Occasional care programs have been developed to meet a need for families who don’t require regular childcare bookings. So what is it, what is the cost and is it easy to find?
Introduction to Occasional Care
With the implementation of the National Quality Standards to strongly regulate the early education and care sector, childcare has become far more than a child-minding service. Childcare centres are now viewed as invaluable educational institutions for young children that support the building of foundational skills from infancy. With childcare services now in higher demand than ever, some families have found that whilst they don’t require regular booked places at a childcare centre, access to flexible childcare options is extremely beneficial. Occasional care programs have been developed to meet this need for families right across Australia.
What is Occasional care?
Occasional care is a childcare program that parents can access for casual and flexible sessions when they do not have a need for regular attendance within other childcare or early learning programs. It is suitable for children from birth up until school-age – so the service is appropriate for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers.
Occasional care sessions are available Australia-wide and operate from early education settings such as preschools and childcare centres within both rural and metropolitan areas. Each state provides occasional care programs that are contextually adapted to meet the needs of the local community and therefore programs can differ significantly from state to state.
Families can access occasional care sessions on a flexible and casual basis and might choose to use for purposes related to work or study commitments. Some families use occasional care in circumstances where they might need to attend a medical appointment or if they need to attend a one-off meeting for work or personal reasons. By utilising this service, they can be assured that their child is well cared for within a safe environment and enjoy the benefits of only needing to pay for the hours or sessions of care that they require. Occasional care gives families the freedom to access a childcare service only when they really need it!
Occasional care programs are run by trained early childhood educators and legal child to staff ratios must always be maintained. The program can provide an opportunity for children to build their social skills by interacting with other children within an education and care setting and the educators will ensure that children have access to developmentally appropriate activities to support their growth and learning. You can find out more about occasional and flexible care here:
Who can access Occasional care?
Occasional care programs are usually aimed at families whose children are not attending any other forms of early learning or childcare programs – including preschool, childcare or family day care services. Many occasional care services reserve ‘emergency’ places so that families can have access at very short notice in the event of an unplanned circumstance or family emergency. Whist some providers offer regular sessions to children, most occasional care providers have spaces for casual bookings that can vary from week to week and can be either sessional or hourly.
Most occasional care programs have a priority of access policy which gives higher priority to children who are in the following circumstances;
· Children under the guardianship of the minister
· Children who are identified as being at risk of abuse or neglect
· Children who identify as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
· Children who have a disability or health condition
· Children who have a parent who has a disability or health condition
· Children who are located in rural areas and have limited access to alternative services
· Children who come from a low-income family and where an Australian Government Pensioner Concession or Health Care Card is in place.
How much does occasional care cost?
Whilst the actual cost of occasional care varies significantly from state to state and from centre to centre, there is no doubt about the fact that it is significantly cheaper than other forms of childcare. Since families who access occasional care only need to pay for the time and sessions that they use, the cost is kept extremely low when compared to childcare sessions that are booked in a regular pattern of attendance. At most childcare centres a parent will need to pay for a full day session from 6am-6pm – even if their child is absent. Within an occasional care program, the parent will only be charged for the time that their child has attended the centre. With some childcare centres now charging over $150 for a single day of childcare, the cost of occasional care is minimal in comparison.
In South Australia, occasional care costs are as low as $5 for a three-hour session and this is reduced further to $1.50 for the three-hour session for those that hold a concession card. Whilst the cost in other states may be higher than this, occasional care certainly remains a cheap and affordable option for families.
Occasional care near me…
To find an occasional care service locally, the Australian Children’s Education and Care Authority (ACECQA) has a ‘search for childcare’ page where families can review any local childcare services and also check on their accreditation status to determine if the centre will best meet their needs and circumstances. You can find this service located at the following website: Search child care services with Starting Blocks
The Australian federal government also has a registry that lists childcare centres across the country and provides useful information such as accreditation details, fee estimates and information about all of the different programs on offer at a particular centre. You can find this service located here: Homepage | Child Care Finder
Finally, a Child Care Access Hotline can provide you with information and support regarding the childcare services in your area. They can be contacted by phoning 1800 670 305.
Summary of Occasional Care
Occasional care is a flexible and affordable childcare option that allows Australian families access to a childcare service at times when they really need it. This service is especially helpful for rural families who may not have any other local options available for them and it allows an introduction to early learning programs for young children. If you are looking for sporadic, flexible childcare – it is worthwhile considering the options for occasional care within your local area.