Quality child care - 5 key areas of importance
Is the child care you use quality care?
In recent years the number of children attending care outside their home has increased dramatically. The Australian Bureau of Statistics records that in 2008 (the most recent figures available) 750,000 Australian children under 12 attended formal child care so it may play a major role in your family’s life.
Quality child care helps children develop meaningful relationships and engage in experiences that will benefit them both now and in the future. It’s vital that parents build strong relationships with their child care service, exchange information about their child and share their values and expectations with their child care educators.
What is quality child care?
There are five basic quality practices that apply, regardless of the type of child care being offered.
1. Good relationships
Adults in the service should speak to the children, families and each other politely and respectfully and the service should have a welcoming and friendly feel. Look for good relationships between children and their educators, and between educators themselves.
2. Effective communication
Educators should be able to show you how they will provide information about the service and your child’s care. You should also know how they’ll find out important information from you about your child.
3. Children’s learning and development
All services are required to support children’s learning and development. Every service will do this differently, but they should be able to tell you what activities and experiences they plan to extend your child’s development and learning.
4. Health and safety
All services must ensure that the environment they provide is safe, clean and properly supervised. They should also promote healthy eating for your child.
Services should provide information about any management decisions that will affect you and your child. They should also have procedures for you to raise any grievances or concerns you may have.
Can I get involved with helping my child’s centre?
Each service will offer different ways to become involved, it’s up to you how much that is. For example, you could:
• Provide input on development and/or review of policies and philosophy.
• Complete questionnaires on how the service is doing and what can be improved.
• Attend events at the service such as family barbeques or information evenings with guest speakers on a range of family topics (eg child nutrition).
• Help with fundraising or working bees.
Regularly sharing information with educators about your child’s interests and experiences outside the service will help carers get to know your child better and plan for their experiences. Talk face-to-face at the beginning or end of the day, write or email, or set up a meeting with the staff who work with your child.
While the service should have procedures, it’s not always possible to stop all illnesses.
Even though it can be difficult to make other arrangements, it is important that children are not sent to care if they are ill. They will recover more quickly if they are kept at home, and it will prevent the spread of the illness to other children and adults.
The service should have in place to minimise the spread of infection and provide clear information about their illness policies and exclusion guidelines.
Your child can attend child care if they are not immunised, but the service is required to ask you to keep your child away from care if there is an outbreak of an immunisable disease. Families who receive Child Care Benefit from the Australian Government are required to keep their child’s immunisation schedule up to date, or to have certification from a recognised immunisation provider that exempts their child from being immunised on either medical grounds or due to conscientious objection.
The daily program of activities
Services may have a communication book, whiteboard or noticeboard which can be accessed by families as they pick up or drop off their children, and which outlines the activities and experiences that the children have participated in that day.
For younger children and babies there are usually charts or similar recording your child’s eating, sleeping and toileting during the day. If your child is toilet training, they should provide you with information about that, too. Ask to see any documentation about your child’s progress and of course, talk to the educators at the service about your child’s day.
If your child attends long day care, they will usually move through different rooms within the service as they grow and develop. When they move depends on things such as readiness and available places in the next room.
The service should support your child when they move rooms by letting them spend some time in their new room as well as their old one. They’ll usually be looked after by different people as they move and might need help with new relationships and to become familiar with a new setting.
The ratio of educators to children will also change as children grow older, with fewer educators responsible for more children.
Ask how you can help your child’s transition – they may suggest talking to your child about the changes both before and during the transition so that they know what to expect.
General questions to ask a service:
• Is the service accredited by NCAC?
• What if my child has specific needs, such as a medical condition or developmental difficulties?
• How will the service keep my child safe and healthy?
• Is there a planned program of day-to-day activities?
For 0-3 year old children:
• How will I find out about my child’s eating, sleeping and toileting patterns during the day?
• Can the service help my child with toilet training?
For 3-5 year old children:
• How will the service help my child to develop their independence and social skills?
• How will the service help my child to get ready for school?
For 5-12 year old children:
• Will my child have time for relaxation and recreation before and after school and during school holidays?
• What will the service do if my child is being bullied or excluded by other children?
References and further reading:
Lawson, N., & Owens, A. (2008). NCAC Factsheet for Families: Preparing for child care. NSW: NCAC.
NCAC. (2006). Factsheet for Families: Settling children into child care. Putting Children First, 19, 28.
NCAC. (2009). Choosing and using quality child care – a guide for families. NSW: NCAC.