The difficulty of finding childcare in Sydney was something that I greatly underestimated in our preparations for our move. My mom came with us for the first three weeks to help us settle in and watch Theo, and I assumed that would be sufficient time to find a daycare for Theo. However, with Sydney’s high cost of living, a lot of families rely on dual incomes, meaning there are a lot of children in need of care.
Before I describe our experience and break down the process of finding childcare in Sydney, here is a quick overview of Sydney’s childcare system for children ages 0-6:
Sydney’s Childcare System
The majority of childcare centers in Sydney are classified as Long Day Care. They are usually located in a center or building, open Monday through Friday from 7:30AM to 6:00PM, and cater to children 6 weeks to 5 years, although some don’t accept children until 1 or 2 years of age. Different age groups are usually separated in different rooms and meals (and sometimes nappies) are typically provided. These centers call themselves by a variety of names, including early learning centers, child care centers, preschools, and kindergarten. Preschools and Kindergartens typically cater to children over 3 years of age, and some have shorter hours, but not all. Most long day care centers are run by private businesses, nonprofits, council governments or religious institutions.
Another option is Family Day Care. These are typically operated by a private individual in their own home and usually have a smaller group of children, with a variety of ages mixed together.
Daycares in Sydney do not seem to associated with certain philosophies (i.e. Montessori, Waldorf, etc.) as much as they were in San Diego when I was researching preschools there. There are a few Montessori schools in Sydney. Most of these start at age 3, with parent participation programs for younger children one day a week.
What is the Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate and do I qualify?
The Australian Government provides two different types of support for families who need childcare. The first is called the Child Care Benefit. The amount of this benefit is based on the family’s income and the child must be enrolled in a registered or approved childcare center to be eligible. The Child Care Rebate is another benefit provided by the government that is not based on a family’s income. This benefit covers up to 50% of childcare costs, up to $7500 per child per year.
Sounds pretty amazing, right? Well, before you get too excited, those on temporary work visas, such as the 457 Visa, are not eligible for either of these benefits. It may, however, be worth asking your employer to consider contributing to childcare costs if both parents need to work.
For more information on these benefits, visit the government website, mychild.gov.au.
Finding Daycare…When to Start, Where to Look, and How to Get Your Kid on the List
Start Looking Before you Arrive!
If you will need childcare outside of your home within the first few weeks or months of relocating to Sydney, I’d recommend beginning to look as soon as you decide to move. Certain suburbs in particular, such as Manly and Mosman, have very long waitlists at every center. The first eight places we inquired at had 6-12 month waits for enrollment.
Two main websites for researching centers are:
The notes regarding whether or not centers on these sites have vacancies are not accurate. Many of the centers we inquired at that listed vacancies had 6 month or more waitlists.
Get on the Waitlist
You will need to be very proactive in getting your child on the waitlist and getting them priority, especially as an expat. A first step is to fill out the waitlist form, which is usually on the center’s website. Do not expect that to be sufficient. If you do not get a call or e-mail back within a week, follow up with a call to the center. Explain your situation and let them know you’d like your child on the waitlist immediately. If you find a center that will have vacancies around the time you plan to arrive in Sydney, check in with them every few weeks to keep your child at the top of the list and make sure they know you are serious.
Tour the Facility
Most centers require you to take a tour prior to enrolling your child (and some even require it prior to getting on the waitlist). Tours are usually held mid-morning after most children have arrived and before lunch and naptime. Be prepared with questions before you tour. Here are a few examples of things you might want to ask:
- What are the center’s prices? (in the Northern Beaches we saw prices ranging from $110-$130/day)
- What are the student to teacher ratios?
- How many kids are in each classroom?
- What are the age ranges of the classrooms?
- Are food and diapers (nappies) provided?
- How are behavior issues dealt with?
- Where do children nap and how do they get kids to sleep?
- What sort of parent involvement is expected?
- Does the center organize any extracurricular activities or social events?
There are a few ways that you can increase your chances of finding care. If you are looking for only part-time care, most centers have more availability on Mondays and Fridays. You can also try looking for centers near your place of work or along your commute, rather than near your home.
We were very lucky to find a center that had just opened literally the week before we inquired and still had spaces for students who were ready to enroll immediately. After touring the facility (which is absolutely gorgeous) and meeting the teachers, we felt it was a good fit for Theo and enrolled. The center is not located in our immediate neighborhood, but it is only about a ten-minute drive and is near the main shopping center in our area and Matt’s bus stop, so it works out to be pretty convenient for us.
If you aren’t able to find a center with availability or can’t start looking ahead of your arrival because you don’t have a geographic area narrowed down, plan ahead for a short-term care option such as a nanny or babysitter. There are a handful of websites that connect parents with nannies and babysitters.
Sydney has a great new startup called Juggle Street. It is an online platform that connects families (i.e. “jugglers”) with “helpers” in their neighborhood. Families can post babysitting or nanny jobs for a fee and helpers that they have chosen to connect with can apply for the job.
Other options for finding babysitters include asking for recommendations in the various Facebook groups such as the Northern Beaches Mums or North Shore Mums, or the Sydney Nannies & Babysitters group.
A babysitter will also be very useful your first few weeks while you are searching for rental homes, purchasing a car, shopping, etc.
Plan Time for Adjusting
When your child is enrolled in a daycare center, see if you can arrange with the center to let your child slowly adjust by bringing them in to play with their class for a few hours a couple of days for the week or two before they start. Don’t assume that because they were OK at a childcare center back home or staying home with family or a nanny that they will be OK immediately at their new daycare. They will be experiencing lots of other changes at the same time related to your move that will make it even more difficult.
Be prepared for tears. We sort of naively assumed that since Theo was used to staying home with grandparents and our nanny back it the U.S. while we worked, that he would easily adjust to going to daycare. We spent a couple of hours over four different days at the daycare letting him play and getting to know the teachers before he officially started. Nonetheless, he was still incredibly distraught his first day when we dropped him off and left, and continues to cry for the first hour or two every day. The teachers assure us this is normal and many of the other kids are the same way. It is just very tough as a parent to leave your crying child.