If there’s one topic of conversation that’s likely to bind parents together it’s the cost of childcare. Actually, scratch that – it’s childcare in general. How difficult it is to find, how much it costs, how important quality care is. With more and more families requiring two incomes to service city mortgages, and more women wanting to continue on their career paths after having children, childcare is a hot topic. And with Australian Bureau of Statistics figures suggesting that more babies have been born in the last five years than in any other five-year period in our history, it’s not a topic that’s going away any time soon.
Finding affordable, quality childcare is not always easy. Availability has long been a problem, though the experts say that this is improving, but the other problem is that new mums don’t always know what they’re looking for.
“Essentially, parents want the same thing – they want their children to be safe and happy in a childcare environment that is fun, educational and nurturing,” says Roxanne Elliott from careforkids.com.au, a website aimed at linking parents with childcare options in their area. ?But you need to think about the type of care your child needs."
To do this, she suggests considering your child’s temperament, likes, dislikes, health, interests, behaviour, social interaction and need for individualised attention. You must also, of course, take your own budget into consideration. You may feel that your child would do better in a small, home environment, but can’t afford the cost of a nanny. Family Daycare, where a small group of children are looked after in a family home, may be an affordable alternative.
Speaking of affordable, the cost of childcare is very dependent on what you’re looking for. “There are no regulatory constraints on childcare fees,” says Roxanne. “It all comes down to what the market can bear.”
Fortunately, there are measures in place to help parents afford it, in the form of various subsidies. Navigating your way through the subsidies on offer can be confusing – and they do change regularly. “Subsidies are based on your individual set of circumstances,” says Roxanne. “My suggestion is that you go to a Family Assistance office or to Centrelink and meet with someone to discuss your circumstances. It’s the best way to get a good understanding of what your subsidies will be.”
The truth is that it all depends on where you live. Childcare costs and subsidies vary from state to state and are not regulated. If you happen to live in an area where availability of childcare is low and demand is high, you will pay more. Suburbs close to the CBD of any capital city will always be in this boat, mostly due to land values.
“the problem is that the cost of land is prohibitive in these areas, so there will always be chronic shortages,” says Roxanne.
In most areas, the availability of care has been a big issue, but Roxanne says this has improved, with one exception. “Overall, the real issues are for those seeking care for under-two year olds,” she says.
Of course, the cost of your care also depends on the kind of care you’re looking for. To give you an idea:
All figures are sourced from careforkids.com.au, where you’ll also find rates for au pairs, mothers’ help, babysitters and before-school and after-school care.
In 2011, the Australian Government will introduce changes to the regulations for Childcare Services, introducing a national quality framework. “The emphasis for the Framework is on quality and increasing the level of qualifications for carers,” says Roxanne. “As well, the ratios of carer to children will be changing, so childcare centres will need more carers. All of this will likely result in increased fees for parents.”
The changes will technically result in better quality of childcare, but qualified staff are paid more and higher carer-to-children ratios means more staff. “The industry is suggesting that it could result in increases in childcare costs of up to $20 a day in fees,” says Roxanne. “Particularly for care of children under two.”