About early childhood education and care
Early childhood education and care includes a range of different service types. In the ACT this includes long day care, family day care, and public and independent preschools. Some of these services were previously referred to as childcare services.
New legislation, introduced nationally under the National Quality Framework, refers to these types of services as education and care. This recognises that children's learning happens from birth, and those working with children in professional settings have an important role to play in enhancing children's learning and development. This can occur through intentional teaching moments during children's play, as well as through typical 'care' practices, such as toileting and meal routines.
Quality early childhood education and care is a great start for your child's learning and development.
School age care
School age care programs support working families by providing before and after school care, and vacation care. School age care mainly caters for children attending primary school, although some providers may be able to accept enrolments for preschool children. School age care provides play and leisure activities that support children's wellbeing, learning and development.
What is the National Quality Framework?
The National Quality Framework is part of the Australian Government's reform agenda for early childhood. It is being implemented collaboratively with all State and Territory Governments from 1 January 2012.
The National Quality Framework will require all providers to improve their services in the areas that are known to impact on children's development, learning and wellbeing, and to provide families with information to help them make informed choices about services.
Choosing childcare to meet your needs
Deciding to enrol your child in an education and care service is an important decision. Start to plan as early as possible, as demand for places is high and many services have waiting lists.
It is suggested that you contact services you are interested in and arrange a visit to the centre.
You can find out which education and care services operate in your area by searching the Australian Government's My Child website or calling the Child Care Access Hotline on 1800 670 305. You might like to consider services that are close to your home or place of work/study, or located somewhere along the way.
Other factors you might consider are the cost, opening hours, type of service (centre-based or family day care) and whether the service provides meals and nappies.
You may not be offered a place at your preferred service. Regardless of which service your child attends, you can contribute to the quality of the service by providing feedback on their Quality Improvement Plan. Collaboration with families is an important part of the National Quality Framework. Services will welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with you.
Why does quality matter?
International and national research shows:
- Children's early experiences impact on their brain development, and can have a long term impact on wellbeing;
- Children are born ready to learn, and the best learning happens in nurturing relationships;
- Educator to child ratios play a key role in ensuring quality for improved child development - more educators increase the potential for frequent and meaningful interactions;
- Smaller group sizes enable more individualised attention and frequent interactions, as well as facilitating secure relationships between children and with educators; and
- Improved training and higher qualifications raise the quality of interactions, educational practice and learning environments.
What should I see at an education and care service?
Education and care services are required to have certain information available to families and prospective families.
- Provider Approval and Service Approval - this will tell you who operates the service, the maximum number of children the service may care for at any one time, and whether there are any conditions or waivers in place.
- Name and position of the responsible person in charge of the service at any given time;
- The service's Quality Improvement Plan, which includes the philosophy of the service;
- Copies of the service's current policies and procedures, which detail operations in areas including health and safety, emergency management, staffing, interactions with children, management of the service, fees and complaints management;
- Information about the contents and operation of the educational program - each service will differ in how they present this information. If you have any questions you can ask to discuss them with the service's educational leader; and
- Any waivers (exemptions) that currently apply to that service.
You might also look for the following:
- Are indoor and outdoor spaces inviting?
- Do educators communicate frequently with children, including with babies?
- Are routines relaxed and unhurried?
- Is there a process for regular communication with families?
Early Years Learning Framework
All education and care services under the National Quality Framework are required to use an approved learning framework. For children preschool age and under, this is called Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia.
The Early Years Learning Framework has been developed to ensure your child receives quality play-based learning that is engaging and builds success for life.
It is a guide for early childhood educators who work with children from birth to five years. They will use the Early Years Learning Framework in partnership with families to develop learning programs responsive to children's ideas, interests, strengths and abilities, and recognise that children learn through their play.
The Early Years Learning Framework is not a prescriptive curriculum and it will look different in each setting, reflecting the philosophy of the education and care service and the local community.
You can talk to the person in charge of the education and care service about how they use the Early Years Learning Framework to guide children's learning and development.
Visit Australian Government Department of Education for more information.
Waiting lists and allocating places
Each individual service will have its own procedures for taking enrolments and allocating places when a vacancy becomes available.
Waiting lists are commonly used to register the details of families seeking places.
When placing your name on a waiting list, find out what you need to do to maintain your place on the list. For example, some services may charge a fee or require you to complete an application form.
When a vacancy arises, there are many factors the service needs to consider in order to offer a place, including the child's age and family's preference for days. The service is also required to comply with the Australian Government's Priority of Access Guidelines.
For more information contact the Department of Education on 13 33 97.
Family assistance to help with the cost of childcare
Many families are able to access financial assistance to help with the cost of childcare.
Child Care Benefit reduces the cost of your total fees at the time of payment. The amount by which your fees are reduced is income tested.
Child Care Tax Rebate pays up to 50% of your out of pocket expenses per child, per year up to an annual cap of $7,500. It is not income tested.
Further information is available online at Department of Human Services
Role of the Children’s Education & Care Assurance (CECA)
The Children’s Education & Care Assurance - part of the ACT Education Directorate- administers the legislation covering approved education and care services.
Approved education and care services, including long day care, family day care, outside school hours care, public and non-Government preschools and playschools, are required to comply with the Education and Care Services National Law (ACT) Act 2011 or the Children and Young People Act 2008 (depending on service type). Children's Services Advisers monitor services' compliance with the legislation and provide support in understanding and meeting these requirements.
The function of the Children’s Education & Care Assurance also includes:
- Quality assessment and rating of approved education and care services;
- Investigation of complaints about approved education and care services;
- Professional advice on the planning, design and establishment of new services; and
- An advisory service for families, children's services and the ACT community in relation to education and care.
If you need advice or information or have any concerns about your education and care arrangements in the ACT, call 6207 1114 and ask to speak to an Education and Care Adviser.