If you are studying or working and have young children who need care, you can access subsidised childcare in Australia. Your eligibility and the level of government support depend on your family income and whether you satisfy the activities test.
Sarah Gardiner is a small business owner and a mother of three children aged seven, four and a nine-week-old baby.
She has been able to work full-time over the last six years, thanks to the different childcare options she is able to access.
"Over the years, we’ve used everything from a private nanny, a live-in au-pair, family daycare, long daycare and also KU preschool," she says.
- Different childcare options in Australia include Centre Based Day Care, Family Day Care, Outside School Hours Care, In-Home Care and preschools.
- The same curriculum should be taught to a child whether they are doing their preschool year in a daycare centre or a stand-alone kindergarten.
- The federal government subsidies childcare costs depending on the family income and hours of work or study.
Parents in Australia can access different care options for their children depending on their needs.
The first option is Centre Based Day Care — basically childcare centres that are approved by regulators to provide quality early childhood care and education.
Most of these centres provide care for 10 or 12 hours a day.
Another option is Family Day Care, which operates in the home of the educator. That means that you take your children to the educator’s home to receive care and early education.
Outside School Hours Care is when a child needs care before or after school, usually from 6.30 am to 9 am and then from 3 pm to 6 pm and during school holidays.
In areas where the care options are not available, there may be In-Home Care, where the educator provides care in the child's family home.
In-Home Care suits families that are geographically isolated or who work non-standard or variable hours or have challenging or complex needs.
Preschools are government-approved services and provide early education and care for children aged between 3 and 6.
"They are usually more structured and offer shorter days of care. In some places, it’s called ‘kinder’, in some places, it’s called ‘preschool’, and that’s where children start entering a slightly more structured environment," says Dr Baxter, Deputy Secretary, Early Childhood and Child Care group at the Department of Education.
She says the Commonwealth Government and States and Territories provide support for this type of care.
When can a child enrol?
According to Dr Baxter, the age the children start and the age they stop each type of care except for preschools depends on each family’s situation and needs.
Mrs Gardiner says she was lucky to find a good family daycare when her kids were little.
"I went back to work with my first when it was 8 months old and with my second when she was 8 weeks old, and so I needed a service provider that looked after under two-year-olds, and the area in which I live doesn’t have any long daycare centres for that age group," she said.
"I felt that the environment of a family daycare with a small child was an advantage because there are three other children in care at any one time, and they are all quite similar ages.
She says the only disadvantage of a family daycare is that if the carer or their children are unwell or want to go on a holiday, then the family daycare would be closed.
Preparing for the school
Mrs Gardiner sent her older two children to a childcare centre when they turned two.
"They supported the children from when they were two to develop their social relationships and confidence with other children. Also, it really helped that I was able to drop the kids off early and pick them up late," she says.
But when her children turned three-and-a-half, she sent them to a preschool.
"At KU [preschool], there is more of a focus on supporting children to take responsibility, demonstrate independence and develop skills that are needed for, I guess, a happy integration into the school world," says Mrs Gardiner.
"They have allocated news days, they have library days, they are expected to put away their lunch boxes, and take an added level of responsibility, more so than what we found at the long daycare centre."
Dr Ros Baxter says in Australia, the same curriculum should be taught to children whether they are doing their preschool year in a daycare centre or in a kindergarten.
"Where it may be a little bit different is because you may have a child who is attending 10 or 12 hours a day, and there’s only part of that day when they are having the year before school curriculum taught to them," she says.
The preschool curriculum is 600 hours a year, equivalent of two 7.5 hour-days a week.
Fees and childcare subsidies
Mrs Gardiner says it was a lot cheaper to send her children to preschool than the daycare centre.
Dr Baxter says sometimes preschools can be cheaper than long daycare centres because the state government and the Commonwealth subsidise the year before school.
"Also, in a centre-based daycare, children may be spending the whole day there. You are not just paying for the preschool component, but you are also paying for the care for 10 or 12 hours, and in some cases — you are also paying for food and other provisions for those times."
Dr Baxter says Centre Based Day Care, Outside School Hours Care, Family Day Care, In-Home Care and preschools all receive funding from the Commonwealth Government.
For preschools, the Commonwealth Government provides funding to the states that get passed onto the preschools in that state.
For centre-based care, Family Day Care and Outside School Hours Care, the federal government provides a subsidy to the families depending on their income and the activity test, which comprises work, training, study and some form of volunteering or other activities.
For example, if you earn less than $70,000 a year you’ll be on the highest end of the subsidy which is 85%. If you are at the very high end of the income scale, you may find that you only get a 30% subsidy from the government.
"The service itself may charge, let's say, $10 an hour, which may be an average hourly fee, and how much subsidy you get back from the government to help you manage the cost of that depends on what your family income is," explains Dr Baxter.
Mrs Gardiner recommends putting a child’s name on a waitlist as early as possible as some centres and preschools have waitlists for up to two years.
To be able to receive Child Care Subsidy, a parent or their partner must be an Australian citizen or permanent resident, or be on a Special Category visa, or on a certain temporary visa type, for example, a Partner Provisional or Temporary Protection visa.
A parent may also meet the requirements if they or their partner is a student from overseas, sponsored by the Australian Government to study in Australia.
More information is available here.