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Child care, day care, nannies - what are they and how do I choose?

Himal Randeniya

Deciding to send your child to care is hard, especially in the early years (0-6 years old). When you first sit down to do some research, it can feel as though the options are endless. Child care, long day care, kindergarten, preschool, Montessori, family day care, nannies — the list goes on.

So it begs the question, 'What are the differences between these arrangements and which one will suit the needs of my child'?

Different types of childcare options in Australia

First, let's start by simplifying the choices. In Australia, there are three types of government-supported care arrangements for early years education and care:

  • Centre-based — Your child attends a facility purpose-built to cater for the education and care of young children.
  • Family day care — This operates out of the educator's home who provides the care.
  • Nanny care — This is a more flexible arrangement, where a nanny usually attends your place of residence to care for your child.
  • What is centre-based child care?

    Different terms are used to describe the various centre-based care offerings. These include:

    • Long day care
    • Kindergarten
    • Preschool
    • Early learning centres

    I would think of these as marketing terms. In Australia, all centre-based services are required to operate per the National Quality Framework (NQF). As a result, each service has its quality measured against the seven quality areas:

    • Educational excellence
    • Health and safety
    • Physical environments
    • Staffing
    • Relationships with children
    • Partnerships with families and communities
    • Leadership and service management

    How will my child be educated?

    The NQF prescribes the learning practices that educators employ to ensure modern methods of education based on our latest understanding of developmental psychology in the early years. There are two nationally accepted learning frameworks:

  • Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF)
  • Framework for School Age Care
  • While these frameworks specify the method of education, they do not define the content (usually referred to as 'the program') that the service teaches a child. This makes early education very different to our curriculum/syllabus-based experience of primary and secondary.

    If it sounds progressive, then you're right — it is! The EYLF (which most centres in Australia follow) asks educators to develop the child's interests through play and reflects the current state-of-the-art in early years development and psychology. Through this method, high-quality services will engage in a cycle of planning, where educators identify the interests of individual children and then develop programs to facilitate further education and growth. These cycles usually occur every week.

    How is the quality of a centre governed?

    Centre-based services are subject to regulations that are thought to ensure a high quality of services. Every educator needs to have a tertiary degree (either a certification or university-issued degree) in Early Education and Care.

    The regulations define two types of ratios that need to be maintained to ensure that a service can provide high-quality education and sufficient coverage of care:

  • Staffing ratios — the ratio of Certificate III (preliminary accreditation) to Diploma (advanced) to Early Childhood Teachers (university qualified)
  • Children to staff ratios — the ratio of children to educators based on age-group
  • However, staffing arrangements are only one part of the quality governance framework. As I mentioned above, the seven quality areas touch on the different capabilities that make a high-quality centre.

    For most parents, this can feel quite overwhelming. To cut through this complexity, the NQF puts in place a rating system. Every couple of years, each service is assessed against the seven quality areas, after which the service receives a rating:

  • Working towards (lowest)
  • Meeting
  • Exceeding
  • Excellent (highest)
  • We encourage parents and guardians to investigate the rating of the service they attend. The rating process is rigorous and provides you with an objective measure to gauge the quality of the service. We strongly advise using the quality rating as a critical measure in your decision-making process.

    How do centre-based offerings differ?

    Despite the naming differences, child care, long day care, preschool, kindergarten and early years learning centres are fundamentally the same. They are governed by the same framework and are required to apply the same teaching methods.

    So why use different names? Some people will say legacy, but others also point to more salient features like:

    • Long day care usually means the service is open from ~7 AM to ~6 PM.
    • Preschool/ kindergarten usually only accepts 3-5 year olds in preparation for primary school.

    I would keep in mind that these titles are inconsistently applied. Therefore, you and your child will likely have very different experiences between two centres claiming to be preschools. When researching a centre for your child, make sure to build a list of the services that are most important to you (for example, opening hours, meals, routine and extra-curricular activities). Then, take a tour of your short-listed services to ensure that they are the right fit.

    What is family daycare?

    Family daycare is a form of in-home care where the educator takes care of children from their own homes. Family daycare services are subject to the NQF and, as a result, will also have quality ratings.

    In practice, you can expect a different standard of education and care from these services. The groups are smaller, and an educator teaches and cares for the child in the home environment. For example, an educator can only care for a maximum of seven children in NSW.

    When evaluating a family day care service or comparing it to a centre:

  • Keep an eye out for the resources (such as books, toys and iPads), ratings and different environments for your child to learn and grow through here.
  • Understand the educator's education and care philosophy and evaluate it against your own. Remember that your child won't have access to different educators.
  • Take time to understand the educator's experience and track record. Ask for referrals and follow up with them to understand what you can expect if you put your child in their care.

  • What is nanny care?

    A nanny usually cares for a child within the parent/guardian's own home. Nannies are not required to have a degree in children's education, and the service they provide is not typically subject to any government law.

    The Australian government has implemented an incentive scheme (called the Nanny Pilot Programme) to assist parents in accessing nannies. For a family to receive a subsidy under this programme, the nanny must satisfy minimum requirements such as having a valid Working with Children Check and having a valid CPR certification.

