Family day care is a popular choice because it offers supervised care of small groups in a home environment.
Family day care is carried out in the homes of ‘family day carers’ (as they are called in most states). They provide childcare and developmental activities for children from newborn to 12 years of age. Each family day carer looks after a small group of children of mixed ages.
Children in family day care participate in creative play and early learning activities, socialise with other children and go for outings to playgroups, parks, etc.
The hours of care can be set according to what individual parents need, and may include overnight, vacation and out-of school hours and emergency care. Because of this flexibility, family day care particularly suits parents who work on a casual, on-call or shift basis.
How Is Family Day Care Run?
Family day carers are organised in local networks known as ‘family day care schemes’.
These schemes are usually managed by non-profit ‘sponsors’, such as a local council, church or community group; or they are run as incorporated entities in their own right. The Commonwealth Government provides funding to assist their operations. (In South Australia, the system is a little different, as family day care is sponsored by the State Government.)
There are close to 350 family day care schemes operating in Australia at present and more than 100,000 children in family day care. Each scheme is run by a central co-ordination unit.
This unit assists both parents and carers. Unit staff recruit carers, resource them with toys and other equipment, and ensure they have access to specialist training. They put parents and carers in touch with each other, monitor the care provided, give advice and support to parents and undertake the necessary administrative responsibilities.
Licensing regulations, and the process of approving carers, vary in each state/territory.
These regulations set minimum standards and cover issues such as insurance, safety checks on the carers, safety checks on the houses, the number of children carers can look after in total (usually up to seven) and the mix of ages of the children involved.
Family Day Care is now Quality Assured. Regular and spot checks are carried out on each scheme by the National Child Care Accreditation Council (NCAC).
Your local council should be able to provide you with a contact number for the co-ordination unit of the family day care scheme/s operating in your area. Alternatively, call the National Family Day Care Council (NFDCCA) on 1800 658 699.
Family day care schemes follow the Commonwealth Government’s Priority of Access Guidelines and give priority to the children of parents who are working, studying, training or actively looking for work. Children with a disability or children at risk also receive priority in the allocation of places.
Choosing A Family Day Carer – A Checklist
The family day care co-ordination unit will help you find a suitable carer. At the outset, unit staff will interview you, to get to know your needs and the needs of your child, and they will ask you to fill out some forms. They will put you in touch with carers who have ‘vacancies’. It is then up to you to visit them and find a good ‘match’ for your child.
- Environment. Check out the home environment. Is the house well looked after and clean? Is it cheerful and bright?
- Safety. Are dangerous objects out of reach? Are the outdoor areas securely fenced?
- Play. Is there a good selection of well-maintained toys for the children to play with?
- Routine. Ask the carer about the daily routine. What will your child do all day? What are the arrangements for resting? What about meals? What are the nappy changing/toileting procedures?
- Expectations. Discuss your expectations and ask the carer about her expectations. It is important to do this before care commences to ensure a good ‘working’ relationship between you and your carer.
- Professional. The best carers are the ones who abide firmly by the guidelines set by the family day care coordination unit. These may apply to late pick-ups, or sick children (especially sick children).
- Behaviour management. Carers are given advice by their coordinators on behaviour management, but it’s important that you make clear your opinion to your carer.
When you have selected a carer, notify the co-ordination unit staff of your choice. Don’t forget that the unit’s staff are there to give support and advice on an on-going basis, so keep in touch.
Working With Your Family Day Carer – Things To Consider
- Although in family day care there is no formal orientation process for new parents and children, the ‘settling in’ phase is just as crucial as it is in centre-based care. If you can, spend some time with the child while he or she is adjusting to this new environment. Get to meet the other children being looked after by the carer. Observe your child interacting with her or his new companions.
- Watch the interaction between your child and the carer. Does the carer relate warmly to your child? Does she listen and respond to what your child says? How is your child relating to her? Does your child turn to the carer for comfort and support, and to ask questions?
- Allow time to chat to the carer when you go and pick up or collect your child. Ask if you can drop in if your schedule changes.
- Make sure you leave your contact numbers at all times, plus details of another person who can be easily contacted if there is a problem or urgent enquiry, and you can’t be reached.
- Finally, don’t forget to discuss any special needs your child may have, such as asthma or a food allergy, and how you deal with them.