What are Child Care Centres?

What are Child Care Centres?

An Overview

When a parent mentions that they're looking for child care, most of us would guess that they're trying to find a child care centre. That's because child care centres are the most popular type of formal child care used in Australia. 

The 2017 Child Care Survey undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, found that the most commonly used formal child care for children under 12 was child care centres (37 per cent of all children) followed by outside school hours care for school-aged children (15 per cent).

When you find a child care centre to suit you and your child, it can become a comfortable part of your family's routine. Catharine, mother of Francesca, says that her child care centre always tries to maintain the parenting practices of the family, whether it is routine, rules, language, food preferences or issues of cultural diversity.

"Francesca loves going to child care. It took her a couple of weeks to adjust to the new routine, but by 4 to 6 weeks she had settled in and clearly loves it. Some mornings I am lucky if she stops to wave me off!"

What are child care centres?

Child care centres provide regular full-time or part-time child care in places specially built or adapted for child care. They can be located on their own grounds, attached to schools, or even in shopping centres and office blocks. Child care centres may be run by private operators, local councils, community organisations, employers and non-profit organisations.

Centre-based care is also known as a 'child care centre', as the centres are often open from early morning until early evening. Typical operating hours for child care centres are 7:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekdays, although some centres may open longer each day, and on weekends. Centres are open at least 48 weeks of the year.

Child care centres usually cater for children aged from birth to five years. Each centre will have a number of children attending who will be different ages. State government regulations set limits on the number of children that can be cared for by each carer.

Under changes brought about by the Government's National Quality Framework (NQF), the educator to child ratios have been gradually standardised and improved across the country.

The ratios set by the NQF are outlined below:

States/Territories Service Type Educator to Child Ratios
Children from birth to 24 months

All States and Territories*

Child care centre 1 educator to 4 children
Children aged 24 to 36 months
ACT Child care centre

1 educator to 5 children


Child care centre

1 educator to 5 children

Child care centre

1 educator to 5 children

Child care centre

1 educator to 5 children
QLD* Child care centre

1 educator to 5 children


Child care centre

1 educator to 5 children

Child care centre

1 educator to 4 children

Child care centre

1 educator to 5 children
Children aged 36 months and older

Child care centre/preschool

1 educator to 10 children

Child care centre/preschool

1 educator to 11 children

Child care centre/preschool

1 educator to 11 children

Child care centre
Disadvantaged preschool

1 educator to 10 children
1 educator to 10 children
1 educator to 11 children

Child care centre

1 educator to 10 children
1 educator to 25 children

Child care centre/preschool

1 educator to 11 children

Child care centre/preschool

1 educator to 10 children
Children over preschool age
All States and Territories

Outside school hours and vacation care

No national ratios however state and territory ratios may apply
Children aged birth to 13 years
All States and Territories Family day care

1 educator to 7 children with no more than 4 children pre school age or younger including educator's own children younger than 13 years of age at home

* Some services in QLD have permission to operate at 1:5
** Some services in TAS have permission to operate at 1:7 until 2018
*** This is due to the school starting age in Tasmania

Some centres also offer other types of child care such as: 

  • Sessional care for morning or afternoon sessions
  • Extended hours care for care outside the centre's normal operating hours
  • Outside school hours care for before and after school

See a summary of how child care centres compare with other types of child care in our child care comparison table.

How much does child care cost?

Child care costs can vary significantly depending on:

  • Where you live. NSW is the most expensive state and Tasmania is the cheapest.
  • How much care you need. Some centres will charge less for shorter days, although other centres may charge for whole days no matter how many hours of care you need.
  • Whether food, drink and nappies are provided.

Click here to read more about the cost of child care centres.

Various forms of government assistance are available to eligible families using approved child care centres, click here to read more about the Single Child Care Subsidy.

What will my child do at a child care centre?

Child care centres offer a mix of education, care and recreational programs to suit children of different ages. Most child care centres have indoor and outdoor areas with toys and equipment.

Some typical activities include:

  • Arts and crafts
  • Cooking
  • Drama
  • Dance
  • Excursions
  • Games
  • Music
  • Reading
  • Sport

There is also supervised play time with water, sand and outdoor equipment such as climbing frames. Catharine believes that the stimulating environment at her child care centre assists her daughter's development. "The centre has a much greater variety of toys and activities than we have at home - the combination of part-time child care and part-time at home with me works very well for our family."

How do I find a child care centre?

Some child care centres have great reputations, and you may hear the same names mentioned by friends and family. Ask these parents what they think about the centre, and what their children's experiences are. Use our child care centre search to find child care centre in your local area.

There can be long waiting lists for popular centres, or centres in high-demand areas like inner city suburbs with many young families. If possible, put your name down on waiting lists before you need the care, and try to have a few options rather than rely on just one centre. The more flexible you are with the days you require, the more likely you are to find a place.

Places often become available at the end of the school year (or at the start of each school term in some States) when older children leave care to attend kindergarten or pre-school.

We also suggest that you register for our child care vacancy alert. This service allows you to register your interest for an opening for child care in your area and be notified when vacancies arise.

How do I choose the right child care centre for my child?

If you can, visit several child care centres to see how they are run, and watch the children and staff together. Jackie, mother of Paris and Mia, recommends that parents take their child with them on the visit.

She advises parents to "observe how the staff react to your child, not necessarily how they react to you. Ask to stay for a little while and let your child wander and play with the other children."

When you are choosing a child care centre, think about:

  • Location: Does the child care centre need to be close to home, work or another carer?
  • Cost: What are the fees charged, and what do they include?
  • Availability: How far ahead do I need to book? Are places available on the days and times when I need them?
  • Staff: What qualifications do the staff have?

You should also consider your child's needs and interests:

  • Are the children made to feel welcome by the staff and other children?
  • Do the activities suit my child's interests? If my child doesn't want to join in organised activities, is there supervised free play?
  • Is the environment suitable and interesting? Are there a range of toys and equipment in each room?
  • Are any meals provided? Do they cater to special dietary needs (e.g. allergies)?
  • Other considerations. Do they administer medication? Do they have a television and is it supervised?

Catharine is delighted with her child care centre and says her daughter is very happy there.

"We continue to be impressed with the attention paid by the staff to the separate needs of each child, from the individual development programs to the tailored menus," she says.

As a parent, you may also want to become involved in the child care centre's activities:

  • Can I talk to staff about my child's needs and activities offered?
  • Am I able to visit the centre at any time?
  • Are parents' views and concerns taken into account by the centre? Can parents become involved in the centre's decision-making and activities?

Use our child care centre checklist to help you assess and compare different child care centres.

For many parents, child care centres are a reliable and convenient place for their children to learn and play. Jackie is very comfortable leaving her daughter at child care in the mornings.

"I know my daughter is comfortable here, so separation is easy. Her day begins with one of the carer's holding her hand leading her to her favourite activity or one of her friends," she says.

With a structured environment, qualified staff and a child-friendly environment, children from as young as six weeks can thrive in the right child care centre.

This child care article was last updated on Friday, 29 June 2018


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