Whether you’re heading back to work or just need a break, putting your child into someone else’s care is a big milestone. Here’s what you need to know to make the right decision for your family.
Childcare: It’s the first step towards school and independence. It might even be the first time you’ve been away from your baby. No matter how you look at it, putting your child into someone else’s care is a big deal. Do you use a nanny? An au pair? A childcare centre? Family-based care? A friend? The decision you make will be based on a myriad of factors and sorting through each one can be confronting and confusing. But there is a clear path — here’s how to find it.
If you’re wondering how to choose the right childcare for your toddler your decision is likely to include factors such as cost, duration, the readiness of your child and your own personal preference. You might feel more comfortable having a family member look after your child while you’re at work, or you might feel like that would be a burden. There is no one right answer as each family and child has different needs and circumstances but when you’re making the decision on the type of childcare for your child it helps to at least know what your options are.
Types of childcare
“The number of different types of childcare available to parents can be overwhelming and confusing,” says Roxanne Elliott, founder of Australian online childcare resource centre Care for Kids. “Finding suitable childcare is one of the more daunting and time consuming tasks a parents faces. No matter what you choose the decision is all about getting your child quality and professional care suited to the needs of both your child and your family,” she says.
Choosing the right type of childcare is about ensuring that your child is safe and happy in an environment that is fun, educational and nurturing. For your child that may be in a day care centre, in family-based day care or at home with a nanny. Here are some of the more common options:
A nanny is employed by you on either a live-in or live-out basis and undertakes all tasks related to the care of children. Nannies generally work 40-60 hours per week for your family and will complete domestic tasks related to childcare such as tidying up toys and preparing meals.
An au pair
An au pair is a foreign national that lives in Australia for up to one year for cultural exchange purposes. Au pairs will live with your family and are paid a small salary in exchange for childcare and domestic duties.
A childcare centre
A childcare centre provides care for children under school age in a specially built or adapted building. Meals are generally provided and you can choose from all-day care or part-time care, depending on your circumstances.
Family day care
Family day care is a network of experienced carers and educators who provide care from their own home. Like a childcare centre, care is provided primarily for children who have not yet started school and care is often flexible and tailored to your family’s needs.
As the name suggests, preschool is a planned educational program for children in the year or so before they commence school. Children are usually aged between three and five and attend between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to get them ready for a regular school routine.
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The needs of your family
Choosing the right type of childcare will depend on what is available in your area, your budget and the working needs of your family, says Roxanne. “You need to decide which option suits you and your child. Consider when you need care — full-time or part-time — and where you need your childcare to be. You also need to consider your budget, your child’s temperament, interests and needs and your own personal values,” she says.
Choosing the right time to put your child in childcare will depend on their personality as well as your family’s work schedule, says Roxanne. “There is no perfect age and each child will adjust in their own way,” she says.
Roxanne suggests thinking about group size and the level of stimulation your child responds well to when deciding on the right type of care. “When thinking about care for children under five think about group size and the level of stimulation. Ideally, the younger the child the smaller the group should be so that noise and activity levels can be moderated,” she explains.
“Also, think about the consistency of the group. If your child’s care environment is comprised of carers and children who are the same week after week it will enable your child to develop lasting friendships, relationships and a comfortable foundation for personal development,” she says.
There is no “right” choice, just the right choice for your family. Take your time in making a decision and if after a few weeks it doesn’t feel right make a change that does.