As well as providing care, child care services provide an opportunity for your child to develop social, emotional and physical skills. Getting into a service can be a long process however and doing some early planning can help you get space with your preferred service.
For example, many child care services have wait lists for when spaces open with them. Parents and carers are recommended to join their preferred wait lists 12 months or more before the date they hope to start their child with a service.
Even before that though, there are some things to consider.
Return to work or study
If one or both parents and carers are planning to work, study, train or volunteer you will need to think about how many hours you will be engaged a fortnight. This is called your activity level and will affect how much subsidised care you can access.
There are different types of child care depending on the amount of time needed, so this can also help decide which service best suits you.
It's also helpful to start getting familiar with child care practices and standards. Starting Blocks is a good place to begin. It replaces Child Care Finder as the government's online tool for finding local child care services and has a lot of child care tips and information for parents and carers as well. Click on the globe icon for translations.
How much child care costs is also an important consideration.
The cost of child care depends a lot on:
- the type of child care you choose (see the Choose your child care section below for more info)
- the provider’s structure (whether it's a not for profit community run service, or a for profit service)
- where the child care service is located.
Some services cost more and might provide nappies, meals and extra educational programs (for example, a visiting music educator).
If your first choice of provider is full, they may offer to add you to their waiting list. Be aware that you may be charged a fee to join a waiting list.
To find out how much child care may cost, you can also check Starting Blocks' fees estimator.
Financial support and subsidies
To find out more about paying fees and financial supports available visit the Federal Government's website Accessing childcare.
You may be able to apply for a Child Care Subsidy (CSS) to help manage your child care expenses. Services Australia can tell you if you’re eligible for a subsidy.
Applications for the Child Care Subsidy are lodged through your MyGov account and usually take 4 to 6 weeks to process. Applicants will receive notifications throughout the waiting period.
Pay for child care
Once your child is enrolled and going to the service you’ll be charged fees. Usually you’ll get an invoice to be paid on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Many providers offer a direct debit service.
If you are receiving a Child Care Subsidy you will still need to pay any gap fees. The gap fee is the difference between the full cost of child care and the amount covered by the Child Care Subsidy.
Services may also ask for an advance payment. For example you may have to pay for the first 2 weeks upfront when your child starts child care.
There are different types of child care services:
- Long day care is available for children whose families are working or studying, or just need some regular time off and offers regular booked days of care for 1-5 days each week for 0-5 year-olds.
- Family day care is based in a qualified educator’s home with a very small number of other children.
- Occasional care helps parents and carers with less formal needs, like needing 2 hours for an appointment or to rest every now and again.
- In-home care is when a carer cares for your child in your own home. This is usually called a nanny or au pair.
Find a service
Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll need to find a convenient child care centre. This could be close to where you live, or close to work.
There are a number of ways you can find a child care service.
You can use online services such as Starting Blocks.
Starting Blocks includes:
- information about the service's quality rating
- information about the service's availability and costs
- useful tips for parents and carers.
Councils often include a list of child care services within their local government area on their website.
It's also common to reach out to family and friends for advice, find parents groups in your area, or use social media.
Visit a service
It is important to visit the service in person to see how it operates.
Most child care services welcome enquiries and will organise a visit. During the visit you can see the service, its staff and the children attending it.
When you first enter the service, you will be able to tell if its atmosphere is inviting or cold, relaxed or frantic. It should be a safe and comfortable place, and the children should have a choice of interesting activities. Educators should be engaged with children, playing and talking with them.
The service will let you know:
- the process to orientate your child into the service
- the educators who will be caring for your child
- the food they provide, make sure you discuss any dietary requirements or allergies your child may have
- the daily routine, opening hours, arrival and departure procedures
- what you need to bring - for example, change of clothes, nappies, water bottles, bedding
- policies and procedures of the service.
You can also prepare some questions to ask the service during your visit.
Standards and quality ratings
If you would like more information about a service, you can check the national registers on the Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) website for its quality rating. This information is also available on the Starting Blocks site.
ACECQA is the national regulator for early childhood services operating under the National Quality Framework (NQF). More than 94% of services in Victoria are regulated under the NQF, including:
- long day care
- family day care
- outside school hours care for school aged children.
Occasional care and limited hours care services are regulated under a different, Victorian law.
The NQF aims to ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of children attending services, and to improve their educational and development outcomes.
It does this by setting:
- educator-to-child ratios
- minimum qualifications for educators
- educational programming and assessments of children’s learning
- a wide range of other requirements.
Read more about the NQF on the ACECQA website.
The NQF also promotes ongoing improvement through a cycle of assessment and rating of services’ performance.
Child care services are regularly assessed by 7 quality areas:
- Educational program and practice
- Children’s health and safety
- Physical environment
- Staffing arrangements
- Relationships with children
- Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
- Leadership and service management
They are then given one of 5 ratings:
- Working towards
- Significant improvement required
To learn more about the National Quality Framework visit Starting Blocks' guide.
Once you’ve found your ideal child care service, you’ll need to enrol. This process varies between child care services.
Some information may you need to provide includes:
- child’s name and address and details of any special needs, including medical needs
- information about yourself and any other parents, carers or guardians
- details of the people who can pick up your child
- child’s birth certificate or other identity documents
- your Centrelink Customer Reference Number (CRN)
- details of any parenting orders or legal matters that relate to the care or safety of your child (the child care service must keep your information private)
- your child’s medical health and immunisation status.
Read all the enrolment forms carefully and provide all required information. There may be fees or charges that you can be charged if you don’t meet your obligations to the provider.
If you don’t understand anything on the forms, ask the provider to explain it to you.
If you need to change providers you’ll need to check a couple of things.
Your provider may have a 'minimum notice' period. A minimum notice period is the timeframe (usually a number of weeks) you have to give your provider before you leave. Different providers will have different notice periods. Providers need this so they have time to fill the vacant spot.
If you need or want to change providers before your minimum notice period is finished, the provider may charge you an exit fee.
There may also be a minimum notice period if you change your child's enrolment terms with the same provider. For example, if you reduce the days your child spends with them from 3 to 2 without notice there can be a fee.