Before deciding whether centre-based long day care is the right choice for you and your child, you need to consider what it seeks to offer and how different centres operate.
Long day care centres (also known as centre-based day care) provide full or part-time care for children under school age. They are open during weekdays, normally for 10-12 hours per day, for most weeks of the year.
Different centres cater for children of different age groups. Some centres provide care for babies from the time they are born; the majority set minimum age limits.
The Goals Of Long Day Care
The Australian Confederation of Child Care (ACCC) points out that long day care centres are not to be mistaken for babysitting facilities. Their goal is to provide children with a nurturing and stimulating environment, with access to early learning and developmental programs, under the supervision of professionally trained and experienced staff. Programs emphasise fun in learning, personal growth and social interactions; they vary a lot from centre to centre and can include arts and crafts, music, reading, games and excursions.
Long day care centres are sometimes run privately as a small business, sometimes by councils or they can be sponsored and managed by a church or community group. Occasionally, they are set up by employers for their staff.
In addition, some long day care centres also provide occasional care , outside-of-school-hours care for school age children and vacation care. According to the ACCC, long day care centres offer these services to encourage continuity of care, from birth to school, and to enable siblings to spend time in the same location.
How Do You Judge The Quality Of A Centre?
All centres are licensed, which means that they are required by law to adhere to regulations that set minimum quality standards on issues such as the number of children in care, the size of physical premises, the ratio of staff to children, staff qualifications, staff security checks, health and safety. The licensing regulations are administered by state/territory governments.
A national accreditation system for long day care centres is now in place. The system, known as the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System (QIAS), is administered by the National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC).
The council is an incorporated association. Its members and staff make decisions about whether centres should be accredited and also about the frequency of accreditation reviews, based on a set of guidelines known as the 52 Principles Of Quality Care.
All long day care centres receiving the Commonwealth Child Care Benefit on behalf of parents must participate in the accreditation system. In practice, this means that all centres in Australia (around 4,000 at present) have either already received accreditation or have registered for accreditation and are going through the process.
New centres have to operate for 18 months before they are accredited.
Accredited long day care centres display a certificate of accreditation. Parents can also ask to see the accreditation report and recommendations.
There are also associations in each state/territory to represent both community-run and privately-owned childcare centres. They assist their members in achieving quality standards and provide a referral and information service for parents.
How Can You Find Out About Long Day Care Centres Near You?
The children services’ section of your local council can usually provide you with a list of names and telephone numbers of long day care centres in your area, including the ones that are privately run.
Alternatively, for a list of centres in your area you can call the Commonwealth Government’s Child Care Access hotline 1800 670 305 or try the directory on the NCAC website .
It Is Best To Try All Options For A Comprehensive List.
Long day care centres funded by the Commonwealth Government have a set of Priority of Access Guidelines. These guidelines give priority in the allocation of places to the children of parents who are working, training or studying, or looking for work.
Children with a disability or at risk also have priority of access.
Depending on where you live, long day care centres may have waiting lists, particularly for babies, so you should start making enquiries as early as possible.
How Much Does Long Day Care Cost?
Fees for long day care are usually paid on a per day basis. They vary from centre to centre.
As a general guide, they range from $24 to $60 per day. Talk to individual centres to find out what services they supply and what their fees are.
Parents using long day care centres may be eligible for fee relief under the Commonwealth Child Care Benefit scheme .
Choosing Centre-Based Care: A Checklist
- Childcare ‘veterans’ suggest you should rely at least partly on your ‘gut feel’. Does the centre feel right to you? Go and visit the centre more than once, and stay and watch the children interact with the caregivers.
- What is the physical environment like? Is it relaxed, clean and attractive? Is the equipment in good working order? Check out both the indoor play areas and the playground.
- How are staff communicating with the children? Do they spend time talking to the children? Do they have a warm and encouraging manner? Do they know each child’s name? Do they join in and play with the children?
- How are centre staff communicating with you? Are they answering your questions clearly? Are they asking you questions to try and find out how to care for your child?
- Ask about meals, arrangements for rest and changing nappies/clothes, and the daily routine.
- Does the centre have an orientation process in place for new children and parents?
- Does the centre have a wide range of well-maintained toys and equipment? What selection of activities do they offer children?
- Is the centre accredited or registered for accreditation under the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System?
- Are the centre’s policies on discipline, illnesses, accidents, leaving and picking up children, etc. well documented and readily available?
- Can you drop in and visit at any time?
Your Rights As A Parent
- All centres are expected to have written information on their philosophy and policies and to make this available to parents.
- Centres should also be able to provide you with details of their programs and show you reports of your child’s development.
- Children should be supervised at all times and always able to turn to an adult.
- As a parent you should be encouraged to give and obtain feedback, and participate in the centre’s programs if you so wish.
- You have a right to question a centre’s practices and to be kept informed about any changes.
- If you believe a centre is operating in breach of licensing regulations, contact your state/territory government.