Different mums have different motivation for returning back to the workforce after having children. Here’s our Top 10 things to look for when choosing a child care centre.
For some it is financially related as the cost of living increases and lifestyle expectations seem to grow. For others, it is career-oriented decision and there is a desire (and sometimes pressure) to maintain a presence within their job.
Sometimes mums just need some plain ole “sanity restoration” and are simply desperate to engage in a conversation that doesn’t revolve around what is on ABC3 and finish a coffee that hasn’t turned stone cold when the last sip passes their lips!
Whatever the motivation, the demand for childcare is very real and in 2010 the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that almost 80 per cent of women whose youngest child was aged between six and fourteen participated in the workforce and two-thirds of these mums with children under six were working part-time.
So if you are one of these parents either contemplating or planning a return to the workforce then read on and see our ten things to consider when choosing where to send your child. They are not listed in any particular order of importance; in fact some may not even be a consideration for you. Nevertheless, it’s a good place to start when beginning the important decision making process of with whom you entrust the care of your children.
Does the centre look clean and are the staff nicely dressed and groomed? It doesn’t have to look like the floors have been polished to Windsor Castle standards, nor do the staff need to look like they are serving lunch silver service style, however a clean looking centre can be a good indication that all is well during the day and that there are standards being met and maintained by the staff.
Do the kids seem happy and cheerful? It would be unrealistic to expect all children to remain happy in a blissful utopian state at all times, never shedding a tear, crocodile or otherwise. Generally speaking however the children should look happy playing and interacting with the staff.
Ask Yourself: Do I get a good feeling when I am here?
3. Staff Ratio
The National Quality Framework and associated legislation dictates the number of staff required per child according to age brackets and this varies depending on the state or territory where the childcare centre is located. Familiarise yourself with the staffing numbers and make sure you are comfortable with the allocated ratios for your child’s age. Some centres will go above and beyond the minimum amount so it is worth asking what each centre’s policies are surrounding staffing numbers.
How far away is the childcare facility and is it conveniently located with respect to your work? It is a good idea to do a trial run at the usual time you would drive to work/home e.g. peak traffic.
Ask Yourself: How long will it take me to get to work and back? Is it easy to get there in the morning but really difficult in the evening or at other times?
5. Car Park Access
There is nothing more frustrating than a poorly planned childcare car park that turns into an American freeway gridlock at 8am each morning and 5pm each night. Whilst it may not be top of the list with respect to priority, the size, number of parks and how easy it is to manoeuvre around the car park is definitely something to take into consideration.
Ask Yourself: If the car park is full at peak pick-up and drop-off times, how far will I have to walk to find alternative parking?
6. Food and Meal Options
Jamie Oliver needn’t be the resident chef but a good balanced and nutritious food menu should be served to your children. It is a good idea to get a few sample menus from the centre when you are doing your research and have a look at what is available on a typical day. Some childcare centres will provide all the nappies and formula whereas others require that you provide all or some of the daily requirements.
Ask Yourself: What baby formula does the centre use and will my child be happy to drink it? If my child has food intolerances or preferences, how accommodating is the centre to these needs? Do I have to provide fruit/snacks in addition to regular meals or are these included?
Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool for evaluating a centre although we would caution against relying on reputation alone. Remember, what is important to you may not be important to others and people’s expectations can also be different. Often people are quick to speak up about their bad experiences that may or may not be the fault of the centre. Consider reputation and then back it up with your own opinion and research.
There can be a significant difference between childcare centre costs and this is often a big consideration for parents. The lure of a low cost centre can be tempting but do your homework and avoid being surprised with extra expenses that you hadn’t considered.
Ask yourself: Are nappies and formula included in the cost or do I need to provide these also? Are all meals and snacks included? Do I have to pay for public holidays and family holidays? Do I still pay if my child is sick?
The philosophy of the childcare centre is another consideration. Some centres follow principles and guidelines of learning and interaction that are in alignment with underlying teaching principles or guidelines. As an example, the Montessori learning approach encourages independence by providing an environment of activities and materials which children use at their own pace through spontaneous learning and according to their individual capabilities.
It is important to feel comfortable with the learning styles and curriculum that your chosen centre adheres to, as what is appropriate for some children won’t necessarily work for others.
It can be a big challenge for working parents to access trustworthy childcare on a casual basis or when those last minute unexpected work commitments arise. So what are the options for parents that are mindful of needing flexible childcare? Services such as Empty Spot Childcare are making access to flexible childcare easier for parents by providing an online casual or regular booking service for identified childcare centres with the added peace of mind you will be booking a centre you can trust. It is a win-win situation for the childcare centres also. They are able to advertise their vacancies to a wide audience and ultimately will allow them to keep the costs lower.
Ask yourself: Is flexibility a priority for me? How will I handle this if it is?