When to Start Looking for Child Care

It’s crazy to think that you may need to start considering who is going to care for your child before you have even cared for them, before you’ve even met them? Well this may be the case depending on where you live and how soon you think you will need to utilise child care. You may need to do some research regarding the state of child care in your preferred area to understand what the local market is like. You will also need to consider what your family’s needs are and gain an understanding of the centres that are available to you and what type of service they offer.

Should I start to look for child care when I’m pregnant?

Depending on where you live and how quickly you will need to utilise child care will determine how soon you will need to start researching possible child care solutions. If you live in an area where there is a shortfall of child care places and you need to utilise child care when your child is a young baby then you really should start to look for child care ASAP. My tip is to add your name on as many wait lists in your area as possible and then complete more detailed research later. You can organise centre visits down the track in your own time. At least this way you get in the queue.

If you think you will need care for your child when they are older than 2 or 3 years old then you have more time. Contrary to what the media will tell you there is a saturation of child care places for 3 to 5-year-old children in many areas. Again, do some research about child care in your local area.

Typically, centres offer places for 3 to 5-year-old children but not all centres offer care for under two-year-old children. Therefore, accessing care for babies and toddlers needs more time and planning.

If you have your heart set on a few specific centres because they have a good reputation then get your name down ASAP. Some small, popular centres can have long wait lists, up to 2 to 3 years long sometimes.

How do I put my name down on a wait list?

There are many methods for getting your name on a wait list. Each centre will have its own wait list process. Some of the bigger providers or councils may have a centralised wait list where you can express your interest in one place for many centres. There are online directories where you can list your name and days required and you can receive notifications when vacancies arise. It’s important to remember not all the centres in your area may subscribe to these online directories so do your own search as well. Some centres will have online waitlists some may still have paper form waitlists.

As a starting point, I suggest approaching your local council for a list of centres in your area. You can also do a search on the internet or go for a cruise around your neighbourhood.

How do wait lists work?

This is a million-dollar question for many parents who are desperate to gain a child care place. Child care wait lists are mysterious things. They can be frustrating because they lack transparency, but it is not as simple as obtaining a number in the queue and waiting for that number to get to the top. Wait lists are dynamic and complicated. There are government guidelines that all registered centres need to comply with regarding priority of access. Then each individual centre may have a range of waitlists that work in parallel with each other that comply with their own centre specific priority guidelines. For example centres may give priority of access to certain workplaces that sponsor positions for their own employees. Some centres may also give priority to other affiliated organisations. All centres will usually have a sibling priority wait list which favours siblings of children who are already enrolled. Most centres will also have an internal wait list for currently enrolled families who are waiting to pick up an extra day. These various wait lists and priority systems tied up with the fact that positions only become available when children leave makes predicting the wait time until you receive an offer practically impossible.

There are usually two different enrolment processes. One is when an individual family gives notice throughout the year and the other is the bulk enrolment process that happens once during the end of the year to fill vacancies for the following year.

Individual enrolments

Internally what normally happens is a currently enrolled child gives notice (according to the centres individual enrolment policy) the notice period could be anything from 2 to 8 weeks. As soon as the notice is received the administrator will normally begin the process to fill the place. The place offered will usually match the position of the child who is leaving such as age and days enrolled. What may also happen is that another child who is currently attending who has been waiting on an internal wait list may move into that position and pick up some of the days which create another vacant position. Confused yet? Imagine managing the bulk enrolment process for the commencement of the New Year with numerous positons to fill at once!

New Year enrolment process

Most centres begin the enrolment process for the following year well before the end of year is approaching because it is such an arduous process. I’ll attempt to explain the typical process that most centres implement at enrolment time. First, the centre needs to ascertain what the care needs are for the currently enrolled families for the following year. All the current families are surveyed to see who needs care and what days of care are required. Families with children who are going to school the following year usually notify the centre now. What happens next is the centre will determine which room each child will be enrolled in for the following year considering that the children returning will be growing, developing and turning another year older and may be ready to move into a different room. Children will move throughout the centre and most of the vacancies will appear in the younger rooms.

Therefore, the most predictable time that families will receive an offer is from September to December to commence enrolment at the beginning of the following year.

Timing your return to work, return to studies, or other pre-baby commitments

I usually say to families that if you are in control of your return date then the most likely time you will be able to return to pre-baby commitments is the beginning of the year because of the New Year enrolment process where the bulk of enrolments happen. I often suggest having a plan A and a plan B in place in case a position isn’t offered at the exact time that the family needs it.


Contact Mission Australia Early Learning today to enquire about vacancies in your local area.