Last Updated on June 10, 2019

Your essential checklist for choosing a childcare centre

Choosing a childcare centre isn't like deciding what you're going to have for dinner. For many parents, it's a place that can essentially become your child's second home, especially if you work full time.

Many parents go into the search not quite sure what they're looking for, except that they'll know it when they see it. To some extent, this isn't an entirely flawed philosophy. Your instinct may well be able to tell you when something is a good fit.

But listening to your instincts isn't always easy to do, particularly when there are a number of options out there. We've put together our top ten tips for choosing the right childcare centre for your family. Make sure to read all the way to the end, because we've also got a checklist of childcare questions that you won't want to miss.

Top 10 Tips for Choosing a Childcare Centre

1. Shop around before you commit

You absolutely do not have to join the first childcare centre that you visit. In fact, we recommend that you visit several centres in your target area (which could be near your home or near your work) before making a decision.

Come with a list of questions (psst...see our checklist at the bottom of this article) and be sure to ask the same questions at each centre. That will help you compare the pros and cons of each place you visit. And don't forget to use to help you find a centre---locating centres and scheduling visits can be time consuming, so let us do that for you!

2. Find out what you need to bring and what the centre provides

Some childcare centres may require you to bring everything for your child, like snacks, nappies, and blankets. Others may provide food, formula, cot linens, and more. It's important to be clear on what you'll need to bring from home, because you'll need to prepare and label it for easy identification.

If the childcare centre does provide a host of items, find what their procedures are for bringing your own from home instead, as this might be your preference.

3. How does the childcare centre manage security?

Unfortunately, security is something you'll need to think about when choosing a childcare centre. Ask about entry to the building itself, which might be via keypad or through a reception area. It's also worth finding out what the protocol is if you ever need to have someone else pick up your child. Will a phone call suffice (and do you want it to?) or will you need to make arrangements ahead of time?

4. Ask about illness management

Childcare centres have developed a somewhat inevitable reputation as a breeding ground for illness. As a result, many centres have very strict guidelines about what to do when your child is sick. These rules are in place to protect all children in care, as well as their family members. Find out how the childcare centre manages a sick child, whether it happens while in care or before they are brought in.

5. Assess the centre's level of experience

Feel free to ask about the staff and their level of experience, which most trustworthy childcare centres should be happy to talk about. How long have each of the staff members been working in childcare? And while you're at it, find out what the ratio is of adult to child. According to the ACECQA National Quality Framework, the standard ratio in all states and territories for children aged 0 to 24 months is one educator for every four children.

6. Tour all of the facilities

Ask to see every part of the childcare centre, from the play room to the nappy change room. Cleanliness should be consistent throughout, not just in the areas that parents see at dropoff and pickup. Keep an eye out for any safety hazards or questionable arrangements, like sticky countertops or outdated food in the refrigerator.

7. Look for compatible methods of communication

Do you prefer to speak on the phone or communicate by text? Or maybe you like using an app or sticking to email. Whatever your preference for communication, your childcare centre should be compatible. It's important to know that you'll be able to get in touch with them easily, particularly when your child is in their care.

8. Be aware of fees and charges

If you're notoriously late (no judgement here!) you probably want to ask about fees that apply if you are late picking up your child. Also ask about day rates vs hourly rates, as well as additional charges if they are open on holidays.

9. Follow the centre on social media

While you're weighing up your options, check out the childcare centre's Facebook feed. Read the reviews and scroll through the posts for an idea of how they operate from day to day. It will also give you insight to their social media policy, and how it could affect your child. As a bonus, many businesses post promotional offers on social media, so you could even swoop on some savings!

10. Verify the centre's credentials

Childcare centres in Australia should be registered with the Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). Registered childcare services are assessed under seven different quality criteria and given a National Quality Standards rating. If the centre lists any other qualifications, check that they are legitimate.

Checklist: 20 Questions to Ask When You Visit a Childcare Centre

  1. What is your educator to child ratio?
  2. Is there a waitlist for the centre?
  3. What are your opening hours? What about holiday hours?
  4. What are your regular hourly or date rates? What about late pickup fees?
  5. How do you ensure a secure environment for the children?
  6. Do you provide food and snacks or do I need to bring them in?
  7. How do you manage children's allergies and medication?
  8. What is your philosophy on behaviour management?
  9. What happens if my child shows signs of illness while in your care?
  10. Are you registered to operate in the state/territory?
  11. What activities can my child participate in?
  12. Are children broken up into age groups?
  13. How is the day structured for the children?
  14. How will you communicate with me about my child's daily experiences?
  15. What is the procedure if a child has an accident?
  16. How will my child have a chance to explore his/her interests?
  17. What happens if I need someone else to pick up my child?
  18. What experience, qualifications, and certifications do your staff members have?
  19. What is the routine for infant feeding?
  20. Have you been assessed by the National Quality Standard? If so, what was your rating?