    The Department of Education and Training, which administers the Nanny Pilot Scheme at the national level, created a list of providers under the scheme who have been assessed based on capacity, experience and competency.

    Nanny care and education

    I generally wouldn't recommend a nanny if the family wants a high-quality educational experience for their child. As mentioned, childcare nannies usually do not have the same qualifications and experience as educators in centre-based or family daycare. Also, they are unlikely to have access to the same resources as a high-quality centre. ACECQA mentioned that:

    "Nannies can be the best or only option for families who struggle to access child care services, particularly if they work non-standard hours or live in remote areas or away from existing child care."

    However, I would be remiss if I didn't note that we have had the great privilege to have worked with (and have eventually even hired) some fantastic childcare nannies who are now educators at our centres. Nevertheless, the absence of an overarching quality and learning framework means that you can expect the quality of care to vary quite substantially.

    Financial implications — nanny cost vs daycare cost

    Indeed, our comparison wouldn't be complete if we didn't delve into the cost implications of the different types of childcare. Remember that costs can vary widely based on several factors, including location, your child's age, the hours of care needed and specific services provided.

    When considering nanny care, it's crucial to understand that you're paying not only for childcare but also for the convenience of having that care provided in your own home on a schedule that works best for you. Costs can differ depending on whether the childcare nanny lives in or out, their experience level and the range of duties they perform. The average price of a nanny can range from $30 to $35 per hour.

    Also, when considering nanny vs daycare, keep in mind that a nanny provides one-on-one service and can offer personalised care and attention that a daycare centre might not be able to provide.

    In contrast, daycare costs depend on whether you choose a home daycare or a daycare centre. Costs can also vary based on the child's age, with infant care typically being the most expensive. The average price of daycare can range from $10 to $15 per hour per child. However, we once again underscore the upside that daycare centres can provide a structured environment and socialisation opportunities.

    All in all, you’re probably aware that cost is just one factor to consider when choosing between centres. The quality of care, the child's happiness and comfort and the fit with your family's needs and values are equally, if not more, important.

    When choosing between nanny care vs daycare, it's essential to budget for these costs, explore all available options and make the decision that best suits your family's needs and circumstances. While the nanny vs daycare cost debate is a valid consideration, the ultimate goal is to find a nurturing, safe and supportive environment for your child to grow and thrive in.

    ‍Why do I prefer centre-based care?

    In conclusion, I am an advocate for centre-based care for five key reasons:

  • Range to learn — Children in centre-based care can be exposed to various educational, social and emotional experiences. Also, more caring educators and different children provide more significant opportunities for connection, learning and growth.
  • Good operators separate management from support services from educators/ carers — The last thing you want is for your educator to handle your billing, deal with all the paperwork, cook all the meals and then somehow find time to develop your child's interests. These roles are separated in centre-based care, meaning educators can focus on the education and care of your child.
  • Structured learning environments — Centre-based care often follows a well-defined curriculum that promotes your child's cognitive, physical and social development. This structure is what strongly differentiates daycare from nanny care. The regulated environment provides a consistent schedule of activities such as storytelling, music and art, which can help children understand the importance of a routine. The environment also encourages the development of early literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Peer learning — Centre-based care allows children to interact with diverse peers, which is crucial for their social development. This interaction can teach children essential life skills like sharing, problem-solving and cooperation. It allows them to learn from their peers, understand different perspectives and build friendships along the way.
  • Professional oversight and standards — A daycare is often subject to strict regulations and professional standards. This means the facilities are regularly inspected for safety and cleanliness, and the staff are trained and certified in early childhood education. Moreover, many centres must maintain a certain educator-to-child ratio, ensuring that your child receives ample attention and care. This can provide parents with peace of mind knowing that their child is in a safe and supervised environment, a significant factor when considering daycare vs nanny care.
  • That said, not all centres can deliver on the above promise. There are some fantastic family daycare operators and childcare nannies who will be able to provide similar high-quality experiences for your child. So while I appreciate the capacity for centre-based care to offer more for the child, I would encourage you to take the time to weigh up the individual services in your area.

    ‍Need more information?

    Starting Blocks is an excellent resource put together by the Australian government that explains developmental milestones in the early years, provides practical tips to encourage learning at home and openly discusses the benefits of child care. They’ve even compiled an elaborate guide to choosing the best service for your child.

    Let's get to know each other

    Looking for "childcare near me" can be tricky. At any of our Being locations, we aim to make your child's stay with us comforting and nurturing — their home away from home.

    Our Being Early Education and Childcare centres, armed with brilliant educators and a proven curriculum, will provide your child with the best learning experience. We understand the importance of giving them enough freedom to explore their interests and gently guiding them towards becoming a powerful child who is confident and self-assured.

    Come by and say hi! Our team can't wait to give you a warm welcome. We have facilities in Pymble, Lake Haven, Busby, Ermington (River Road) and Ermington (Lambert Avenue). Contact us today to book a tour or learn more about us.

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