Choosing a child care centre
How do you know if a child care centre will meet your needs? At a glance, child care or day care centres provide the following:
- all-day care, with operating hours generally being from 7.00am until 6.00pm;
- access to care throughout the year – most opening for 50-52 weeks of the year (closing for public holidays but not school holidays);
- all food and nappies;
- groupings are dependant on your child’s age (for example, there may be a babies room, a toddlers room, three year-olds etc.); and
- fees are rebatable through Family Assistance Office (dependant on your combined income and eligiblity).
So, are all child care centres largely the same? The answer is no. Each centre will have its own philosophy and approach to providing care. Your basic criteria will of course be that the centre provides a stimulating and safe environment. Beyond that, it will come down to your personal needs and preferences. But there are a number of considerations.
For example, some are run for profit, while others feed any surplus money back into the centre. Likewise, some adhere to the government prescribed child/carer ratios, while others ensure there are extra staff available.
At our Centre we have small groupings and high child staff ratios – over and above state requirements. Our parents committee made the decision to keep the enrolment numbers low to ensure every child gets the personalised care they need. Our 45-place centre has four groupings:
- 0-2 years – 8 children
- 2-3 years – 9 children
- 3-4 years – 13 children
- 4-6 years – 15 children.
These small group sizes ensure each and every child’s needs are met and interests can be explored, helping them reach their potential. The key thing to remember is that the real substance of any centre is its program and staff – not a glossy exterior.
Choosing a centre – checklist
- Physically, is the centre clean, safe and appropriately equipped?
- What is the feel of the place? Do the children seem busy and content?
- How do the staff interact with the children? Is the interaction warm and engaging?
- What is staff turn-over like? (Both in terms of providing children with consistency of staff and as an indication of the internal workings of the place).
- What forums are used to communicate with parents? (e.g. journals, notices on the wall, web site, newsletters etc.)
- Are parents encouraged to provide feedback and participate in the centre’s decision making?
- Does the centre provide an orientation or settling-in period?
- Are the meals nutritious and freshly prepared on-site?
- Are food allergies catered for?
- Are there age-appropriate experiences set out for the children? How regularly are these changed?
- What is the learning philosophy? (e.g. are the children encouraged to explore and build on their own interests or is the program dictated by the staff?)
All centres should have a program displayed for parents to see. It allows the parents to view and become familiar with the sort of experiences and routines that their children can be involved in while at the centre.