One of the most frequently asked questions regarding childcare is “when do I start looking?” Generally speaking, you won’t be able to secure a spot in most childcare centres until around two months before your desired start date. Although this means you don’t necessarily need to figure out everything before your due date, finding your ideal childcare may take longer than you expect, so it’s good to start your search early on.
+ Ready to find available childcare centres near you? SEARCH HERE NOW.
Step 1: Work out your requirements
The first step of your childcare search typically starts when your bundle of joy arrives, and it involves working out your basic requirements and forming a game plan.
Think about how many days you’ll need
The level of care you require may depend on your family's work commitments. When sending your child to childcare, you need to lock in an exact number of days per week, and these are typically the same days each week. Think about which days you’ll require and whether or not this can be flexible. The more flexible you are with the days of the week you need, the easier it will be to find available childcare in your ideal centre.
Consider which locations will work best for your family
Some families prefer childcare options that are close to their home, and some opt for childcare closer to their workplace. Think about what works best for your family’s morning and afternoon routines.
Plan out when you want to start
For those who are planning to go back to work, this typically dictates when your child starts childcare. We highly recommend leaving a few weeks between your child starting childcare and you starting work, as your little one may need time to adjust to childcare life.
Consider your budget
Think about how much you’re willing to pay per day. Centre costs can vary depending on location, size, and whether meals and nappies are included. Also, find out whether or not you’re eligible for childcare fee assistance (the Child Care Benefit and/or the Child Care Rebate) by contacting Centrelink.
What are your non-negotiables when it comes to your ideal childcare?
Childcare centres may vary in terms of their room sizes, layout, and offerings. Settle on which features are highly important and non-negotiable for you. For example, some centres include meals and nappies, while others don’t. Does your ideal childcare have to provide meals or/and nappies? Do you strictly want childcare centres with an outdoor playground? A quick tip: being flexible with some of these specifics will increase your chances of securing a spot.
Step 2: Research
As soon as you decide on your basic requirements, start looking at the childcare centres in your area, and make a list. This is the most time-consuming aspect of your search (especially if you do it after only four hours of sleep the night before!). So allow a longer time for this process.
Here you may find details including a centre's address, contact details, opening hours, and facilities on offer. Most will also have photos showing the different rooms and facilities.
Contact the centres
If you’d like to know specifics, ring the centres you’re interested in and ask to speak to the Centre Manager. Information on the daily fees, orientation process, and sizes of rooms, for example, are usually not available on the centre’s website.
Chat to local parents
Your fellow parents are a useful source of information. Talk to them and ask about their current and past childcare centres, and whether they can recommend any centres.
Step 3: Visit the centre
Once you’ve shortlisted the centres you’re most interested in, book a few centre visits by calling the centre directly or sending them an email. Physically visiting the centres allows you to get to know what each centre is really like. If you’ve shortlisted many centres and would like to look at all of them, we recommend starting your visits around three to four months before you want to start childcare.
Ask important questions
A centre visit is the best opportunity for you to ask as all the important questions (link to our 11 questions article) that may affect your decision. You may want to ask the centre about their learning program, menu (if they provide meals), and their policy on illness. Write down these important questions (or print our list out) and bring them to the visit, so you don’t forget.
Bring your child along
If possible, plan your centre visits during so your child can come along and you can see their reactions to the different centres. You’ll be surprised how intuitive young children can be!
Do a few visits
We suggest visiting more than just one centre so you can compare them and see which one seems like the best for you and your child.
Step 4: Enrol or get on a waitlist
By the time you’ve finished centre visits, you’ll know which centres are the top contenders. So now it’s time to secure your spot.
Call to express interest
Call those centres to let them know you’re interested in enrolling. Most childcare centres won’t be able to forecast availability nor secure a spot too far in the future, so we suggest doing this one to two months before your required start date. This time frame works well because it gives you more certainty as to whether or not you’ll be guaranteed a spot, rather than just getting a “maybe”.
Secure your spot
If one of the centres has current availability and can offer you a place, the next step is to secure this spot quickly. Ask the centre what is required to confirm enrolment. Some centres require a deposit to be paid, and some require you to fill out and return their enrolment forms.
If the centres don’t have available spots, get on their waitlist straight away. Once you’re on their waitlist, remember to keep contacting them every couple of weeks as spots may become available unexpectedly.
Best of luck! If you currently need childcare and are feeling stuck in your childcare search, Childcare Near Me is here to help.