How do you choose the right early childhood education and care service?
When looking at enrolling your child into an Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) service, it is important that you make this decision with confidence and that you are well informed.
Where do you start?
Type of care
There are many different types of care options available for families to utilise in Australia. Determining the type of care service your family requires will reflect the varying needs you have such as the age of the child, available hours and flexibility.
The main types of care options are:
- Long day care (LDC)
- Family day care
- Occasional care
- Out of school hours care
- Informal care
- Au pair
Once you have determined the type of care that suits your needs the most, there are logistical options to consider to help shape an informed decision.
The main considerations here are:
- Location – are you wanting a service located close to home? Close to work? Close to grandparents? Close to schools?
- Cost – There can be a great variety in costs for ECEC. And sometimes, higher fees don’t reflect better quality care. Consider if the service is eligible for Child Care Subsidy (preschools are not eligible but typically have a lower fee than LDC). What is included in the cost? Do you still need to provide nappies, food, bedding etc.
Now that you have narrowed down the type, location and price range of the service you are seeking, start doing some research. Often, word of mouth indicates the most accurate reflection of a service’s reputation. Corporate services may have a larger budget for advertising, but this may not always correspond with the level of care being offered. Perhaps you can make a shortlist of 3-5 services that meet all the above criteria for your needs.
I find this is the most important stage. To get a real picture of how an ECEC service operates, ensure you view the facility in operation. Take your child with you where possible as their opinion is also important. For most ECEC services, you will need to call ahead to book in a time for a tour as to not disturb the running of the service.
During your tour, you may find it beneficial to take with you a little checklist of things you want to ask or view.
Some things you may want to consider during your tour could be:
- Inclusions: nappies, bedding, food etc. Also other costs such as late collection fee, incursions/excursions, late payment fees etc.
- Cleanliness: as is the nature with children, life can often get messy. However, take note of the overall cleanliness and hygiene of the service
- Food: if the service does provide food, what kinds of foods do they provide? Are they rounded and nutritious? Do they offer options if your child refuses a meal? How do they support children with varying dietary requirements (if applicable)? Who is preparing the meal? Is the food preparation area clean and well maintained?
- Philosophy: what is the overall philosophy of the service? Do their practices reflect their philosophy? Does their philosophy align with your own beliefs?
- Environment and resources: are the resources for children well maintained and plentiful? Are the rooms and outdoor areas inviting and well maintained?
- Educators: Are the educators and teachers qualified and suitable for the role? Do you feel comfortable around them? Are they friendly and approachable? Are they meeting minimum ratio requirements?
- Commencing care: what will this look like? Do they offer orientation sessions?
- TRUST YOUR GUT: the way you and your child feel in a service is absolutely fundamental. Do you feel welcome? Is there a sense of warmth throughout the service? Are you greeted as you move through the service? What vibe are you getting? Is this a safe place for your child?
Waitlist and enrolment
Depending on the individual service, you may need to join a waitlist. Some services charge a waitlist fee and others do not. Each service has their own approach and process to commencing enrolments and they should be able to answer any of these questions during your tour. Once a position is available (this timeframe is very variable for many reasons) you will commence the enrolment process.
Commencing care for the very first time can be a mix of excitement, nerves and anticipation for you and your whole family. Hopefully this can assist you in making a more informed decision.