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Child care - what are my options?

5-minute read

What is child care?

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

  • Family day care is where your child goes to the home of an approved provider. Benefits include smaller groups and flexible hours.
  • Centre-based care offers child care for pre-school aged children, or care for school-aged children 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 by family members or someone who isn’t related, such as a family friend or neighbour.

Many families use a combination of formal and informal care. This approach can help families, especially when work hours and care hours don’t match, or during unexpected times, like illness.

What should I look for in a child care provider?

When choosing a provider you should consider a number of important features:

  • whether 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 — daily or weekly costs, as well as any extra expenses, and subsidies you may be able to access
  • what are the learning activities and educational outcomes
  • what is the adult-to-child ratios and group sizes — more adults and smaller groups should mean your child gets more attention
  • whether they have flexible hours
  • accessibility for children with disabilities

It's a good idea to start looking for child care well before you need it, as many facilities have waiting lists. You may be able to arrange a visit to the centre and meet the staff. Some providers are accredited. This means they have met national standards, which are monitored by the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority.

Others are registered, but not accredited. Registered providers are still expected to meet certain state or territory requirements of working with children.

Is child care in Australia subsidised?

Child care can be expensive. Currently, the Australian Government offers the Child Care Subsidy, which is not means tested. 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, might be eligible for financial assistance if their care provider is registered.

Visit child care subsidy for more information.

StartingBlocks.gov.au has a Fees Estimate Tool to help you understand what your family might pay for child care.

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, so if you are thinking about signing your child up for child care, it might be a good idea to join the list. It’s best to start this process well before you think you may need care.

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.

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

  • Start slowly 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.

Read more about seperation anxiety.

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.

Here are some helpful websites that will help you find child care services:

Where can I find more information?

  • My Time, Our Place provides information and documents relating to the Framework for School Age Care
  • Starting Blocks.gov.au - resources to help you find a child care service and prepare for child care

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: August 2022


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