Brand new doesn’t always mean the best – especially when it comes to child care providers.

It may be tempting for parents to send their child to the shiny, new child care centre that has recently opened close to home, but how do you know if it is good quality?

‘Quality’ refers to the quality of care provided by staff, quality of the facilities and whether minimum standards are simply met, or exceeded.

There are over 15,000 child care providers operating in Australia. With such an abundance of providers readily available, parents might think finding quality child care is easy. It is not such a simple task, however.

What are the biggest indicators of quality child care? Do parents choose cost, convenience and location over quality? Is a brand new centre better quality than an older centre?

Vacancy.Care understands the enormity of this decision. We take a look at what quality means in terms of child care providers and how to find and choose a quality provider.

How to choose a childcare centre / finding a childcare centre

Finding and choosing a childcare centre is a big decision for parents.

Childcare is, after all, a place where some parents will be leaving their child with strangers for the very first time. It is not a choice that should be taken lightly.

Cost and location are undoubtedly important, but quality of care should be top of any parent’s list when choosing a childcare provider.

A quality provider means a positive, supportive experience for children in their early learning journey, plus peace of mind for parents.

But what makes a quality centre? The staff? Cleanliness? Range of activities on offer? There are many factors to consider.

In Australia, childcare providers must comply with operational and legal requirements set out in the National Quality Framework.

These minimum standards aim to improve Australia’s quality of care services and early childhood education. Providers are assessed using seven National Quality Standards to encourage continuous improvements  to programs and practices.

The National Quality Framework includes requirements for:

  • Ratio of staff to children.
  • Staff qualifications.
  • The health and safety of the children.
  • Space and layout.
  • The quality of learning experiences for children.

Australian childcare services are assessed and rated against seven National Quality Standards:

  1. Educational program and practice
  2. Children’s Health and Safety
  3. Physical Environments
  4. Staffing Arrangements
  5. Relationships with Children
  6. Collaborative partnerships with families and community
  7. Governance and leadership

An independent assessor decides the rating against each Standard, and the overall rating should be displayed in the centre.

Some centres meet the minimum standards, while some go above and beyond.

The rating is a handy starting point for parents, but should not be the entire basis for choosing a childcare centre.

The best way for parents to gauge the quality of care at a potential provider is by visiting and observing.

Some things for parents to look out for include:

  • How the staff engage and interact with the children.
  • Staff body language.
  • Evidence of educational and creative activities.
  • Happy, engaged children.
  • Safety precautions in place or evidence of hazards such as broken toys or equipment.
  • Centre cleanliness and hygiene.
  • Allergy awareness policies.
  • Sun Smart policies.
  • Staff qualifications on display or readily available.
  • Evidence of a high staff turnover.
  • A good quality outdoor play space.
  • Nature play opportunities.

A quality childcare provider will welcome parents to spend time at the centre before enrolling their child.

Try to visit at different hours of the day, including drop off time and toward the end of the day. Observe how staff interact with parents and children at the start of the day compared to the end, when fatigue and frustration may kick in.

Parents can find a handy list of questions to ask a centre prior to enrolling in the next section.

Questions to ask before enrolling with a childcare service

Parents have a myriad of questions to ask before enrolling with a childcare service. Staff should be readily available to answer parents’ questions.

It is not always easy to ascertain quality care from questions alone. Parents need to take a tour of the centre to make their own observations of quality.

Table 1 is a list of the most common questions parents will ask on a tour of the centre or before enrolling. This list also includes common observations for parents to make.

Table 1

Educators and staff
Questions for staff
What is the child to educator ratio?
Are staff qualifications readily available for parents to view?
How do educators let parents know how their child is doing during the day?
How do staff implement the Early Years Learning Framework (ie. through play, activities etc.)
Do children do a variety of stimulating activities each day?
Has the centre been assessed using the National Quality Standard? What was the rating?
Are children given an opportunity for outdoor play each day (weather permitting?)
Observations to make
Are the educators engaged with the children, or disinterested?
Do they talk among themselves for long periods?
How do educators react when a child is crying?
How do they handle more than one crying child at a time?
How do they respond to anxious or upset children at drop off and pick up time?
What is their attitude like at the end of the day?
Security and safety
Questions for staff
Does the centre have a secure door and entry code provided only to parents and approved visitors?
Does the centre have a safe sleeping policy?
What are the procedures for administering medication?
Are medicines, chemicals and hazardous substances locked away from children?
Does the centre have a policy for illness and lice?
Is there an emergency plan in place, and are staff trained in what to do during an emergency?
Does the centre have a Sun Smart policy, including providing hats and sunscreen?
How does the centre manage injuries, including communication with parents?
Observations to make
Is the environment secure, with fences, gates and door knobs that are not easily accessible to children?
Are broken toys or pieces of equipment clearly visible?
Is the centre visibly free from hazards, such as poor quality fencing?
Meals and Kitchen
Questions for staff
Does the centre employ a qualified cook?
Is the current meal plan displayed at the centre, or readily available to parents?
Is the centre allergy aware?
Observations to make
Is the kitchen clean and tidy?
Is unused food stored appropriately, such as in the fridge?
Does the cook or chef use gloves, a hair net and apron while preparing food?
Phase-in or orientation process
Questions for staff
Is the centre happy to support a phase-in, or orientation process?
How many times can I attend with my child before enrolling?

