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Child care - what are my options?

10-minute read

Key facts

  • Child care is a range of care options for kids up to 12 years old, such as family day care, centre-based care or babysitters.
  • Family day care is given in approved homes and offers smaller groups and flexible hours.
  • Centre-based care is given in dedicated facilities and provide structured programs for preschool and school-aged children.
  • Consider staff qualifications, cost and adult-to-child ratios when choosing child care.
  • There is a Child Care Subsidy to help families cover the cost of approved child care.

What is child care?

The term 'child care' covers a wide range of informal and formal care options for children from birth to 12 years of age:

  • Family day care is when your child is cared for in the home of an registered educator. Benefits include smaller groups and flexible hours in a home-like environment.
  • Centre-based care offers child care from birth to school-aged children, during the day and outside of school hours. It usually takes place in a dedicated child care centre. Short- or long-day care may be available, as well as occasional and holiday care.
  • Informal child care may be given by family members or friends, a neighbour or someone who isn't related, such as babysitters or nannies.

Many families use a mix of formal and informal care. This can help families:

  • when work hours and care hours don't match
  • if you need an evening out
  • during unexpected times such as illness or an emergency

Occasional care, in-home care, creches, mobile services and some school holiday care programs are not regulated under the National Quality Framework.

How do I choose a child care provider?

When choosing a provider you should consider these important features:

  • Qualifications — Do the staff have appropriate experience, qualifications and accreditation (if required)?
  • Location — Is it close to home or to work, school public transport or parking?
  • Cost and affordability — What are the daily or weekly costs, as well as any extra expenses, and subsidies you may be able to access?
  • Educational — What are the learning activities and educational outcomes?
  • Ratios — What is the adult-to-child ratio and group sizes — more adults and smaller groups should mean your child gets more attention.
  • Flexibility — Do they have flexible hours?
  • Accessibility — Do you need assistance for children with disabilities?

You should be able to arrange a visit to centres and meet the staff.

The educator should be either accredited or registered. This means they have met national standards to work with children which are monitored by the Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority. Different states and territories may have different requirements, so you should check what is expected where you live.

How do I choose a babysitter, nanny or au pair?

A babysitter, nanny or au pair, is someone who is paid to look after your children — usually in your home. This type of service is not regulated. Choosing the right person will mean you can be confident your children will be well cared for when you go out.

You can arrange a babysitter directly with the individual, or through a registered agency. There are also agencies for au pairs.

There is no legal age in Australia at which children can be left at home alone.

You are legally required to make sure your child is properly looked after and not left in a situation where they could come to harm. Young children will always need to be cared for, but you may still need a babysitter for older children if they are easily afraid or likely to misbehave or take risks. You know your child best and what they need.

What should I look for in a babysitter, nanny or au pair?

The main things to look for are that the babysitter is someone you can trust and someone your child is comfortable with. It is also important that the babysitter is available for the hours you need them.

Child care agencies must conduct police and reference checks for anyone who will be working with children. This is known as a Working with Children Check in some states and territories or a blue card in Queensland.

It is up to you to decide if the babysitter is suitable. Most good nannies and babysitters will have good references. Always check references or ask others about their experiences.

Some things to ask yourself when considering someone to look after your child include:

  • Does the babysitter have experience with children of the same age as your child?
  • If you have more than one child, does the babysitter have experience with taking care of more than one child at once?
  • What are they like when meeting your child?
  • Have they undergone first aid training?
  • How will they deal with emergencies?
  • How will manage if your child misbehaves?
  • How will they occupy your child?

If you have any concerns about the person looking after your child, you should ask them to leave. If you suspect that they have harmed or endangered your child, report them to the agency (if engaged through an agency) and to the police.

What information should I give the babysitter?

You should give the babysitter important information including:

  • what you expect of them and when you will be back
  • emergency contact details (including the address where the child is being looked after and the nearest cross streets)
  • any medicine or allergy instructions
  • how to reach you
  • house rules (meal times, bath time, bed time, what they are and are not allowed to do)
  • your child's likes and dislikes

Make sure they understand child safety especially if they will bathe your child, put them to sleep or drive them in a car.

It is also a good idea to agree on a fee upfront. How much you pay them depends on their age, experience, how often you need them and the hours you need the care. The average hourly rate in Australia is $20 per hour.

Is child care in Australia subsidised?

Child care can be expensive. Currently, the Australian Government offers the Child Care Subsidy. It can help you meet the costs of child care at approved centres.

Some families may also be eligible for the Additional Child Care Subsidy which provides extra help with the cost of approved child care.

These payments will only apply for approved child care such as:

  • centre-based care, including long day care and occasional care
  • family day care
  • outside school hours care, including before and after school care and vacation care
  • in-home care

Families using informal child care such as a grandparent or babysitter might be eligible for financial assistance if the person is registered with the Department of Human Services.

When should my child start child care?

There is no 'best time' to start child care. The decision of if or when to start child care will depend on what suits your family and your child.

Many centres have waiting lists. If you are thinking about child care, it is a good idea to join the list of the centres you may wish to your child to attend. It's best to start this process well before you think you may need care, so it's available when you need it.

How do I prepare my child for child care?

Starting child care can be an emotional experience for parents and children. With some preparation and support from child care providers, it can be a positive experience.

Children can find it difficult to settle into a new environment especially when separating from family or familiar carers (also known as separation anxiety).

Here are some tips to help your child adjust to child care:

  • Start with just a few hours or days in care and build up slowly.
  • Share a brief activity with your child before leaving them.
  • Let care providers know how your child likes to be comforted.
  • Clearly tell your child you will return and say goodbye in a positive manner.

How can I find a child care facility?

It can be helpful to ask family and friends who live in your area about child care facilities.

Search child care services by the Australian Government to find:

  • approved child care services
  • fees
  • vacancies
  • quality ratings
  • inclusions

How can I find a babysitter, nanny or au pair for my child?

There are many ways to find someone suitable to look after your child and to cater to your family's needs.

  • Ask other parents, your doctor or nurse for recommendations.
  • Ask local childcare workers if they will babysit outside their usual hours.
  • Check the noticeboards at your local community health centre, school, library or shops.
  • Use an agency.

Make sure you always screen babysitters you have never met before.

Resources and support

Other online resources with further information are:

Looking for information for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people?

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2024


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