When it comes to choosing an early childhood education and care service for your child it can be difficult to choose the right one for you. There are so many options out there when it comes to curriculum and teaching methods, facilities, prices, etc. so, the earlier you start preparing, the better.
Choosing an option that suits you
It’s best to start with thinking about what suits your family’s circumstances This includes the days and hours you might need care for, travel time to and from work/home/care, the schedules of other family members or siblings etc.
You should also take the time to think about what you feel is most important to your family. For example, is small groups of children important? Or maybe having multicultural staff? Maybe it’s having flexible hours? Or is it having a high-quality educational program? What’s important is really very individual to each family and deciding these things prior to your search is essential as this will help you to eliminate any service that doesn’t fit with your needs.
Most services will have a waiting list so, it’s a good idea to put down your child’s name down as early as possible and in more than one place to better your chances of finding a service you are happy with.
Different types of Child care
There are various types of early childhood education and care services and you can choose the one that suits your lifestyle best. Most are regulated under the National Quality Framework (NQF) including:
- Family day care
- Long day care
- Outside school hours care
Other services such as occasional care, crèches, mobile services and some school holiday care programs are not regulated under the NQF, but may be regulated under other state legislation. If you’re not sure if a service is regulated or not, it’s best to ask the service.
How do I know if a service is good Quality
All the regulated services across Australia must meet high national standards to ensure children in their care are safe and are given opportunities for learning and development on a regular basis. These services are given quality ratings by the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority to help families choose the best service for their child and family.
There are seven quality areas which services are rated against under the National Quality Standard:
- Educational program and practice
- Children’s health and safety
- Physical environment
- Staffing arrangements
- Relationships with children
- Collaborative Partnerships with families and communities
- Governance and Leadership
For each of the seven areas, services will receive one of the following ratings:
- Significant Improvement Required
- Working Towards NQS
- Meeting NQS
- Exceeding NQS
Services can also be given an overall “Excellent” rating when they exceed in all seven quality areas.
Research shows quality early education and care leads to better health, education and employment outcomes later in life. So, it’s really important for you to know if the child care service your child will be attending provides quality experiences that will cater for your child’s overall growth and development.
Child care services should have their ratings displayed with the service and you can also find them by searching ACECQA’s national register https://www.acecqa.gov.au/resources/national-registers.
What questions should you ask?
It’s a good idea to write down a few important questions before you go as there is often a lot of information that each service will go through with you during a service tour.
- What hours do you operate?
- What times can I drop off and pick up my child?
- Do you close throughout the year and how long for e.g. Christmas or Easter time
- Will I be able to visit my child or call at any time?
- Will I be charged fees for public holidays or when my child is not there?
- Do you provide things like nappies and meals, or do I need to bring them from home?
- What is the ratio of staff to children?
- What skills, qualifications and experience do the staff have?
- Has your service been quality rated and what was the rating?
- What ages do you care for? This is important because you might need to think about future child care options if they only provide care for children aged from birth to five.
- How will I know that my child’s learning and development will be encouraged?
- What are your internal policies and procedures?
- Will I be eligible for any subsidies or other financial assistance?
The above questions are good place to start but it is also important to include any questions which reflect what your family values.
While there is a lot of information and options to sift through what is right for one family is not always right for another. Given this, what is most important is really to trust your instincts as a parent, if a place feels comfortable for you then it is probably the best choice for your family.