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Value matters in child care and early education

Happy Piggy Bank

The changes to the Federal Government child care subsidy arrangements that came into effect on 1 July have refocussed attention on child care fees. And for good reason. Child care is a major family expense and the first of many important steps in a child’s out-of-home education.

It can be difficult for families to understand the value provided by child care and early learning centres. Beyond the advertised fees, most centres charge additional fees and require parents to provide some items and contribute in various ways throughout the year. The cost of these can all add up.

In addition, value is not just about price, it’s also what your child and family get for the money spent.

So, here’s some food for thought that we hope can help parents take their first step into finding child care that’s just the right value for them.


Quality is a subjective measure and can be hard to pick ahead of your child’s enrolment. But there are plenty of clues that will guide you on the quality of care and learning provided. How engaged and guiding are the staff? Does the centre welcome the involvement of approved family members? You should consider aspects such as the standard of centre design, the quality of furnishings, play areas and outdoor landscaping. Is there fresh-air outdoor play space? Is this the sort of place that your child will enjoy and that you will feel good about?


Advertised fees are just the start of measuring total price. Fees are more expensive for 0-2 year olds, due to the small number of children per carer required. Fees typically reduce as the child grows older and the carer ratios are lower. Pricing usually runs in bands of 0-2, 2-3 and 3-6.

Some centres offer discounts for full time attendance or multiple children.

Additional costs

It’s wise for parents to ask questions about extra fees so there’s no surprises. Extra fees can include mandatory purchase of items such as clothing, linen and nappies. Then there’s meals, laundry and administration fees. Many centres also hold fundraising events that represent a direct cost to families. Parents and child care centres both dislike late pick-up fees, but they do exist. So late fees too should be known and the rigour in which they are applied, well understood.

What’s included and what are you required to bring?

It pays to compare what is included in the standard fees and the range of time saving conveniences provided to families. While everyone values different things in different ways – time, for example, is a very precious commodity.

  • What are the opening and closing hours?
  • Are all meals included?
  • How many meals per day?
  • Are nappies included in the standard fees?
  • Are you required to send creams and other special items?
  • What is the process for exchanging important information about the child at drop-off and pick-up times?

Buying into something as multi-dimensional, complex and important as childcare can be difficult. By following the guidance here, you’ll be in the best position to be confident in the decision you make.

Download a handy checklist here.

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