Written by: Genie Price
Finding childcare or even occasional care for your child can be a daunting, overwhelming experience, which is often no family vacation.
It’s normal to be plagued by a million questions when considering such an investment. Understandably so, you want what is best for your bundle of joy, and you need to be at ease with your choice.
A recent publication produced by the Menzies School of Health Research identifies the first five years of a child’s life as being the most critical. The findings indicate the positive impacts a child’s early learning experiences within their family, community and early learning environments have on early brain development. Therefore, establishing the solid foundations for their future health, learning and behaviour.
So, why wouldn’t you want quality care for your child?
You would. But how do you know which centre is right for you?
Here are some important points to consider when you start out on the hunt for the right centre.
Discuss your ideal setting
Before you dive into calling all manner of centres, start by making a list of questions you and your family consider to be important benchmarks towards your pint-sized person’s care.
Questions to think about:
- Are you wanting an in-home care service (Family Day Care), or a larger, more structured setting (Long Day Care)?
- How does the centre support and encourage breastfeeding mothers? Is there a private space for doing so?
- What are the sleep routines and options? Does the centre provide meals? Or, do you have to provide these? Does the menu include a variety of nutritious foods?
- What illnesses are excluded and for how long? (Ask to see all policies and procedures).
- How many days, and what hours of care do you need?
- What is the daily fee, and are government rebates available?
- Are nappies and wipes included with the fee, or are these provided by the parent?
- Is location important, or can you negotiate this?
Writing a list will help narrow down your search. It will also decrease stress, and give you a reference point to work from.
It is not unheard of for many centres, particularly the more popular names to have a waitlist. Popular centres will have families scrambling for spots, so start your search early, even while you are pregnant. This will increase your chances of securing a spot, and allow you time to make a well-informed decision.
Google is a great tool. Don’t be afraid to be a keyboard warrior and research. Shop around to compare centres which fit your criteria and ask friends and other families for recommendations.
Asking for recommendations can be another way to narrow your search options. Centres which carry a recommendation are a good place to start. Remember, each centre is different, so be prepared to negotiate changes to your list in order to find a suitable place.
Another useful tool to simplify the hunt is www.careforkids.com.au. Centres here are listed by area and postcode. You can apply to be waitlisted and have email alerts sent to you to keep you updated on upcoming spots.
Make a tour booking
Childcare is not all snotty noses and children snatching toys, in fact, it can be quite the opposite.
Over 75% of centres in Australia have been assessed as either meeting or exceeding expectations by the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), therefore, taking the tour will help ease worry, and finalise your decision. Call the centre, and discuss your needs. Use your list of questions to help.
Were you happy with the responses? If so, make an appointment to have a tour. If not, keep looking.
When you first visit
Don’t be put off by wild children, as the purpose of the first visit is to meet the staff, view teaching practices, space and resources, and again – ask questions.
Any staff you come across should be professional in both their appearance and their approach to you.
Expect a senior Educator from your child’s room to speak to you, while another, takes your child for a look around and play.
Use this time to discuss your home routines and what interests your child.
It’s important to make time to delve into policies and procedures also. Some of the most common are the unwell child and minimising infections, menu options and allergy management, disciplinary and grievance procedures, as well as staffing arrangements for unwell educators.
If you have inclusive needs, discuss these at this point also. It is important to be transparent from the get go. If you feel even the slightest bit of reluctance to leave your child here, move on.
Staff – Child interactions
Trusting others with your child is a huge decision. We have all been there.
When visiting the centre watch your child with the Educators. Interactions should be positive and encouraging. The Australia Institute defines quality as staff who show genuine interest, use open-ended questions and display nurturing, reciprocal connections with the children.
So, rest assured when you find such a place, you might very well call it perfect.
Skip centres that either have no daily program displayed or offer one that is unchallenging. Your child’s development relies on the program.
Babies’ spaces should be free from clutter and be well-supervised. Interactions should be calm and happy. If babies are spending long periods in jolly jumpers or infant seats, with little interaction, cross this facility off your list.
Acecqa confirms a quality centre will display a curriculum which incorporates a variety of social, physical and creative play. As well as both individual and group activities, quiet and rest times, and scheduled meal times.
Your child will thrive in a setting where they are supported to explore and make new discoveries.
Until your precious treasure can talk, you will be relying on the Educator to tell you about their day.
It’s important that you can communicate comfortably with each other, and ideally, you should not be fighting for attention. In order to build the long-standing partnership you need, clear communication is critical.
Go with your gut
Every parent knows when something doesn’t feel quite right. If a centre has had bad reviews or a so-so reputation, be wary. It’s perfectly ok to say, “no thanks.”
Your child deserves, and will succeed under good, responsive and nurturing care. If something doesn’t feel right about the situation, advocate for your child and continue to investigate other options.