Choosing child care
child; care; childcare; young; centre; center; family; nanny; safety; babies; carer; attachment; afraid; stress; infant; development; secure; group ;
Children are cared for in different ways when their parents are not with them. Care may include relatives, neighbours, friends, family day care (where a carer is licensed to care for children in her own home), after school hours care and child care centres.
Different kinds of care suit different children and children at different ages. Parents need to think about the special needs of their own children and try to find the care that suits their family best. Check out the kinds of care that are available in your area, meet the carers and talk about what they can offer your child.
Research shows that the quality of child care is more important to a child's development and relationships with their parents and other children, than whether a child spends some time in child care.
When is the best time to start child care?
There is no best time for children to enter the care of other people. It is different for different families and children. At any age some children do well and others may not. Often it is decided by your financial or work needs. Children over three years of age usually benefit from group experiences for part of some days, whether you are at work or not.
The advantages of being cared for by parents in the early months can include:
- easier breastfeeding
- opportunities for parents to enjoy spending time getting to know their baby
- time for infants to develop strong bonding with their parents.
Babies under 6 months
- Infants need the type of care where they can have a close relationship with one carer or a very small number of carers. It is best for them to have the same carer as much of the time as possible. This will not affect your child's love for you. In fact it helps your child to be loving if she feels secure with the other people who care for her too.
- Carers should be able to spend time with the infant and get to know the needs and little ways of each baby. Each carer should not have too many other children to care for (not more than 3 babies or very young children if possible).
- Carers should understand that babies need to be attended to straight away and that they should not be left to cry.
- The carers should have understanding about the health, hygiene and safety needs of babies (eg. how to keep their bottles clean, safe nappy changing, that they should not sleep on their tummies).
- The babies should have separate places to sleep and to play.
- Carers need to understand how babies learn and grow.
- Carers need to enjoy being with babies .
If you need to have a very young baby in care, it is probably best if it is at least two or three sessions a week, not just one, so that the baby has a chance to learn to adjust to the new situation and get to know the caregiver(s). Babies need stable child care - changing the care arrangements often leaves them confused and can affect their development and behaviour.
Babies and toddlers - 6 months to 3 years of age
Toddlers need carers who:
- understand that your child will prefer to be with you and is likely to feel upset when you leave, and know how to help children with this
- understand how children of this age learn and grow (eg. that they need to be active, that it is important for them to do things for themselves when they can, and to say "No")
- let children to use their dummies or other special toys in care (this helps them feel secure)
- will encourage you to visit with your child until the child gets to know the new carers
- have time to listen to and get to know the children
- have a very small number of toddlers in their care
- have times and space for children to be away from the group and with an adult when they need to
- can provide a different things to do and see
- understand how to manage young children's behaviour in positive ways, eg not smacking or punishing
- know about how young children learn and help them with learning
- understand about the health, hygiene and safety and food needs of toddlers (eg. toddlers need to learn to wash their hands before eating and after going to the toilet, to sit down while they eat. They should not be given nuts or hard pieces of food)
- enjoy being with young children.
Stable child care arrangements are also important for toddlers. Having several carers each week or changing child care often can be very unsettling.
Young children in group child care have more risk of getting common infections such as colds and gastro.
- Usually there are no long term bad effects of this, although some infections (eg. gastro) may be serious for a baby or young child.
- Ear infections, however, can stop children being able to hear well and to learn to speak clearly. It is important to see your doctor if your child has ear ache and also if she seems not to be able to hear properly.
- Group child care is also a risk factor for Hepatitis A, which is not usually serious for children, but can be spread to adults, including parents. Sometimes staff and children in child care centres are immunised against Hepatitis A if there is an outbreak in the area. Being very careful with food and dirty nappies helps to stop it spreading.
- Children who have had any infections in day care may be less likely to get sick in the early school years, but it is important to help them stay well when they are very young as far as possible.
- Day care centres which divide children into groups of 3 or less children have no more risk of infections than if the children were at home, as long as care is taken with being clean.
- If children are kept away from child care when they are sick there is less risk to other children. Sick children also need more care than usual, and care providers are not usually able to give the child the attention needed.
- Children going to child care need to have their immunisations up to date, to help keep them safe from some serious illnesses. Most child care centres will have policies about immunisation, and may not accept children who have not been immunised.
- Long day care centres should have written policies that you can look at, showing how they manage keeping children healthy and what to do when a child is sick.
If you need child care for your baby or young child, you could consider the following choices:
- For some parents it is possible to work from home, perhaps with some one in your home to help care for your child while you work.
- Some parents can work flexibly or share work time so one of them can be there for the children.
