In Australia, a crèche is generally understood to be a child minding service which parents and families can access for a limited amount of time when they go to the gym or a shopping centre. There are usually rules around the length of time children can be left, typically between 1-2 hours, the cost is usually lower and parents are often required to stay on the premises.
High-quality creche facilities are a valuable service as they enable parents to participate in the exercise, do some kid-free shopping and/or attend a meeting or class, without having to commit to a long-term child care arrangement. In some ways, they are like group babysitting and can be plenty of fun for kids when they are managed properly.
It is important to note that crèches are not always required to comply with the strict quality standards imposed on long day care centres, family day care centres, outside school hours centres and other types of early childhood services.
This means crèche facilities do not have the same staff-to-child ratios and are not required to follow the rules surrounding the premises or programs offered. In addition, other sites may not have fully developed policies around anaphylaxis management or fully qualified staff.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald recently, the chief executive of the Community Child Co-Operative, Leanne Gibbs says the distinction is an important one as crèches operate only by "voluntary guidelines, whereas a child care centre will be operating by national regulations".
"That's something parents need to be aware of when they are leaving their children in crèches," Gibbs says, adding that there are "no laws that actually surround who work with their children and their supervision".
"Parents may not know they are only under voluntary guidelines. I think it's something that needs to be stated clearly by crèches."
That being said many crèches choose to operate by best practice guidelines and those operating on council premises (for example a council-owned recreational centre), or the premises of a community organisation (such as a church) may have their own rules and regulations including hiring people with child care qualifications and ratio requirements, as well as their creche opening hours and the length of time you are allowed to leave your child behind.
In addition, many well-managed crèches will do what they can to ensure children are supervised in a stimulating and fun environment by staff with a genuine passion for child care.
It's also worth keeping in mind the fact all Australian States and Territories require anyone working with children to have an up-to-date working with children clearance. You can read more about that here.
The best way to judge the quality of a crèche is to go in there and check it out for yourself. Take your child with you on your first visit and go for a look and a chat with the staff. Things to look out for include:
The premises, size, quality, light and cleanliness
The quality, condition and range of toys, books and activities on offer
The engagement levels of staff
The number of staff on duty
How happy and engaged the children seem
The level of cleanliness of the nappy change areas and bathrooms
Any operating policies and procedures like how their booking system works or if they accept online bookings ahead of time. If you have a child with special needs or any health requirements for sick children, then be sure to check if they can accommodate these, as you might be required to fill out an enrolment form in such a scenario.
If you have any questions don't be shy about talking to the staff on duty or the people managing the facility where the crèche is located.
Don't have the option for a creche? Use our child care compass and see what other options you have.
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