How do Australian parents choose child care?

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  Published on Wednesday, 13 February 2019

How do Australian parents choose child care?

Library Home  >  General Information on Child CareParenting & Family LifeEarly Childhood Research
  Published on Wednesday, 13 February 2019
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Every family has different needs and wants when it comes to selecting the child care that's right for them, however, a report released by the Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority has highlighted some shared feelings and influences amongst parents.

Called 'The Families Qualitative Research Project', this report gathered information from parents via individual, group and online discussions and highlights some key issues affecting the parents of young children.

How do parents feel about selecting child care?

Overall, parents understand the importance of the early years for their child's cognitive, physical and emotional development, and because of this, they do not treat decisions surrounding child care lightly.

The report found that parents feel a huge responsibility to choose the care that will support their child's needs, such as providing love, security and enriching experiences, while taking into account practical matters, like opening hours and fees.

The upshot of this is that choosing child care is often a 'momentous and stressful decision,' especially if families are using care for the first time.

Parents reported feeling overwhelmed by the complex and changeable child care environment, and parents of older children feel the system has become more complex because of:

  • The large number and type of services
  • Waiting lists and lack of availability
  • Fee increases
  • Changes to regulatory requirements, e.g. child to educator ratios
  • Changes around government funding, i.e. the Child Care Subsidy
  • New research around children's development and education

In response, the report sees an underlying need for a 'centralised, comprehensive and impartial information source' to ease family stress going forward. The good news is that here at, we already offer an A-Z of Child Care which is full of helpful info, as well our freely available Child Care Guide.

Practically speaking, how do parents approach the child care decision?

The ACECQA report confirms that choosing child care isn't just about finding a service in one simple step. Instead, parents must consider:

  1. Whether or not to enrol their child in formal education and care
  2. What type of care is best for their child, i.e. long day care, family day care, preschool/kindergarten or outside school hours care
  3. Which service to use

There are emotional and practical factors to take into account, and once parents decide to seek formal education and care, there are several steps parents take that lead to their final child care decision:

  • Build a list of possible services: based on location, budget, word-of-mouth recommendations and government information
  • Compile a short-list: considering quality and pragmatic issues, and taking into account the views of others, such as word-of-mouth opinions, online reviews and insider information from current or former staff/parents
  • Visit the short-listed centres: a crucial step in deciding if the service will support their child's wellbeing and involves parents considering things like facilities, procedures and relationships
  • Apply for a place: many parents put their child's name on two to three lists, sometimes more

The practical process of finding child care comes with mixed emotions, and parents reported feeling:

  • Stressed, worried, confused or guilty at the list-building stage
  • Determined, optimistic, frustrated or disappointed at the short-list stage
  • Unsure, impressed, hopeful, confident, clear or excited after visiting a service
  • Nervous, stressed, impatient or concerned while on the waitlist
  • Relieved, thankful, happy or guilty when their child was offered a place

Are parents influenced by third parties when choosing child care?

They sure are! Although it is the child's parents who are making the decision, this report shows that mums and dads are strongly influenced by:

  • Other parents, whether that's a trusted friend from mother's group or a mummy blogger they've never met
  • Industry insiders, such as a current educator or a former teacher
  • Family members, particularly when choosing the type of care

The report confirms that word-of-mouth plays an important part in decision-making, and that parents generally value information that is recent, consistent and knowledge-based.

Somewhat surprisingly, parents say they trust government sources of information (like websites), but rarely seek it out, except at the initial fact-finding stage.

What is the main clincher when it comes to parents making child care decisions?

Although there's no doubt that parents are influenced by others, this report shows that mums and dads rely most strongly on their own judgment.

When choosing child care, they are interested in quality, which includes things like clean and safe facilities, qualified carers and enriching activities, and parents overwhelmingly prioritise their child’s wellbeing.

All-in-all, parents are looking for a quality early childhood education and care service that will:

  • Support their child's physical wellbeing and safety (this is seen as essential)
  • Support their child's emotional wellbeing and sense of belonging
  • Support their child's developmental wellbeing and growth
  • Support community wellbeing, by providing links between the service, families and the community
  • Support organisational wellbeing by exhibiting stability in management, processes and governance

Where can you find more information about the ACECQA report?

The Families Qualitative Research Project report contains some interesting diagrams, along with opportunities and recommendations, and remember has been supporting families to find high quality education and care since 2003!

We know our stuff and have a library of up-to-date information to help you with all your child care choices.

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Thursday, 01 October 2020

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