How to meet the challenges of before and after school care

Published on Wednesday, 29 May 2019
Last updated on Wednesday, 11 November 2020

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With working families facing child care challenges all over Australia, how can we reconcile the short school day with the long working week?

Here, we look at some ways your family can manage the before and after school care dilemma right now.

Outside School Hours Care (OSHC)

The most obvious choice for working parents is Outside School Hours Care (OSHC). Providing supervised care and recreation for primary school-aged children, it covers before and after school care, those tricky pupil-free days, and the seemingly never-ending school holidays.

Most OSHC services are operated by community and private organisations and the government also runs an OSHC program. Fortunately, child care subsidies make OSHC care more affordable, for those who are eligible using approved centre, and the hours fit well with the working week. Typically OSHC services run:

  • From 6:30am to 9:00am before school
  • From 3:00pm to 6:00pm after school
  • From 7:00am to 6:00pm every school holiday weekday

There is also a focus on play, socialisation and fun, with activities like art and craft, games, music, reading, sport and homework time allowing for individual and group engagement.

Keep in mind it can be hard to secure a place at some centres. Waiting lists abound, and once your child is accepted, you'll need to think about how they'll get to care, if it's off school grounds, or how much time your child is happy spending there, if it's on school grounds.

Flexible work arrangements

Juggling time or losing working hours isn't always easy, especially for single parents, but to vary the type of care their child has over the week, some parents arrange to work part-time or half-days, work from home or do school drop-offs and/or pick-ups on particular days.

Before and after school co-ops

For those with some free time, a parent co-op can work well. These are a group of parents who share out child care over the week, looking after their own and each other's children on specific days. For instance, you may look after the co-op's children every Monday afternoon, while other parents care for your child on the remaining weekdays.

Grandparent care

For families with a Nan or Pop nearby, grandparent care may be a mutually beneficial form of before and/or after school care. Seniors and juniors enjoy spending time together, however, do remember that child care is tiring, and your grandparent carer must be physically and mentally up to the task, and committed to doing it regularly.

We recommend having an open discussion with them about hours, location, compensation and everyone's expectations to help avoid any issues going forward.

Babysitters, au pairs or nannies

To ensure before or after school care is being provided on a regular basis without any familial dilemmas, you may consider the services of a babysitter, nanny or au pair.

regular babysitter, such as a university student looking for work, or an agency sitter, can be hired to pick up your child from school and care for them until you get home.

An au pair adds a cultural dimension to child care and can be a cost-effective choice for families with several children. For instance, an au pair might provide before and after school care for two older kids, plus day care for a younger sibling.

A professionally qualified nanny is also a great option. They can live with you, where both parents work long hours, or come to your home, for before or after school care. They can also be shared between families to reduce costs or drop-off two families' children at the same school.

Extra-curricular activities

Activities like ballet or karate are fun ways to fill in time after school, and another parent may be happy to transport both their child and yours to the class. Depending on how long the activity runs for, you could collect your child from the venue after work, or else pick them up from the other parent's house.

This after school arrangement can work well one or two days a week, however, it's important that:

  • The care-taker parent is genuinely happy to take responsibility for your child
  • Your child and their child get on well
  • Everyone is clear on time boundaries, such as collecting your child straight from work
  • You ensure all costs are covered for your child, where the other parent is not being chased for your child’s term fees or always paying for snacks
  • You're organised, making it's easy for the care-taker parent to find your child's uniform and/or equipment for the after school activity
  • You offer to take their child to the activity if there's ever an opportunity to share the load

Leaving your child home alone

This isn't appropriate for younger children, but as children get older, you may be wondering when they're mature enough to walk themselves home from school and stay safe until you finish work.

According to Raising Children Australia, there's no one law in Australia that states an age when your child can or cannot be left home alone, except in Queensland, where it's an offence to leave a child under 12 years unsupervised for an 'unreasonable time'.

Instead, you're legally obliged to ensure your child is safe and properly looked after, and can use your own judgment about leaving them home alone. This means that it may be appropriate for a responsible 12-year-old to be left home alone while you're at work, but not a risk-taking 15-year-old.

To help you make the call, Raising Children Australia suggests you consider things like:

  • Whether your child usually makes sensible decisions and follows house rules
  • Whether they get scared if they're alone for a while or are confident about being unsupervised at home
  • How they'd cope if there was an emergency
  • How long, and how often, your child would be home alone

This is a big decision, so instead of rushing into it before your older child is completely ready, stick with other care options until you're absolutely sure.

In summary, we hope that one day soon, governments will make before and after school care easily accessible for all working families. And until then, we hope you can find a care option that works for you and your child.

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