Bringing up baby: your childcare options explained

When her daughter was just a few days old, Amelia decided to enroll her in long daycare. Sure, she wasn’t going back to work for a year, but Amelia figured it was best to get in early. She was horrified when several daycare centres told her she had ‘left it too late’, and really became panicked when not one would guarantee her child a place.

This story will surprise no one who has ever looked into childcare. With waiting lists of over a year in some areas, the lack of available childcare in this country is considered by many families to be at crisis point.

The good news is, conventional long daycare is just one of several childcare options, and by exploring the alternatives, you might not only increase your chances of placement, but find somewhere that better suits the needs of your child and your family.

Before you choose

The key to narrowing down the search and getting your child into the care that best suits their – and your – needs is to have a clear idea of what you require. You might rule out long daycare, for example, if you work shift or casual hours. Similarly, nanny sharing with your best friend may not be the best option if you are looking for a strong socialisation component in your daycare. Ask yourself:

  • What hours will you require and are they regular or occasional?
  • Do you want your child cared for in a centre or home environment?
  • What level of education do you want the daycare to provide?
  • What is your preferred child/carer ratio?
  • Do you need an option that qualifies you for the Child Care Rebate?

Know your options

Long daycare

Childcare centres that provide long daycare can be private, public or not-for-profit. They are often purpose-built and have an early educational component, making them attractive to those looking for more than a child-minding service.

“A key benefit of choosing a long day care setting is the assurance provided by the Australian government’s newly introduced Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality Framework,” explains Heather Finlayson, Victorian State Manager for Goodstart Early Learning Centres.

“The Framework sets a foundation to ensure that children in early years settings, such as long daycare, experience quality teaching and learning. It sets out key aspects of quality that must be met by all early learning centres and centres are assessed by a government regulatory body.”

Most childcare centres are open between 7.30am and 6.00pm, which can be a real positive for back-to-work mums and dads as long as you can get there in time to pick up your child – hefty fines apply for late parents. Many also take children as young as six weeks old, and will include things like nappies, linen and meals in their fees.

Most childcare centres are approved childcare services, which means clients may be eligible for government rebates. The median weekly childcare fees for long daycare, based on 50 hours a week are $285 after rebates (see below).

The long wait

The Federal Government has developed the Priority of Access Guidelines, which ensure that families with the greatest need for childcare are dealt with quicker than others on waiting lists. Children in Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander families, those from low income households, non-English speaking backgrounds or socially isolated areas or single parent families all get prioritised. These guidelines apply to long daycare, family daycare, in home care and outside school hours care centres. Get the guidelines here.

Family day care

Another popular option is family daycare, also known as home-based care, where a professional carer looks after your child in their home. The carer sometimes has a child of their own and the number of children they can take in differs from state to state.

Depending on the availability of the carer, they may be able to take your child for whole or part of the day and sometimes on weekends or even overnight, which offers more flexibility for shirt of casual workers, but many facilities aren’t open as late and will only take children from 12 months of age. You may often also need to supply your own meals, nappies, linen and other equipment.

Most family daycare workers are self-employed and, having shown that they meet certain quality standards, work as contractors with a family daycare scheme.

The majority of family daycare services are approved childcare services, which means that families using the service may be eligible for government rebates. The median weekly childcare fees for family daycare, based on 50 hours a week are $270 after rebates.

Nanny sharing

Once strictly the domain of the rich and famous, an increasing number of families are finding that employing a nanny to care for their child is not only more convenient, but also cost effective.

“Nanny sharing involves one nanny caring for the children of two families at once,” explains Louise Dunham, Managing Director of in-home-child-care provider Placement Solutions. “The children gather at one of the families’ homes, or they alternate between houses.”

Benefits include flexibility of hours, the convenience of no commute to a daycare centre, and personalised care. “Our agency’s ratio of a maximum of one carer to four children ensures children receive the attention and care they require,” adds Dunham.

She stresses it is important to establish that the core values of the families sharing the nanny are in sync, especially in the areas of discipline, nutrition, education and screen time, including what can and cannot be viewed or played on televisions and computers.

Nannies charge around $30 per hour, and this cost is divided between the families using the service. Families are only eligible for government rebates if they meet certain criteria, such as if the child has, or lives with another child who has, an illness or disability or the child lives in a rural or remote area.

Occasional care

This service is suitable for families who need someone to look after their preschool-age children on a casual basis, for example when the parent has a medical appointment, or prefer regular care without the commitment. Most councils offer occasional care, which often operates as part of their maternal and baby health centres, and costs can range from $10 per hour upwards. Parents who use occasional care are usually only eligible for government rebates if they are employed or studying.

Outside school hours care

These centres provide care for primary school aged children before and after school and during school holidays. Centres are usually located on primary school sites or at childcare centres.

Most outside school hours care programs involve organised activities such as art, sports, excursions and games and fees are around $15 per afternoon.

The majority of outside school hours care centres are approved childcare services. This means that families using the service may be eligible for government rebates.

Financial assistance

To help with childcare costs, the Australian Government offers two types of financial assistance: the Child Care Rebate and the Child Care Benefit.

Child Care Rebate

You can choose to receive the Child Care Rebate on a weekly, fortnightly, quarterly or annual basis, paid either to your child care service as a fee reduction or directly to your bank account.

The Child Care Rebate pays up to 50 per cent of your out-of-pocket expenses for childcare up to an annual cap. For the 2012-2013 income year, the Child Care Rebate annual cap is $7500 per child per year.

It is not income tested, so you may be eligible to receive it even if you don’t get the Child Care Benefit.

Child Care Benefit

The Child Care Benefit is income tested, and payments depend on a family’s income and number of children in care. The maximum rate is capped at $41,026 and is usually paid directly to childcare providers to reduce the fees that eligible families pay.

To receive this benefit, you must be using Child Care Benefit-approved childcare, which includes long daycare, family daycare, outside schools hours care, occasional care and in home care.

Children under seven years of age must meet the Government’s immunisation requirements and to receive the Child Care Rebate you must have work or study commitments.

To find out more about government rebates and to check your eligibility, click here.

Where to start?

To find a range of childcare services in your area, head to your local council’s website or visit careforkids.com.au.

By Margaret Ambrose

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