Day care centers are commonly used by parents needing to have their children supervised while they go to work. A common misconception is that this is babysitting; day care centers are critically important for the development of your child and there are strict staffing and education requirements set by the Department of Education.
Introduction to Day Care Centers
Day care centers usually operate for long hours, typically 7am – 6pm, give or take, depending on the area and the demand. Day care centers usually offer care and education to children aged 6 weeks – 6 years, though some will not cater for infants. Fees will vary depending on what the day care center provides and the suburb it is located in, they will usually offer a pre-school program, though this is not to be confused with pre-schools which run from 9am – 3pm in school terms only. Day care centers receive a quality rating from the Department of Education after being assessed under the National Quality Standards and the National Law and Regulations. Day care centers are required to have their rating on display and this rating, together with many other factors may help families to decide on whether a particular day care center is right for their child.
Day Care Center Operations
Day Care Centers will have varying operating hours with some in more remote areas opening earlier around 6:30am, closing at 7pm or later. There are some centers that are now catering for overnight and weekend care as there is an increase in work demands and non traditional working hours in particular industries such as hospitality and emergency services.
Some day care centers will be open 52 weeks of the year, closed only on public holidays and others will close over the Christmas/New Year period, but be sure to ask if the center charges for public holidays as many will charge families if your child usually attends on the day when the public holiday is falling.
Many day care centers will not allow make-up days or swap days if your child is absent and usually all absences need to be paid for so make sure you ask about this when enquiring. It’s also a good idea to ask about holidays. Some day care centers may charge a reduced rate if you take holidays, others will charge full fees.
Drop off and pick up times are not set or specific in day care centers. You can drop off and pick up any time that suits you within their operating hours but some centers will have a guideline as to when is best to drop off so that your child does not miss out on programmed activities, special visits or meal or rest times.
Fees will vary considerably depending on the location of the day care center. Day care centers in the CBD will charge quite a lot and cost will vary based on convenience, socio-economic area and inclusions. Some day care centers will provide all meals from breakfast through to late snack (5-6 meals/snacks per day) and some provide nappies, others you need to take your own. Be sure to also ask about extra curricular activities and whether this is an extra optional cost (think beginner language classes, soccer, dance, yoga or computer skills). The difference in cost per day for day care centers in Sydney can be a difference of around $80 per day!, before any subsidies are applied so it’s worth it to do your research. Fees are usually higher for infants and toddlers due to the higher staff:child ratio that needs to be adhered to. Approved day care centers will apply the CCS (Child Care Subsidy) but it’s up to the parent to apply for this through Centrelink.
If you are late to pick up your child, day care centers will usually have a pretty hefty late fee (think $15 for the first 5 minutes late and then $1 per minute thereafter).
Day care centers are required by law to adhere to strict staff:child ratios which differ by state and by age of the child. In NSW, the ratios are; 1:4 for children aged 0 – 2, 1:5 for children aged 2 – 3 and 1:10 for children aged 3 – 5. Sometimes these age groups may be combined in the same room or space but if they are, the ratios must be adhered to based on the age of the youngest child. Ratios must be adhered to AT ALL TIMES, including when children are sleeping. Some day care centers will employ extra staff to cover the break times of educators or sometimes the Director could step in to do this but in my opinion, it’s a good idea when you’re looking around at day care centers, to ask them how they maintain ratios when staff go on their breaks as it will give you an indication of how well they are sticking to regulations.
Day care centers are required by the National Law and Regulations to run an educational program that follows an approved learning framework. The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) is an approved framework intended for the early education of children aged 0-5. Day care centers will use the EYLF in various ways to achieve learning outcomes for children and so for parents, the easiest way to understand how a day care center is educating your child is to ask them how their educational program is communicated to families. Many day care centers will have a program on display but may also use an online platform such as Storypark or Kinder Diaries to record the learning journey of children and parents can receive a notification when a learning story has been posted about their child. Educators are required to observe children, plan educational experiences for them and evaluate the learning that has occurred as part of an ongoing cycle. The way that this is done is up to the individual day care center but parents are within their right to ask how educators do this and how the learning journey of each child is communicated to families.
