Weighing up your options: How to choose the best child care for your family

For many parents going back to work, choosing a child care option can be one of the most difficult decisions you’ll have to make. We know leaving your little loved ones in another person’s hands can be a little unnerving – especially if it’s for the first time.

When there are so many different kinds of care, how do you know which will suit you and your child’s needs? And what happens if your preferred type of child care just isn’t available? For some desperate parents, the need for child care – any child care – can threaten to overshadow the essential requirement for quality childcare.

Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ when attempting to find the right childcare to suit your working parents needs and busy schedule. Disturbingly, when surveyed, some parents said they’d felt compelled to take whatever spot they could get, and some said the cost of child care cancelled out the economic value of returning to work altogether.  Weighing up the pros and cons of each option can help to ensure you make the right decision based on your individual needs.

Whether you decide to go with a more formal child care option such as daycare, or an informal option be it a nanny or live-in au pair there are certain factors that must be considered and are paramount to either child care option.

Child care options to suit your family and your budget 

Long Day Care Pros

  • Often implement an early education component to their programs.
  • Staff have child care qualifications.
  • Children are not impacted if one carer is ill as there are many carers.
  • Often open 7am-6pm (suitable for parents working 9 to 5)
  • Children get to interact with lots of other children (sociability aspect is important to development).

Long Day Care Cons

  • Children don’t receive as much individual one-on-one attention.
  • It’s expensive, especially in cosmopolitan areas.
  • There are late fees on days you aren’t on time to pick up your child.
  • Children are exposed to more illness.
  • Because it is out of home care, drop-offs and pick-ups can be stressful (especially in peak traffic or with tired kiddos).

Preschool Pros

  • Often implement an early education component to their programs.
  • Staff have child care qualifications.
  • Children are not impacted if one carer is ill as there are many carers.
  • Children get to interact with lots of other children (sociability aspect is important to development).
  • Often more affordable because of the government subsidies available – especially for children who are over the age of 4.

Preschool Cons

  • Traditionally has shorter hours (9.00am to 3.00pm) which isn’t ideal for many working parents.
  • Priority places are given to children who are 4 years old so you might have to waitlist your child until they reach the appropriate age.
  • Children don’t receive as much individual one-on-one attention.
  • There are late fees on days you aren’t on time to pick up your child.
  • Children are exposed to more illness.

Family Day Care Pros

  • More affordable than other options.
  • Most children are more comfortable in a home environment.
  • Carers usually have their own children at home with them.
  • Smaller groups can mean tighter bonds and less chance of illness spreading.
  • Flexible hours mean you can arrange care to fit around your schedule.
  • Kids interact with other kids of varying ages (this can be a negative for some kids).

Family Day Care Cons

  • Child care qualifications are not required in all states of Australia.
  • If the carer is ill, your family will be impacted and you will require a plan B.
  • Education programs may not be as sophisticated as those offered in other centres.
  • The range of toys, equipment and activities on offer may be limited.
  • You often need to provide your child’s own nappies and food.

Occasional Care Pros

  • Occasional care is provided in purpose-built centres, neighbourhood houses or parent co-operatives.
  • More affordable than other options.
  • Flexible hours mean you can arrange care to fit around your schedule.

Occasional Care Cons

  • There are generally restrictions on the number of hours occasional care can be used by any child each week.
  • You often need to provide your child’s own nappies and food.
  • Education programs may not be as sophisticated as those offered in other centres.

Nanny Pros

  • A flexible arrangement that caters to your family’s specific needs.
  • Your child receives one-on-one, consistent care.
  • Less contact with other kids means less exposure to common childhood illnesses.
  • Routines do not change as your child remains in their home environment.
  • No travelling for drop-offs and pick-ups.
  • Nannies usually have relevant child care qualifications and some help with light household tasks.
  • If your nanny is a registered carer, you may be eligible for the government’s Child Care Subsidy (CCS).

Nanny Cons

  • Your child misses out on a structured education program.
  • Less opportunity for your child to interact socially with other children.
  • If your nanny is sick, you need a plan B.
  • There’s a risk your nanny may leave without notice.
  • If you employ a nanny directly you’re also responsible for paying her tax, superannuation, insurance and workers compensation payments.
  • Can be an expensive option.

Au Pair Pros

  • A flexible arrangement that usually caters to family needs.
  • Your child receives one-on-one, consistent care.
  • Less contact with other kids means less exposure to common childhood illnesses.
  • Routines do not change as your child remains in their home environment.
  • No travelling for drop-offs and pick-ups.
  • Au pairs are usually very affordable because they live in.

