Preparing to go back to work after having a child can be overwhelming, and one of the most complex decisions for parents to make is what type of child care service to choose.
When you're a new parent looking for early childhood education and care service for your child, the chances are that you might be confused by the differences between Family Day Care and Long Day Care (centre-based care) services.
Many families considering child care are familiar with child care centres and nannies. However, some may be less familiar with family daycare.
Family daycare is an early childhood education and care option that provides high-quality early learning in an educator's own home.
What is family daycare?
Family daycare is a quality, home-based early childhood education and care service for children aged six weeks through to 12 years.
Family day care accounts for 10 per cent of Australia's entire early childhood education and care sector, with more than 14,000 educators helping to grow and shape the lives of some 131,600 children around the country.
Like long daycare centres, family daycare provides early childhood education and care services for children across Australia and parents who choose family daycare are eligible for the Child Care Subsidy.
The main differences between family daycare and child care centres are:
- education and care are provided by an individual early childhood professional operating within their own home
- educators work with small groups of no more than four children under school age* at any one time
- educators work with an approved service that carries out regular visits to monitor the children's individual development and provide support
What's the difference between family daycare and long daycare in a child care centre?
The most obvious difference is size.
Child care centres are usually much more extensive and busier, with children usually grouped according to age. There are various educator-to-child ratios for each age group, and they may be different depending on your state.
Like family daycare, child care centre staff must qualify for early childhood education and care. The qualifications required will depend on their roles and responsibilities.
Routines at long daycare centres are usually tailored to the needs of each child, especially for very young children. Still, they may move to routines that are more based around a group dynamic as the child gets older (for example, having lunchtime at the same time).
Family Day Care or Centre-Based Care
Early childhood education and care services in Australia operate under the National Quality Framework (NQF), implemented in 2012 to improve the quality of all service types. All services:
- go through a compliance and assessment and rating process implemented by the State and Territory regulatory authority.
- are rated under the National Quality Standards (NQS).
- are eligible for the child care subsidy.
- provide an educational program that is child-centred, stimulating and maximise opportunities for enhancing and extending each child's learning and development.
- employ educators who are required to hold qualifications in early childhood.
- must adhere to ratios and employ educators to maintain these ratios throughout the day.
- employ an educational leader that guides educators on the development of the children's program.
Some of the differences that you may find within the family daycare and long daycare services are:
- The daily fee and opening hours. Some services operate on weekends, overnight and during school holidays. Be sure to ask about this before enrolling your child.
- Meals – depending on the service, these may or may not be included in the daily fee.
- Staff leave – in long daycare, an educator on leave may be replaced with a casual educator. At the same time, in an FDC service, children may be cared for by another educator in a different home/venue. Importantly, educators often plan to leave in advance with their families, and orientation and visits to the other home take place. Families should be informed when an educator in any service is on leave to know who will be caring for your child and support continuity of care.
- FDC schemes employ a 'coordinator' who will make regular visits to the educator's home/venue to guide regulatory matters. In an LDC service, this is the role of the nominated supervisor or another person in charge of the day to day operations of the service.
How to choose a family daycare provider that's right for you
If you're interested in family daycare, start by finding out which registered providers are near you. Then, you can organise a visit to the educator's home.
When judging the quality of the care and educational program, it helps to ask yourself:
- is the care child-focused or time-focused? (For example, are nap times tailored to each child or grouped at the same time of day?)
- how many children does the educator have each day, and what are their ages?
- what learning experiences are available for the children each day, and will this suit my child?
- do the children attend a playgroup during the week? For some parents, this represents bonus social interaction opportunities, but it's not a priority for others.
- are meals provided, and if so, how is the menu determined?
- how does the educator manage the supervision of children indoors and outdoors?
- are there other people in the home when family daycare is provided, and how do you feel about that?
- what ratings did the family daycare service achieve under the National Quality Standards (more on that in a minute)?
- does the cost suit your budget?
Family daycare services are part-funded by the Australian government, and the costs vary across services and family income.
Types of daycare facilities
Daycare is a facility where parents drop children off, usually for a full day, with other kids of varying ages. You have a couple of options:
- Group daycare: These facilities are state-licensed and are usually run similarly to a school, with kids of varying ages cared for in groups. Some of these are run by employers themselves.
- In-home daycare: This child care is run out of the provider's home, often as she cares for her children at the same time. Not all states require in-home daycare providers to be licensed, so make sure you know about the regulatory requirements before sending your child (or while researching your options).
Benefits of daycare
A good daycare program can offer some significant advantages:
- Continuous care: Most child care centres offer care from the early months of infancy through toddlerhood and sometimes even beyond.
- Education: A well-organised program is geared to your tot's development and growth.
- Socialisation: Your baby will get lots of face time with other little ones.
- Cost: If you're planning to go back to work and need someone to watch after your child while you're away, daycare tends to be less expensive than hiring a nanny (although a nanny may be more cost-effective if you have multiple children).
- Reliability: Most centres stay open for about 12 hours to support a variety of parent schedules.
- Specific to group daycare: Staff is trained and licensed. And because there's more than one caregiver, there's always a sub.
- Specific to home daycare: There are fewer children than you'd find at a group daycare centre — which may mean more personal attention and less exposure to illness.
Day Care: Making it a Good Experience
Child and adolescent psychiatrists recognise that the ideal environment for raising a small child is in the home with parents and family. Some experts recommend a minimum of six or more months leave for parents after a child is born to promote bonding. Intimate daily parental caretaking of infants for the first several months of life is particularly important. Since the ideal environment often is not possible if parents have to return to work, the role of daycare has to be considered. Experts agree that when daycare is used in the first years of a child's life, the quantity and quality of the daycare have a significant impact on the child's emotional and physical development.