- Having relatives or grandparents provide care is an option for some (this may be a stress on grandparents if it is for a lot of time).
- Using a nanny or other in-home care is also an option - but make sure the person you choose is competent, positive, mature and trustworthy. A young caregiver in your home may be very isolated if she is finding it difficult to manage.
- Other options include
- care with a friend or neighbour that you trust
- family day care (care in the home of an approved care provider)
- centre-based care (child care centres).
If you are looking at a child care centre, some of the things to consider are:
- the adult to child ratio (eg. no more than three babies with a carer is better)
- the caregiver's level of training
- a caregiver's sensitivity to a child (how does she interact when you observe them, will she allow you to observe them)
- what are the child's actual experiences in the setting (again this needs the oportunity for you to observe).
Note: It is important that, wherever infants and young children are cared for, the home or building is safe, eg well fenced, no pools that children could fall in. Information about home safety can be found in the topic 'Home safety'.
In Australia your local State Department of Children's Services can give you information about standards for formal child care settings and family day care.
- Go with your child the first few times and stay until the child is settled.
- Always let the child know you are leaving, even if he cries - this helps him to learn to trust you.
- Leave something of yours for a worried child to care for while you are not there, eg old set of car keys.
- Make sure the child has his or her comforter/dummy while in care.
- Make special time with the child everyday after care, even if it means no fancy meals.
Many young children grow and develop well in the care of others. Some children find it too stressful and some care situations are not the best for babies and very young children. There are a number of important things to bear in mind when choosing care for your child.
- Babies and very young children can't tell you if something is wrong for them in words - they show their feelings by what they do
- If a child continues to be upset at going when you leave her with other carers, or does not seem to be playing happily, or stops doing things she could do before, there is something that is not right for the child.
- You may need to spend time with your child at care to help him feel more secure (the carer should encourage this). Or it may be that it is the wrong kind of care for that child or perhaps he is not ready yet to be in care.
- It is important to act when children's behaviour shows they are stressed, to try to find out what the problem is and make sure they feel safe.
- If your child seems afraid to go to care or afraid of a care-giver, or seems to be going backwards in development (forgetting things he used to be able to do) it is important to stop the care and try to find a situation where he can cope.
- Note: If you have serious concerns about any kind care your child is in you should approach the department responsible for child care in your state and let them know. (In South Australia this is the Department of Education, Training and Employment, Children's Services Office).
The Child Care Benefit helps Australian families with the cost of child care for long day care, family day care, occasional care, outside school hours care, vacation care and registered care.
You may be eligible for Child Care Benefit if:
- you use approved or registered child care, and
- you or your partner (if you have one) are living permanently in Australia, and
- you are either an Australian citizen, a New Zealand citizen, the holder of a permanent visa, the holder of certain temporary visas, an Australian Government sponsored student or in other special circumstances, and
- your child is immunised or exempt from the immunisation requirements, and
- you are liable for child care fees for your child.
Guardians, including foster parents and grandparents, responsible for the day-to-day care of children/grandchildren may be eligible for Family Assistance and should contact the Family Assistance Office for more information.
For more information have a look at the Family Assistance Office site: Child Care Benefit
Books for children
- There are many books for children about going to child care. You could talk to the children's librarian at your local library to locate some that may suit your child.
- Continual research is being done on the effects of childcare on attachment and other areas of children's development. The debate is ongoing and there is no unified view. Some studies in the past have shown that over 20 hours a week in group care can be associated with attachment problems for some infants under one year of age.
- Some studies have also shown that behaviour problems in school age children may be associated with early long day care for some children. However, high quality care seems to help many children develop skills in interacting with other children.
- Research in the United States by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has shown showing that what is important to attachment is not whether the child is in care, but the quality of the care and also the quality of the care the child has at home. Quality in child care includes the number of children per carer, the carers' attitudes to children, how they interact with children and their training.
Clarke, Stewart A. 'A new guide for evaluating child care quality: NICHD Early Child Care Research Network'. Zero to Three, April/May 2001, pp40-47.
Moore, Dennis R. 'Substitute child care at different ages: relationship to social-emotional functioning in preschool'. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 66(2), April 1996, pp305-308.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Early Child Care Research Network. 'Child care Quality: higher quality care related to less problem behaviour'. National Institutes of Health, January 1999. http://www.nichd.nih.gov
NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. 'The effects of infant child care on infant-mother attachment security'. Child Development, 1997, 68.
NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. 'The relation of child care to cognitive and language development'. Child Development, July/Aug 2000, vol 71(4), pp 960-980.
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.