As a new parent, or a parent returning to work or simply looking for a break from the 24/7 demands of parenthood, navigating the child care system is one of the most daunting, confusing experiences going around! We are really lucky in Australia to have access to high quality care for our kids as well as good financial assistance, but it can be a nightmare trying to get your tired head around benefits, rebates, types of care, vacancies, wait lists and so on. So for the families of Ballarat, we have tried to pull together as much information as we can to make the Ballarat Child Care System as simple as possible for you.
1. Apply through Centrelink
The first thing you want to do, is get your benefits and rebates sorted out. The application process can take a while, and it’s best if you have it all done before you start applying for places at day care. There are 2 payments available for eligible families, the first is a benefit, which is paid to low income families. The second is a rebate, which all families are eligible for. So even if you think you might not be eligible for the benefit, you still have to apply for it to get the rebate.
The rebate can be either paid directly to you – so you will pay your child care fees to the provider, then get some money back from Centrelink to your bank account. Or you can set them to pay directly to your provider, so then your child care bill will be significantly less. Some providers aren’t set up to do this though, so whichever you select on your application, you can change later.
You can complete your application through the mygov website or head into Centrelink and they will guide you through it in person or online.
2. Gather information
Now that you’ve applied for your payments, gather up lots of information because you are going to need it when you start filling in paper work for places at centres and family day care. The most important things you will need include:
- Your CRN (Centrelink customer reference number)
- Your child’s CRN
- Your medicare card & number
- Your child’s health immunisation record (you can get this from mygov or centrelink / medicare offices)
- Names, addresses & phone numbers for emergency contact people / people who you authorise to pick up your child if you are unable to
3. Determine the type of care
Decide what type of care you want your child to go into and how long for or how often. It varies from huge centres, to small family day care at people’s homes with only 3 or 4 children. And most centres are “long day care” meaning they charge you for full days, whereas some family day care providers, or occasional care centres charge you in sessions (eg 2 hour blocks / half day sessions etc).
Family Day Care – your child is cared for in a small group, usually 2-4 children, by a single educator in their own home. This gives you the opportunity to build a close relationship with the care provider and your child gets to know them and other children. Most provide full days, some may offer shorter sessions and weekends. And your child will be involved in excursions and more intimate experiences.
Long Day Care – your child is cared for in a larger group setting, with numerous carers in a bigger facility with permanent placing. Sometimes you may be required to go on a waitlist if the centre is at capacity. They generally offer only full day long care, and don’t usually offer half days or weekends. Your child will be involved in lots of different activities, and some centres will have outdoor play areas, and onsite chefs to prepare meals.
Occasional Care – your child is cared for in a larger setting for shorter periods of time, or on an as needs basis. Bookings can usually be made up to the day prior to requiring care, or in some instances a walk in on the day, but it is best to book well in advance if you require regular care for work etc. Bookings are not usually made more than a month in advance, and you can book for one or two hourly time slots depending on the provider. No regular attendance is required.
4. Find a centre / provider
Now that you know what type of care you would like, you can start doing your research and finding a suitable facility for your child. While it is often helpful to ask for people’s experiences and opinions, it is best to do your own research and speak to the facilities yourself and visit them with your child to see how they can cater to your child’s specific needs. What might work for one child, may not be suitable for another. But finding the providers can be like finding a needle in a haystack. There are numerous databases available on the internet and by contacting regulating bodies directly, we have collected some of the relevant local databases for you:
Private Providers Guide (Coming Soon – if you would like to be listed as a private provider click here to contact us)
When you have made your final decision, it’s time to enrol. You will be handed a bunch of paper work to complete, and you will need all that information you collected from around home in step 2 (Gather Information). You may also need to contact Centrelink again just to let them know that you have confirmed a place with a child care provider, so that they can link your payments to the centre if need be. And remember, if you don’t like it, you can always go somewhere else. You might find after a few weeks that it is not what you thought it was, or that your child hasn’t settled in. But if you have any concerns, speak to the carers first and see if they are able to help you before you start your searching journey all over again.
But now that you are in the system, you should find it a lot easier to navigate from here on in. You will meet new families, and you will hear more about other people’s experiences and thoughts on centres, educators, which type of care is best and so forth. And remember to do what is best for YOUR family and YOUR child.
Now enjoy your special time. Whether you are off to work, heading home to get some stuff done, going shopping, taking a well deserved break, running errands, whatever…enjoy your time. Your little one will be just fine, they will adjust, the educators are all trained professionals and they will call you if anything happens that they can’t deal with.
* Disclaimer * Information provided in this article is of a general nature, and advice should be sought from Australian Government authorities and regulating organisations for specific information relevant to your personal situation.