The above questions are available to download, print and take along to a tour of the centre, or when speaking to staff.

Quality child care for babies

Finding quality child care for babies is vital. Babies are the most vulnerable members of the family, and require the most attention from providers.

In Australia, day care centres accept babies from as young as six weeks old. Because of their young age, nurseries must have a larger ratio of staff to children than in other age groups (one educator to four children.)

A high quality nursery is adequately equipped with age-appropriate furniture. This includes sturdy high chairs, cots and change tables (preferably in a separate area within the nursery.)

Many child care nurseries cater for babies from 6 weeks to toddlers up to 18 months. A nursery educator must have the skills and experience to juggle this wide age range with a calm and supportive demeanour.

When touring the centre, parents can make their own observations of a nursery.

These include:

  • If staff are responsive to babies, or do they leave them crying for long periods?
  • Their interactions with the children – do they make eye contact with the children and use appropriate body language?
  • Their reactions to crying, vomiting and nappy changing.
  • The range of activities available to the children.

Perhaps the biggest fear for parents is the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. A child care must have policies and procedures for rest and sleep times.

Educators and providers are bound by a duty of care to each child, including taking every reasonable precaution to keep them safe during sleep and rest.

Safe sleeping practices include:

  • Putting babies to sleep on their back.
  • Ensuring the face is uncovered during sleep.
  • Keeping the cot free from loose blankets, soft toys, cot bumpers and other hazards.
  • Keeping a clean and safe environment that is free from cigarette and tobacco smoke.
  • Adhering to a strict staff to children ratio to accommodate frequent supervision of sleeping children.

Parents should request to see the nursery sleeping and rest space. Indicators of a quality space include being free from hazards, furniture that is clean and in good condition and well-fitting, clean mattresses.

What makes a good child care worker

Parents want to know what makes a good child care worker. A top-quality early childhood educator has many qualities, including a genuine love of children – one that is reciprocated by the children themselves.

A quality child care worker is one who takes responsibility for the health and safety of children while in their care.

They will constantly supervise while also teaching social skills and good hygiene practices, educating through play and planned activities and above all – nurturing and caring for each and every child.

What should parents look for in an early childhood educator? A good child care worker displays the following traits:

  • Has a genuine interest in children and early learning.
  • Has childcare qualifications.
  • Is highly engaged with the children.
  • Is naturally patient to deal with the demands of several young children at one time.
  • Nurtures a child’s decision making and independence.
  • Is respectful of each child’s differences, and responds to their needs accordingly.
  • Is supportive and respectful to parents.
  • Communicates appropriately with other staff and with parents.

Someone who is not suited to an early childhood role will display few of these qualities.

A phase-in or orientation period is not only good for your child to settle in, but it is an ideal way for parents to meet and spend time with the people their child will spend the most time with each day.

How does the service ensure safety within the outdoor environment

Outdoor play is a pivotal part of play-based learning. An outdoor space, however,  can also be a haven for accidents, mishaps and rough play. So how does the service ensures safety within the outdoor environment?

A quality centre has an outdoor space free from hazards, adheres to minimum safety standards and most importantly, is easily supervised by educators.

Parents should look for:

  • Good quality, sturdy fencing around the outdoor space.
  • Fencing that is free from holes, not falling over or broken in any way.
  • Fencing high enough to prevent children climbing over, even with a chair or play equipment as an aide.
  • Clean equipment and toys in good condition, free from tears and frayed edges beyond that of natural wear and tear.
  • A space that is easy to supervise, without the risk of children being left to play for long periods unsupervised.
  • Potential safety hazards.
  • Safe surfaces such as rubber matting or sand under play equipment to prevent serious injury.

Child care providers with an on-site swimming pool are required to meet local council regulations to keep children safe and away from the water. Swimming pools need to have appropriate fencing and self-latching gates as a minimum.

In Summary

Choosing a quality child care provider is more than finding the nearest or cheapest. While these are important factors, quality should reign supreme.

We hope this article has given you a better understanding of what quality care means for your family and your child’s early education.

We can’t choose a child care provider for you, but we can provide a starting point.

Vacancy.Care connects parents with local care providers using our simple search function.

To start your journey to quality child care, head to Vacancy.Care to check out the providers that are close to home or work.

Be open minded, observant and don’t forget your list of questions.