If you’re currently in the market for childcare, chances are you’ve heard about childcare waitlist and all its madness. In most inner-cities where there’s more demand for childcare, some families may be left with no option but to wait for a vacancy to come up.

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Childcare waitlists often leave parents feeling frustrated and anxious--and for good reason. It’s clear that the current waitlist system adopted by many centres needs an overhaul, but in the meantime, learning about how the waitlist system works and following some of our useful tips will help with your chance of getting a spot, or at least help shorten your wait time!

What's a waitlist?

A waitlist in a childcare centre is a list of parents who would like to enrol their child at the centre but are unable to do so at the moment, either because there are no current vacancies, or because the parent is looking to enrol in the future.

How does it work?

Each childcare centre has an operating license capacity, which is the maximum number of children a centre can have in their premises on a daily basis. Childcare centres are obliged to strictly adhere to this license capacity, making sure they never exceed the limit. In conjunction with the overall license capacity, centres also set a limit to the number of children they can take daily in each age group, due to the different sizes of rooms that they have available in their facilities and the number of staff members they have for each room. This is why some centres may have a waitlist for some age groups, but not for others.

When a centre is full overall or full in some rooms, spots may become available only when the centre moves the children up to the older rooms, or when a family decides to cancel care and leave the centre.

When a vacancy comes up, the centre then refers to their waitlist and starts offering the spot to the parents on that list. Each centre has its own policy on this subject, but a parent who has received an offer will generally have a limited period of time to accept and secure their place. If a parent who has been offered a spot ends up declining it, or doesn’t accept the spot quickly enough, the spot will then be offered to the next parent on the centre’s waitlist.

How long do you have to wait?

A very common question that parents ask is how long they’ll have to wait before they can get a place. Although some centres may give you an estimate, this will be a very rough estimate and most centres won’t be able to let you know how long exactly it will be before a spot becomes available. The only two reasons that spots may become available are transitions and other family’s cancellations, and unfortunately, both are quite unpredictable.

How to get on a centre waitlist

Different centres adopt different systems for their waitlist. Some centres still require you to come for a visit, grab a waitlist form and fill it out, while others can take your details over the phone. More and more centres nowadays have an online waitlist, which is generally available on the centre’s website. When filling out a centre’s waitlist, either online or on paper, make sure you leave your correct contact details, as you won’t want to miss out on a spot due to them not being able to contact you.

Waitlist fee

Most childcare centres don’t require parents to pay for being on their waitlist. However, in some areas where there’s extremely high demand for childcare, it’s not uncommon for some centres to apply a waitlist fee, ranging from $15 to $150. Be aware that some centres have a non-refundable waitlist fee policy.


Useful tips

Less is more

We recommend getting on more than just one centre’s waitlist so that you’ll have a back-up plan. However, contrary to popular belief, putting your name down on ten different waitlists might not be the best strategy. Instead, we suggest you start your search early on, visit multiple centres, and register only on the waitlists for the centres that you’ve visited and really liked.

Be proactive

With fewer centres to keep your eye on, you can actively contact the centres on a regular basis either to update your details if you need to, remind them that you’re still interested, or check if any spots have become available.

Priority of enrolment

Many centres have priority of enrolment for existing families, which means that if you already have one child enrolled in a centre, you’ll be on the top of the waitlist if you’d like to enrol your other child in the same centre. Some centres also prioritise parents who are working or studying in certain organisations that they have affiliations with.


For childcare centres that cater for children up to five years old, a big transition normally takes place in the beginning of the year, when most kindergarten children move on to prep, making room for the younger age groups to move up accordingly. This results in a big intake in the start of the year, meaning many childcare centres will have more spots available.

Be flexible

Being flexible with your start time and the days you require will drastically increase your likelihood of landing a spot. For example, if a spot becomes available a month earlier than your required start time, you might want to consider taking it and using the time to get your child settled in. If you’re after full time care, you might want to consider starting earlier and take less days to start with.