By Raising Children Network
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Most families will need to rely on child care at some stage in their children’s lives. You might need just one hour a day, one or more days a week, all-day care for up to five days a week or even overnight care.
Mum, dad and daughter sitting

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Debate has raged for decades over whether child care is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for children. But researchers now say that the issue isn’t whether a child is in care – it’s more about quality, and whether the type of care suits your family.
 

There are four options for child care in Australia:

  • home-based care, which is having your child cared for by a friend, relative or nanny in your home
  • family day care with a small group of children in an approved carer’s home
  • centre-based care, in a child care centre with trained staff and a structured program
  • occasional care, which is short-term, centre-based care.

Child care is mainly designed for children aged up to five years, but can also include before-school or after-school hours and holiday care for primary school-age children. These extra services can be a real help for working parents.

From the age of three, children can attend kindergarten or preschool programs in some centres. These usually offer short sessions, from about one hour at the age of three, up to four hours for four-year-olds. Some long day care centres also run kindergarten programs alongside their child care services.

Care, learning and education are a vital part of all child care settings. Programs focus on play-based learning, communication, language (including literacy and numeracy), social skills and emotional development.

Getting help from friends, relatives or a nanny is called informal care. Formal care refers to a registered facility. Most Australian families use more informal care than formal care.

Deciding on type of care

When you’re trying to decide what type of care is right for your family, you might want to consider:

  • whether you or your partner could work from home
  • the possibility of using a nanny or babysitter
  • whether the cost of child care makes it too expensive to return to work 
  • whether you need long day care or just a few hours a day.

Research shows that if child care is of high quality, your child will do best in the style of care that reflects your family’s specific interests or values

So if your family loves outdoor activities, you might prefer to use a centre that supports that. Or you might want a home environment, or a structured program, or somewhere that music is a strong part of learning, or a setting that can cater to Halal food choices. You might be looking for a place that has a cross-section of different activities – whatever fits well with your family’s values.

There can also be advantages to exposing your child to different styles of care and having your child mix with kids from a wide range of social and family backgrounds. This can help your child understand and accept the many different interests, perspectives and values out there in the world.

Our tips on getting started with child care can help you decide on the right child care option for your family.
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  • Last Updated 01-09-2011
  • Last Reviewed 01-03-2011
  • Wise, S. et al. (1995). Child care in cultural context: Issues for new research. Australian Institute of Family Studies Early Child Care Study.