Day care centers cater for children up to school age so they will often have a school readiness program which helps to prepare the children aged 3-5 for their primary school journey. Ultimately, a child who is socially and emotionally ‘ready’ for school will be better equipped, even if they are yet to develop basic literacy and numeracy skills opposed to a child who may have developed good literacy and numeracy skills but who has not developed basic social skills such as sharing, turn taking, ability to cope with change and frustrations as well as separation from parents. If a child has been attending a day care center for some time, the chances are, they will have developed those important social and emotional skills that will equip them well for the challenges they will face in ‘big school’ but it is always best to seek advice from your child’s educators as to how they help to prepare the children for school and also whether they think your child is ready or not.
National Quality Standards and Quality ratings
The National Quality Standards are set by ACECQA (Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority) and include 7 quality areas that day care centers strive to achieve a high rating in. The 7 quality areas are as follows;
- Educational Program and Practice
- Children’s Health and Safety
- Physical Environment
- Staffing Arrangements
- Relationships with Children
- Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
- Governance and Leadership
Each of these quality standards are made up of several elements and day care centers put a lot of work into striving for the best possible quality outcome when they are assessed during the Assessment and ratings process which can be an intensive day or two day visit where an authorised officer/s will visit to observe practices, sight evidence and discuss with educators and the Director how they feel they are meeting or exceeding the National Quality Standard.
Day care centers will be awarded a rating of;
- Significant Improvement Required
- Working Towards the NQS (National Quality Standard)
- Meeting the NQS
- Exceeding the NQS
- Excellent (Rated by ACECQA)
As a parent, you can ask how the day care center has been rated under the NQS and ask to see their Quality Ratings Certificate which they should have on display. It is up to parents if they wish to enquire further as to the reasons they received a particular rating or not.
Waiting Lists and Vacancies
Day care centers sometimes have long waiting lists for particular age groups but this can vary from center to center and suburb to suburb. Individual centers will let you know if they have an immediate vacancy or not and may ask you to fill out a waiting list form. Parents can ask how many people are on the waiting list ahead of them but it will always be difficult for a day care center to estimate when a position may become available because it depends on individual family circumstances and may rely on another family leaving the center or dropping days. As a Director it can be impossible to predict when this may happen, but it can’t hurt to ask for an indication. Generally at the beginning of the year there will be new vacancies in most day care centers as they lose a bunch of children who will start primary school.
So How Do I Choose a Day Care Center For My Child?
After you have considered the basics such as location, operating hours, fees and inclusions, in my opinion it is also worth considering the following;
- What is the staff turnover like? Have the staff been there for many years or are they all relatively new? In my experience, day care centers that have a low staff turnover means the staff are happy, management take care of their employees, staff are experienced and probably work well as a well established team.
- Look at the learning environment. Are there toys thrown out on the floor lazily and is the classroom or playground cluttered or unsafe? Or has it been set up in an inviting, thoughtful way with various learning areas? Is it stimulating and aesthetically pleasing?
- Is the Director friendly and approachable or are they mechanical in their responses and dismissive? It’s so important to have a good manager who has a passion for running a great quality day care center.
- Observe the staff and the children in the room when on a tour. How are the staff responding to the children? Are their children crying and staff ignoring them? Do the staff look happy or do they look tired and overworked? Are the children playing happily and are they engaged in what they’re doing or do they look bored?
- How does the center communicate with families and what kinds of things do they communicate with us? It may seem obvious or implied but there are centers out there that exceed expectations when it comes to communication and others where it lacks immensely. Ultimately it can depend on how much you want communication from your center or not.
Summary of Day Care Centers
When it comes to finding the right day care center for your child and for your family, there are many considerations other than the obvious price and location so hopefully this was a useful article on the basics of day care centers if you are a new parent or have not considered looking at day care centers before.