Everything you need to know about starting day care.

If you’re planning on placing your child into an early childhood education and care service, it’s a good idea to start thinking about what type and where would suit you best. Plan early as places are often limited.

When should I put my child in care for the first time?

There’s no best time to start childcare – it all depends on what suits your family, child and their specific needs. One thing to keep in mind is the quality of a child’s early education and care is more important than the age they start or the amount of time they spend there. Most services have waiting lists so it may be best to put your child’s name on more than one list to avoid disappointment. You can also visit services like www.vacancy.care to register for waitlists early.

What are the types of care available?

There are many different service types available.

  • Long day care services provide for children from birth or six weeks in some cases up to five years old and usually operate at least 10 hours a day, Monday to Friday.
  • Family day care services provide for small groups of children from birth to 12 years of age in the family home of a registered educator.
  • Preschool/kindergarten caters for children 3 to 5 years old. They can be a standalone service or part of a long day care or family day care program.
  • Outside school hours care operates before and after school and/or during school holidays for school age children.

What next?

Establish what type of care best suits you and then list the options that suit your working hours and budget. Try to get answers to the following questions as you look at each option in detail:

What is the adult to child ratio?

If you have a young baby there should be at least one carer for every four babies. If you have a toddler you may want her to go to a childcare centre where there are other children to play with. Or if you want her to have more one-to-one attention, perhaps a family day carer would be best.

What are the carers like?

You’ll want to know the carers are qualified and experienced in looking after children, and share your views on childcare. Communicate with the carers that will be looking after your child. Do you feel comfortable? What are their qualifications and experience? Does it feel like they will make it a great day for your child whilst in their care?

Are there activities, books and toys that are right for her age?

Are there lots of resources? There should be plenty to do that engages your child and stimulates her development. Ask for the providers program and learning outcomes. Be curious as to what they will be learning when. Engage with the provider to see if their values and care ideas fit with yours.What are the facilities like? Go and visit the provider – do you feel comfortable? Does it feel right? Is it clean? Are there outside

What are the facilities like?

Go and visit the provider – do you feel comfortable? Does it feel right? Is it clean? Are there outside play-areas if that is important?

Where is the childcare situated?

Is the location of the childcare provider well suited to your needs? Have you considered if it’s more important to be close to home or close to work? Is it close to older sibling’s school? Is it easy to park? Easy access for pickup and drop off? What happens when my child starts at care?


Once the service offers your child a place, they will guide you through the enrolment process. Some of the things which you will need to provide (they vary from provider to provider) include:

  • Your child’s birth certificate
  • Family contact details
  • Contact details and information on who you authorise to collect your child from the service and who may be contacted in an emergency if you cannot be reached
  • Information about your child, including their eating and sleeping routines, interests, illnesses, allergies, and health care professional contact details
  • Your child’s immunisation history – this could be a photocopy of your child’s health record, or an immunisation history statement from the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register on the Department of Human Services website.


Most centres will suggest an orientation visit prior to starting and will provide a handbook to families at orientation time. The handbook may include information about the service, the educators, opening hours, and policies on issues such as holidays, health and safety, managing illness and fees. The orientation visit is a good opportunity to ask questions and build a relationship with the educators and staff at the service.