Before choosing a daycare environment, parents should be familiar with the state licensure regulations for child care. They should also check references from other parents and observe the potential caregivers of the child.
Parents sometimes take their young child to the home of a person caring for one or more other children. Infants and children under the age of two and one-half need:
- More adults per child than older children require
- A lot of individual attention
- The same caregiver(s) over a long period
- A caregiver who will play and talk with them, smile with them, praise them for their achievements, and enjoy them
Parents should seek a warm, caring, self-confident, attentive, and responsive caregiver to the children. The caregiver should be able to encourage social skills and positive behaviour and set limits on negative ones. Parents should consider the caregiver's ability to relate to children of different ages. Some individuals can work well only with children at a specific stage of development.
It is wise for parents to determine how long the individual plans to work in this daycare job. High turnover of individuals, several turnovers, or any turnover at critical development points can distress the child. If parents think or feel the daycare they have chosen is unsatisfactory, they should change caregivers. All parents have the right to drop in during the day and make an unannounced visit.
Many children, particularly after the age of three, benefit from good group daycare to have fun and learn how to interact with others. In addition, child and adolescent psychiatrists suggest that parents seek daycare services that have:
- Trained, experienced teachers who enjoy, understand and can lead children.
- Ideally, the appropriate number of teachers and assistants is at least one for every five children, small rather than large groups if possible. (Studies have shown that five children with one caregiver are better than 20 children with four caregivers)
- Staff that has been there for a long period
- Opportunities for creative work, imaginative play, and physical activity
- Space to move indoors and out
- Lots of drawing and colouring materials, toys, and physical activity equipment such as swings, wagons, jungle gyms, etc.
If the child seems afraid to go to daycare, parents should introduce the new environment gradually: at first, the mother or father can go along, staying nearby while the child plays. Then, the parent and child can stay for a longer period each day until the child wants to become part of the group.
Suppose the child shows unusual or persistent terror about leaving home. In that case, parents should consider consulting a child and adolescent psychiatrist to discuss their concerns and develop strategies to help them talk about their fears. In addition, parents can help make daycare more positive and less stressful for their children by being actively involved with the daycare staff and proactively talking to their children about their daily activities.
Who provides family daycare?
Most family day care services are established and operated by community groups or local government authorities, such as churches or councils. Some private for-profit organisations also provide family daycare.
The scheme or coordination unit also helps parents choose a suitable educator and monitor children's wellbeing, progress, and learning. The scheme/coordination unit can also manage relief care if a family's usual educator is unwell or plans to leave.
The coordination unit works in a close partnership with educators to ensure they uphold organisational values and meet requirements set by government legislation. The Australian Government provides funding to the schemes/coordination units to support the network of educators across the country.
Educators are regularly visited by trained fieldworkers, with many coordination units facilitating play sessions and offering toy library services to ensure that children have various stimulating play experiences.
How much does family daycare cost?
Fees for family daycare vary according to location, the educator's qualifications, the hours of care, and the child's age. However, the typical fee range is $7-$10 per hour. In addition, some educators provide food, nappies and transport, and these costs will be added to the hourly rates.
Quality and accreditation of family daycare services
As mentioned above, family daycare operates under the National Quality Framework, and educators must meet the same qualifications requirements as educators working in centre-based care settings.
All educators must also pass police or criminal history check before commencing work in a family daycare and must be fully insured, hold a current first aid certificate and maintain a safe environment.
The Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) is responsible for ensuring family daycare services meet the requirements of the National Quality Framework, and local coordination units work with individual family day care educators to ensure high standards across the coordination unit or scheme.
What will my child do at family daycare?
Family daycare offers a mix of education, care and recreational programs to suit children of different ages. A typical day in family daycare may involve:
- Arts and crafts
- Completing homework
The home-based nature of family daycare will provide children with the opportunity to engage in outdoor activities such as sand and water play in the backyard of their educator's home. Educators will also often take children on excursions to local community events, playgrounds, libraries and organised playgroup sessions.
How do I find and choose a family daycare educator?
When choosing a family daycare, think about:
- When you need care
- Where you need care -how will your child travel to and from the educator's house?
- Your budget
- Your child's needs. Are there any special requirements for language, diet, behaviour or development?
- Your values and parenting philosophy.
Contact your local family day care coordination unit /scheme to discuss the type of family daycare you require. You can also use our family daycare search to find family day care and in-home care in your state or territory.
Before finalising your choice, it's helpful to visit the educator's home to see how they interact with children and confirm the setting is right. You can also ask to see references from other parents or check parent reviews on the CareforKids.com.au website. Our family daycare checklist suggests points to consider when choosing your educator.
Family daycare can provide a safe, natural home-based environment for your child, with flexible routines and quality care. The smaller setting can also foster strong relationships between the children, educator and parents.
With a strong network of experienced family daycare educators in Australia, it's a type of child care worth exploring.
The potential downsides/disadvantages of home-based child care include: possibly less educated teachers and less educationally enriched curriculum. possibly more exposure to television. sole caregiver with little supervision, so trust is essential.
Other benefits of family day care include: Family day care provides early education and care in a nurturing, natural and flexible home learning environment. Family day care offers the opportunity for children to form genuine long lasting bonds with their qualified and passionate early childhood educator.
Evidence from the study shows the more time in child care of any kind or quality, the more aggressive the child. Children in full-time day care were close to three times more likely to show behavior problems than those cared for by their mothers at home.