Regulatory schemes for early childhood services
There are two regulatory schemes for early childhood services that operate in Victoria:
- the National Quality Framework (NQF), which consists of the Education and Care Services National Law (National Law) and the Education and Care Services National Regulations (National Regulations)
- the Children's Services Act 1996 (CS Act) and Childrens Services Regulations 2020 (CS Regulations).
Both schemes aim to ensure children attending early childhood services are protected from harm, and that their opportunities for learning and development are maximised.
The regulatory requirements under both schemes are aligned, where appropriate. The main differences between the two schemes are:
- The NQF operates nationally and regulates education and care services that are provided to children on a regular basis. These services are assessed and quality rated against the National Quality Standard.
- The CS Act regulates education and care provided to children on a non-regular, or ad hoc basis in Victoria only. The CS Act is sometimes referred to as State to distinguish it from the NQF. The National Quality Standard does not apply to services regulated under the CS Act.
Services regulated under the National Quality Framework
Around 95 percent of early childhood services in Victoria are regulated under the NQF and are called 'education and care services.
An education and care service provides or intends to provide education and care on a regular basis to children under the age of 13 years.
Services that meet this definition are generally required to operate under the National Quality Framework and include:
- preschools (kindergartens)
- long day care services
- family day care services
- outside school hours care services
- school holiday care program that operate for 28 or more days a year.
For more information, visit National Quality Framework(opens in a new window).
Services regulated under state law
Children's services offer care to children on a non-regular, or ad hoc basis and operate under the Victorian Childrens Services Act1996 (CS Act) and Childrens Services Regulations 2020. These services are often in settings such as neighbourhood houses and recreational facilities.
A children's service provides education and care for four or more children under the age of 13 years when parents of the children are not physically present, and either:
- where the service is provided for fee or reward
- while the parents of the children use sports, leisure or other facilities provided by the provider of the service for the children.
Childrens services include:
- limited hours services (where children attend for a short period of time)
- occasional care services
- mobile services
- school holiday care programs that operate for less than 28 days a year
- certain services that formerly received funding under the Commonwealth Government's Budget Based Funded program or indigenous Advancement Program and were not funded for Child Care Subsidy (CCS).
For more information, visit Childrens services regulated under state law.
Services and activities that do not require approval or regulation
Some services and activities for young children are not included in either regulatory scheme and therefore do not need to be approved by us to operate.
The list of activities below is general, and the final decision in relation to each activity must be made on a case-by-case basis. Operating an education and care service or a children's service without approval is an offence.
The services listed below are specifically excluded from both the definition of education and care service in the National Law and the definition of children's service in the CS Act.
Single activity instruction
A service that principally provides instruction in a particular activity does not need to be approved by us. Examples include but are not limited to sport training, dance classes, music lessons, language or religious classes.
Providing education and care on a regular basis, in a language other than English such as an language immersion program, requires approval by us.
(National Law: section 5(1), CS Act: section 5(1B)(a)).
Care provided by a hotel or resort
A service provided by a hotel or resort to provide education and care to children who are temporary guests of the hotel or resort does not need to be approved by us. For example, a ski resort that offers child-minding services for children staying at the resort.
(National Regulations: regulation 5(2)(d), CS Act: section 5(1B)(f)).
Care provided at a short-term event
A service provided on an ad hoc basis at the place of a meeting, convention, conference, seminar or other short-term event where the parent of, or other person responsible for, the child is a guest, visitor or patron. This service does not need to be approved by us.
(National Regulations: regulation 5(2)(e), CS Act: section 5(1B)(g)).
Care in the childs own home or from a relative
A service providing education and care to children in premises where the majority of the children usually reside, and the educator does not reside, does not need to be approved by us. For example, In Home Care(opens in a new window).
(National Regulations: regulation 5(2)).
Circumstances, where the children are being cared for or educated in their own home or by a relative of the children, do not need to be approved by us.
(CS Act: section 5(2)).
Care by the child's family where the parent retains responsibility for the child
A service where education and care is primarily provided or shared by parents or family members of the children, and a parent or family member is readily available for the period that the child is educated and cared for and retains responsibility for the child, does not need to be approved by us.
(National Regulations: regulation 5(2)(f)).
This would include a playgroup where a group of parents or caregivers with their children gather regularly for play and social interaction, and each parent or caregiver is responsible for the children they bring to the playgroup.
However, a "rostered playgroup" with a paid facilitator, where children may attend in the absence of their parents, may require approval from us.
Personal or informal arrangement
The following arrangements do not need to be approved by the department.
An informal arrangement for one person to care for or educate someone else's child does not need to be approved by the department, as long as:
- at least one child is being cared for or educated in his or her own home and
- there are no more than four children under the age of 6.
(CS Act section 5(3)).
This would include situations where one family, or a group of parents, arrange for their children to be cared for by a babysitter or nanny in one of the parent's homes.
Children who are aged six years or over, or who are enrolled at a preparatory level at school, that are being cared for or educated outside their own home under an informal arrangement between a parent or custodian of the children and the individual providing the care or education.
A 'personal arrangement'. (National Law: section 5(1)).
These situations would include when a parent arranges for a neighbour or friend to care for their children after school or at any other time.
Schools are not regulated under either scheme. The Victorian Regulations and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) registers and regulates all government and non-government schools in Victoria.
Some n schools provide preschool or kindergarten programs, sometimes referred to as 'early learning centres' (ELCs). Although these centres are often located on the school premises, they provide education and care to children under school age and are regulated under the NQF.
(National Law: section 5(1), CS Act: section 5(1A)).
Short-term transition to school programs, for children commencing school the following year, are also not regulated under either scheme.(National Regulations: regulation (5)(2)(j)).
Hospital or medical care
A service providing education and care to patients in a hospital or patients of a medical or therapeutic care service does not require approval by us.
(National Law: section 5(1), CS Act: sections 5(1)(a) and 5(1)(b)).
Disability and additional needs services
The following types of disability or additional needs services are not regulated under either scheme, and do not need to be approved by us:
- a disability service provided by a disability service provider within the meaning of the Disability Act 2006 (Vic) (National Regulations: regulation 5(1)(c), CS Act: section 5(1)(d)).
- an early childhood intervention service provided for the principal purpose of providing intervention or support for children with a disability, additional needs or developmental delay (National Regulations: regulation 5(1)(e), CS Act: section 5(1B)(d)).
- the child is a recipient of supports or services provided by a registered NDIS provider within the meaning of the Commonwealth National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 (CS Act: section 5(1)(e)).
Care under child protection law
Protection, care or accommodation provided by a community services or secure welfare service under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005is not regulated under either regime and does not need to be approved by the department.
(National Law: section 5(1)(f), CS Act: section 5(1)(c)).
A service providing education and care to children at a camp, including a camp where the children stay overnight, is not regulated under either scheme and does not need to be approved by us.
(CS Act: section 5(1B)(h)).