The great waiting game

Published on Monday, 05 December 2016
Last updated on Wednesday, 20 July 2022

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Chances are, if you know about child care then you know about wait lists, they go hand in hand. Successfully navigating your way through the world of wait lists takes patience, planning and nerves of steel, but you can do it!

The best way to ensure you find the care you need is to start looking early and take a proactive approach to securing your child a spot. Although it may sound a little extreme, pregnancy is a great time to start.

First steps

Research, research, research! Use online child care resources such as to learn about the different types of child care services available, the services in your area, what they offer, whether they have vacancies and what their wait list policy is. You may want to visit the services and/or talk to the director of the places you are most interested in.

Once you have a feel for what is on offer and what you like, develop a short list of services you want to wait list with. Remember, wait listing your child at a service does not mean you have to go to that service, but if you know you want a spot for your child when they hit a certain age, then it is crucial to have your name on as many lists as possible to increase the likelihood of securing a spot.

Some councils and large child care providers offer centralised wait lists, some services use online application, while others will require you to go in and pick up a form and leave it with them.

It's common practice for child care services to charge a wait list fee with no guarantee of a spot. Parents have told us they have paid up to $100 to be put on a service wait list. While you won't have to pay that much in the majority of places, you should expect to pay something to cover the costs associated with administering the wait list process.

Many parents have complained to us that once they have put their names on a wait list and paid their fee there is no further communication from the centre. If you don't like this way of operating, take things into your own hands and maintain communication with the centres you have listed with, especially your top two or three.

Be systematic in your approach to managing your wait list applications, try and keep diary notes when you call the service, remember the name of the person you talk to and if possible consider popping in to the service to see the staff on a regular basis. Remember to maintain a positive an upbeat demeanour in your approach to dealing with the wait list administrators as they are unlikely to help you if you are pushy or rude!

Unfortunately it is not common practice for a child care service to cap the number of people on their wait lists and most will accept anyone who fills in the application form and pays the fee.

The CEO of KU Children's Services, one of NSW's largest community child care service providers, Ms Christine Legg, says providers do not cap their wait lists as most parents list with more than one service and the wait lists are an unreliable indication of who is likely to actually need a spot.

"We don't usually close off our wait list, however in areas of high need where we do have long wait lists, we inform families if they are unlikely to gain a place for their child at the time they indicate they will need it. In this situation families can choose to stay on the wait list and put their child's name on other wait lists,” said Ms Legg.


  • Start your planning early, putting your child's name on a wait list at least 12 months before you need care. This will maximise your chances of securing a spot where you want it and when you need it.
  • If you know you definitely need a spot for your child by a certain age then ensure you are on multiple wait lists.
  • Call the centres you are listed with at least once every month to touch base and keep your details updated.
  • If you go away for an extended period of time, leave alternative contact details as you may be contacted by phone if a vacancy comes up and miss your opportunity to take the spot.
  • Enrol your kids in the same service; siblings get priority on the wait list in most centres.
  • Be flexible in your approach; accept care earlier or on different days to what you planned as once you are in a service you will have opportunities to change your days.
  • Stay on the wait list at your first choice service even if you accept a spot elsewhere. Once you have paid your wait list fee you don't have to renew it.

Please thoroughly check the small print on any wait list fee you pay, especially if it is a significant amount. Consider the cost against the likelihood of securing a place and find out whether the fee is refundable if you are unsuccessful or find a space somewhere else.

Make sure the waitlist fee request is made in writing and documented and that you have a receipt.

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