Au Pair Cons

  • Your child misses out on a structured education program.
  • Less opportunity for your child to interact socially with other children.
  • If your au pair is sick, you need a plan B.
  • Au pairs usually do not have qualifications and may leave without notice.
  • Au Pairs are live-in, so there is room for more problems to occur outside just childcare (privacy, living/lifestyle arrangement, varying values etc.)

How to find a child care service

To find a formal child care service near you (or your workplace):

Waiting lists

You may need to put your child’s name down at one or more centres sooner rather than later and from then on regularly check with the centres to see if a vacancy has come up. Some centres charge a non-refundable fee just to register on their waiting list.

What to do if you have concerns about your child care

At times you may experience some level of dissatisfaction or even concern about the child care service you use.

Every child has the right to play and develop in a safe, secure education and care environment.

All education and care services need to comply with the National Law and Regulations, and the practices you see in a service may be different to your family’s practices at home.

If you feel concerned about any practices you see at the service your child attends, it’s important to be aware of how to raise this.

Usually, child care facilities and programs have transparent grievance and complaints handling policies and procedures which should be provided to you when you enrol your child. These provide you with information about who you should speak to if you’re feeling concerned about something and how the service manages concerns and complaints.

Speaking with the educator working with your child is a first step. The policy should advise if speaking to someone else first is advisable, depending on the issue.

All complaints handling procedures emphasise managing complaints professionally and confidentially, and maintaining your right to privacy.

Tips for raising concerns

  • Try to delay raising concerns when you’re feeling angry or upset. Taking some time to think about the issue can help make discussions more productive.
  • Jot down notes about your concern, why it is a concern to you, and what you feel it means for your child at the service.
  • Arrange a time to speak with the appropriate person, be prepared to listen with an open mind, and remember that you may not know all the facts.
  • Ask the person you speak with to clarify their answers, so that you feel you clearly understand the actions they intend to take to resolve the issue.
  • Also make sure that you put the issue in writing rather than only stating it verbally.

If you witness a situation or practice that could potentially harm a child you should take immediate steps to stop this from re-occurring. You should advise the service’s management about your concerns to ensure they can put in place practices to ensure the children’s health and safety.

Serious issues such as child abuse/neglect, leaving children unsupervised or exposing children to danger should be raised with the relevant state or territory regulatory authority. They have a responsibility to ensure services comply with the National legislation, and will follow up your concern.

What to do when you need a plan B

Whether you need a last-minute carer for a sick child, a babysitter for date night or a regular sitter for ongoing assistance, the MUMOKI team recommends Mynder – the ONLY mobile app based babysitting service that fully screens each babysitter.  Every Mynder carer undergoes a thorough screening process that includes two face-to- face interviews, reference checks, and a police, ID and working with children background check – so all that’s left for the parent to do is download the app, fill in their profile and enter the date and time they need a sitter.

The best part? Being an on-demand app, Mynder allows working parents to get quality childcare within as little as an hour’s notice! So no more taking sick leave due to having sick kids – finally we have a choice!

Mynder is currently available in New South Wales, Victoria and Canberra.

Tips for when you employ a babysitter

  • Make your first booking a short one, and go somewhere local.  The first time is the hardest but it does get easier.
  • Show your child the video of their babysitter before the booking so they know who to expect on the day.
  • Talk positively to your child about the babysitter and how much fun they’ll have together, or if a night time booking (when you want them to sleep not have fun!) how lovely the babysitter is.  Talk about the babysitter by name.
  • Start talking to your child about the babysitter as soon as you make a booking so they are not surprised on the day.
  • Plan some activities together that your child can do with the babysitter.  Set up a special activity that they only do when a babysitter is present, so it is a “treat” and something to look forward to.
  • Book the babysitter to arrive half an hour before you want to go out.  Your child will relax more with a babysitter if they can see you together for a while first, and you’ll be more relaxed if you have seen how well they connect in that time.
  • If it’s a night time booking, make sure your Mynder arrives before your child goes to sleep, so if they wake in the night they see someone they already know rather than a stranger.
  • Provide the babysitter with information about your children’s routines and any medical conditions they may have, as well as rules about TV, bedtime and computer use.
  • Make sure they know where to find things such as nappies or medicines, and leave them your mobile number plus contacts for other family members (in case they can’t get hold of you), and other emergency numbers.
  • Ask your Mynder to send you updates at certain times through the booking to reassure you everything is going well.
  • This is a hard one but try not to show your anxiety to your child.  Let your child know when you’ll be back, then leave with a big smile on your face.  Children will be less anxious if they see you are happy.
  • Give yourself permission to relax.

Laura Ruston

Mum to Harvey. Wife to Dave. Founder of MUMOKI. Art lover, design obsessed, lipstick hoarder.