her new carers. 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
- your child’s hygiene practices
- 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.