Choosing high quality child care for your infant
Choosing high quality child care for your infant
You can enrol your baby in child care long before they’re able to walk, talk or blow out their first birthday candle.
And although you might be worried about leaving your little one in the arms of another, research has shown that being in child care may actually enhance the development of ages zero to two – as long as the child care provided is of a high quality.
Here, we see what high quality care offers infants, and share Starting Blocks’ advice to help you find the best child care service for your baby.
What are the hallmarks of high quality child care?
The Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development says, ‘Children can experience high quality child care in a variety of settings,’ and whether it happens in the home or at a centre, high quality care provides young children with these three things:
- Basic health and safety,
- Nurturing relationships and interactions, and
- A stimulating environment that ‘organises and scaffolds children’s learning’.
There’s evidence that the quality of care a young child receives has a greater influence on their early social, emotional and cognitive development, than the form of care provided (e.g. parental care versus professional child care).
So, if you’re feeling conflicted about going back to work, then you can rest assured that a high quality service will benefit your baby.
What’s the starting point when finding quality care for your infant?
In Australia, the National Quality Standard sets a high benchmark for child care services, and you can gauge the quality of different providers by doing a Child Care Search and looking at the NQS ratings for services in your area.
This search also brings up parent ratings, so you can see how other mums and dads have rated services, in terms of things like health and safety, warmth and empathy towards children, and learning and developmental programs.
Once you’ve created a shortlist of quality services that fit with your family’s budget, location and hours, it’s important to visit your favourites and choose the best service for your baby, based on its practices, people, premises and programs.
What health and safety practices should you look for at a child care service?
Basic health and safety is a must-have, and Starting Blocks says that, ‘Maintaining children’s health and keeping them safe is the most fundamental responsibility of a child care service.’
When you tour a quality service, the government says these six practices will be in place to safeguard your baby and everyone on-site:
- The premises, furniture and equipment will be clean, safe and well-maintained,
- Effective hygiene practices will be followed, with a focus on handwashing, cleaning of toys and surfaces, and infection prevention,
- There will be safe indoor and outdoor places for your baby to practice rolling, sitting, crawling and standing,
- Your baby will be able to safely explore their child care environment and will spend minimal time in a high chair, stroller or play pen,
- Your baby will be closely monitored when they’re sleeping and will always be in the sight and/or earshot of educators, and
- As a mum, you’ll be supported to breastfeed (e.g. by being provided with a clean, safe and calm place to do this).
How do personal connections play out in quality child care?
Nurturing relationships and interactions go to the heart of high quality child care, and from the moment you contact a service and step into its premises, you and your baby should feel welcome.
Quality service leaders and educators will answer your questions, explain processes, and show a genuine connection with others at the service; and over time, quality educators will build a reciprocal, responsive partnership with you, and a genuine bond with your baby.
Starting Blocks says that at a quality service:
- Familiar educators will provide your baby with care, and get to know their needs, routines and experiences by spending time with them and exchanging information with you,
- They’ll talk with your baby during care routines (e.g. nappy changes and bottle feeds) to build this relationship,
- If your baby is upset, they’ll be soothed with comforting words and cuddles from their educator,
- There’ll be opportunities for your baby to have one-on-one interactions with their educator as they play, socialise and relax, and
- Your baby will be responded to when they make sounds or try to communicate.
A good educator-child relationship will help your baby to feel happy and secure while they’re away from you, and it will also have a positive influence on what they learn and do at child care.
The government explains that when an educator knows you and your bub well, they can create flexible, individualised programs that are tailored to your baby’s abilities, interests, needs and routines.
For this reason, it’s important to follow your instincts and find care-givers that you and your baby feel comfortable with.
Before settling on a service, you might ask who your baby’s main care-giver/s will be, how your baby’s home routines will implemented, what happens if they experience separation anxiety, and so on.
You can build a good relationship from the first moment you meet educators, and once your baby is enrolled at a service, it’s important to interact regularly with their care-givers, share information about your infant and family, and take the time to build a mutually-beneficial connection.
What are the features of a stimulating child care environment?
Although your baby might get overstimulated or upset if their service is too loud or too busy, a stimulating child care environment is important for your baby’s learning and development.
Your little one will benefit from a safe and engaging physical setting – complete with lots of opportunities to play and explore – and Starting Blocks describes a quality child care environment as, ‘Stable and familiar, interesting and rich, with things to look at, touch and listen to.’
In a quality setting, there will be:
- Pushable, pullable, rollable, kickable, graspable objects to build your baby’s skills and muscles,
- Different surfaces for your baby to crawl over (e.g. grass, rubber and wood), and
- Places where they can practice pulling up into a standing position.
Your baby will be given sensory experiences (e.g. things to touch, see and listen to), and the government says educators will also offer, ‘Natural materials and spontaneous experiences’ to promote your infant’s individual learning and development.
The environment, and experiences in it, should stimulate your baby’s body and brain; and as you can see from above, there are practical and personal considerations when choosing a quality child care service for your baby.
You’re looking for effective health and safety practices, nurturing relationships, engaging interactions and experiences, personalised programs, and a physical environment that promotes your baby’s early learning and development.
Although it may feel daunting to leave your little one when you go back to work, you can trust a quality service to care for your baby with kid gloves and partner with you in genuine ways.
Take the time to choose your infant’s service carefully, so your young family can reap the rewards of an early childhood education.
This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Thursday, 13 May 2021
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