There are a number of different childcare options for pre-schoolers in Australia, and it can be difficult working out what’s best for your family and circumstances.
Did you know fees can be government subsidised according to combined family income? More information can be obtained from the government website with an income estimator available.
Early learning centres, daycare centres, long daycare
These are interchangeable terms for regulated childcare facilities. Typically they operate Monday to Friday, often for up to 12 hours per day to accommodate working families.
These centres can either be run by private operators, local councils, or community organisations, so services and fees can differ widely.
Childcare services are highly regulated and must adhere to the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), National Quality Standards, Children’s Services Regulations and Children’s Services Act. Eligible families can receive the Government Childcare Benefit (CCB) and Childcare Rebate (CCB). More information can be obtained from the government website with an income estimator available.
The benefits of this type of service are many. Hours that suit most working families, qualified educators, meals are usually included, interaction with other children, and the knowledge that they are adhering to set safety and educational requirements.
In general, family daycare involves a qualified educator, or experienced carer, who provides care in their own home for other people’s children. A family daycare operator is usually only allowed up to four children.
Family daycare educators do need to align their activities with the EYLF, and they can offer flexible hours depending on the family needs. This could include longer hours; in some instances, families even negotiate overnight care.
Some of the pitfalls of family daycare are that if the carer is unwell or goes on holiday, families need to find alternative care, often at very short notice. Due to having so few children, they are not exposed to as many experiences or ideas as their daycare peers.
Family daycare does qualify for CCB and CCR.
Occasional care is a good option for families who do not need consistent, regular care during long hours. Occasional daycare centres are set up like early learning / long daycare in that there are qualified educators and lots of other children to interact with.
Often these services work on a priority basis, with bookings only available up to a week in advance. But often families can only book for a three hour session, so it is not usually an option for working families or those who need consistent care.
Hours can be limited, often not starting until 8am and finishing before 5pm, which is great if a parent has errands to run or time to study, but this tends not to suit working families.
Occasional care does qualify for CCB and CCR.
Preschool generally provides care for children aged between three and six years old, with some being licensed to take children from two years of age. It can also be referred to as kindergarten, and is a sessional kinder with specific operating hours.
Preschool generally reflects school in terms of finishing around 3.30pm and not being open during school holidays. In general, children will only attend two days a week of 7.5 hours per day, or three days a week of 5 hours per day.
If a preschool has more than 29 children they need to provide a university qualified teacher, although smaller preschools often offer this as part of the service.
Preschools are beholden to Government Regulations.
Preschool taught children are generally not eligible for the CCR, however parents can claim the CCB each financial year.
Kindergarten is a funded kinder program with a minimum of 15 hours a week for children to attend to be eligible for kinder funding. While some people choose the preschool option, long daycare centres run a kinder program within the Centre.
The terminology does change between states, so it’s best to check your local government websites. In Queensland, kindergarten generally refers to preschool. In NSW and VIC, kindergarten usually refers to Year K, a child’s first year in school.
A nanny is an individual who is engaged by a family to provide care to their child or children in the family home. If families recruit them directly, they are responsible for ensuring the nanny is employed via Australian employment laws and regulations. Many families choose to go through a nanny service that does the vetting, puts forward recommendations, then takes care of all the paperwork once the nanny has been selected.
While the benefits of having an in-house carer are many, it is often the cost that puts this option out of reach for most families. If the nanny is away sick or on leave, the family must not only pay their sick and annual leave entitlements, but also pay for a temporary nanny during that period.
Some nannies are set up so the family can receive the CCR, however this is rare.
An au pair is generally a young person from overseas, who will live in the family home and provide childcare and do light housework in exchange for a small allowance, accommodation and meals.
Au pairs can work well for families who need flexible care arrangements such as early morning, night, or weekend support.
Often au pair’s are only entitled to stay with a family for up to six months which can be problematic in terms of replacing the carer, training and settling a new person into the home, and the child bonding with their carer. Given the age of the carer (could be as young as 18 or 19 years old) they may not have the experience, or maturity, to care for young children confidently.
Au pairs do not need to hold any formal qualifications, though some are trained (or currently training) as professional carers or even teachers.
There is no Government subsidy for Au pair services.
Whatever service you decide to go with, it is always worth talking to someone in the early learning sector to discuss any questions you have. Any childcare centre will be happy to talk to you. And you should feel free to turn up and take a look around any of your local services.
What kind of care are you looking into for your children? Share with us in the comments.