When searching for a childcare centre, you're naturally looking for the best quality you can find. You might initially be attracted by the one with the best facilities, the one that fits in with your commute, and/or that meets your budget.
You'll frequently hear that when you find the centre for you it just feels right. In my experience that's true, but being in a new country I was concerned my feelings might be blurred by cultural or operational differences. Might the preconceptions I bring from experiences in the UK put me off a centre in Australia, when it's just that things are done differently here?
When choosing childcare in a new country going on gut feelings is fine, doing some local research is invaluable. Having a set of questions to ask, and checking the centre is compliant with Australian childcare standards are two things you can do to assess a centre.
Here are some tips and useful resources to help in picking quality childcare:
What should you be looking for in quality childcare in Australia?
The National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC) is responsible for the quality assurance of child care establishments in Australia. They provide accreditation to centres who have met the quality standards. This means the first thing you can check about a centre is whether they have accreditation. You could ask the centre or use the childcare search tool on the NCAC website.
NCAC also provide a number of booklets and documents on all aspects of childcare. Choosing and using quality childcare is useful. This booklet highlights the key areas to look at in a centre: good relationships, effective communication, learning and development, health and safety, and management. The booklet describes aspects of quality childcare for each age group (0 – 12 months, 12 months – 3 years and 3 – 5 years), and provides a list of questions you should ask.
What standards do centres follow?
Although it's not fully in place, the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care is an excellent benchmark when assessing the centres you're looking at. Here's a booklet with information for parents.
The implementation of the framework began in July 2010 and is expected to complete by July 2012. The most significant changes are staff to child ratios and the qualification requirements for those working in childcare.
Staff to child ratios
Under the new framework childcare centres will be required to use the following staff to child ratios.
Long Day Care and Preschool
- Birth – 24 months – 1 staff member to 4 children (to be in place by 1 January 2012)
- 25 – 35 months – 1 staff member to 5 children (to be in place by 1 January 2016)*
- 36 months – school age – 1 staff member to 11 children (to be in place by 1 January 2016)*
- Mixed age groups – a proportional formula will be used
*Some states differ so refer to the booklet for full details.
Family Day Care
Family day care centres typically have a mixed age group of children. The recommended staff to child ratio as described in the new framework is, "1 staff member to 7 children with a maximum of four children not yet attending school." This ratio is expected to be implemented by January 2014.
Another aim of the framework is to have more, highly qualified staff. There are a number of detailed requirements relating to preschools. The requirement for long day care centres is below;
"Within each long day care centre or preschool, half of all staff will need to have (or to be actively working towards) a diploma-level early childhood education and care qualification or above, and the remaining staff will all be required to have (or be actively working towards) a Certificate III level early childhood education and care qualification, or equivalent."
The link I've provided above takes you to information on the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care, aimed at parents. A more comprehensive document is available here.
Although the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care isn't fully in place, when I was looking for childcare standards in Australia it seemed to be the most comprehensive information available. It has been useful as a rule of thumb, and topic of conversation with centre managers.
You may also like to discuss Working with Children Checks with the centre manager; they'll be able to confirm that they are compliant with state regulations.
Making decisions about childcare can be a stressful and emotional thing for parents. It's particularly hard if you've just said good-bye to a comfortable setup in your country of origin. It might take a little time to get things right and to settle into a new centre, but you'll get there - we did.