About child care in Australia

There are four options for child care in Australia:

  • home-based care
  • centre-based care
  • family day care
  • outside school hours care.

Child care is also known as early childhood education and care. It’s mainly designed for children up to five years, but it also includes care for primary school-age children.

All children living in Australia have the right to access child care services. Children can’t be excluded from child care on the basis of their ethnicity, family circumstances or ability.

Home-based care

Home-based care is when a friend, relative, babysitter or nanny cares for your child in your own home.

You might choose to organise home-based child care because other child care options aren’t available when you need them, or they don’t meet your needs.

Many families use informal home-based care – for example, grandparents or other relatives look after children, either regularly or occasionally.

Other families make more formal arrangements – for example, they use babysitters or nannies.

Babysitters are handy for occasional care – for example, when you’re going out for an appointment or social event. For longer and more regular hours of care, you might choose to employ a nanny. Nannies are generally more experienced and better qualified than babysitters.

You might be able to access the Australian Government’s In Home Care program to assist with the cost of child care provided in the family home by an educator who meets minimum qualification requirements. You have to be working non-standard or variable hours, be geographically isolated or have complexities or challenges in your family to be eligible.

Centre-based day care: long day care and occasional care

Centre-based care includes long day care, occasional care, preschools and kindergartens.

Long day care at a child care centre suits many families who work regular weekdays.

Some child care centres offer occasional care for families who need someone to look after their children every now and then. This is a good option for parents who work irregular or unpredictable hours.

Preschools or kindergartens operating from stand-alone centres offer education and care programs for children aged three or four years.

Centre-based care has some advantages and benefits. It:

  • is reliable
  • offers structure and routine
  • offers lots of opportunities for children to play and socialise with many other children.

Family day care

Family day care is when your child is looked after by an approved carer in the carer’s home.

Family day care has some advantages and benefits. It:

  • is a home-based environment, which many families like
  • offers lots of opportunities for children to play and socialise with other children
  • can be flexible – for example, if you just need care for part of the day.

Family day care might be less reliable than centre-based care – for example, you might have to find back-up care if your carer gets sick.

If you’re interested in family day care or centre-based child care, it’s a good idea to visit family day care homes or child care centres so you can get a feel for different services. Our child care checklist can help you work out whether a particular service is right for your family.

Outside school hours care

Outside school hours care is centre-based child care for families who need care before and/or after school, on student-free days and during the school holidays. It’s only for primary school-age children.

Carers in centre-based child care services, family day care and outside school hours care must be qualified in early childhood education. This means that these carers are also educators. They have the skills and training to support your child’s learning, which is a key part of the child care experience.

Which type of child care is right for you?

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

  • How many hours of child care do you need each week?
  • What are the child care options in your area, and how much do they cost?
  • Do you want your child cared for in a home or at a child care centre?
  • Are you looking for child care that matches your family’s interests or values – for example, food choices, musical interests and so on?
  • Do you want your child to experience different styles of care and mix with children from a wide range of social and family backgrounds?
  • Are you looking for child care that’s similar to care at home?
  • What are the quality ratings of the options you’re interested in? You can check quality ratings of child care services at Starting Blocks.

Registering early for child care

When you’ve decided, or even while you’re still deciding, it’s a good idea to register with any services that you’re interested in. It’s OK to put your child on more than one waiting list because you might not get all the days you need from one service alone.