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Twelve ways to get your child into daycare

THERE'S an alarming shortage of childcare places on offer. Is it hard to find a spot? Yes. Impossible? Not with these expert tips. 
1) Get on the list
Don't wait until your return-to-work date is looming. In fact, don't even wait until your 12-week scan. As soon as you have a due date, you can join the waiting list. Minor details on the paperwork such as the name and sex of your child can be added later. "It's about forward planning," says Ginie Udy, CEO of not-for-profit childcare organisation SDN. "Some people enrol their kids in school as soon as they're pregnant and you need to have the same attitude to childcare."

2) Front up

Don't be fooled into thinking you can just call up, put your name down and wait for the offers to roll in. It's not like queuing for a bus; daycare waiting lists are arbitrary things and if they like you, you're more likely to get a spot. "By filling in a form, you're another number," says Udy. "As soon as you know when you're going back to work, go in and say 'hello'. Take your baby so they can see how cute he is. Tell them how he sleeps a lot and hardly ever poos!" Most centres do their planning in October, so around now is a good time to show your face.

3) Don't be picky
The unwritten rule is you should put your name down at around eight centres to give yourself the best chance of bagging a spot. "Don't just look for the closest centre to home," advises Udy. "Look at your whole route to work." If you're offered a place, accept it. You can always change your mind if something more convenient comes up. Don't feel too guilty; someone, somewhere, will be thrilled at your withdrawal. "Most directors of childcare centres are mums themselves," says Udy. "They understand the need to juggle."

4) Know your rights
Daycare centres are legally required to give priority to those in need. If you're a single, working mum and don't have any immediate family support, you have a better chance of being offered a place than someone who doesn't rely on a full-time salary. Priority is also given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, low-income families and children in families that include a person with a disability.

5) Stay in touch
On the list? Your job isn't over yet. Check in with your chosen centre occasionally to remind them you exist. Send an email when your baby is born and a photo when he or she reaches six months - let them know they're definitely your first choice. "Developing a positive relationship with the staff can be helpful, but try not to hassle them," advises Christine Legg, CEO of KU Children's Services. "The better the staff know your circumstances, the more likely they'll be able to offer you a place that suits your needs."

6) Be easy to contact
"It's surprising how often families add themselves to a waiting list, then forget to update their contact details," says Legg. "Centres need to fill their vacancies quickly, so make sure they know the best way to reach you." Most centres spring-clean their waiting lists sporadically, so it's important to respond to requests for information in a timely manner to avoid being crossed off the list.

7) Think local
Childcare centres like to foster a sense of community and some prefer to allocate spots to people who live or work nearby. It's worth mentioning if you know friends, neighbours or colleagues whose kids have attended the centre, as a personal reference can help your case. Parents who want to be involved in fundraising or committees will also be in favour.

8) Be certain
Scheduling children into places can be a complicated puzzle. How many babies, how many carers, which days are available ... The more certain you are about what you want, the easier it will be to accommodate you. "Centres jump at the person who's absolutely sure of their dates," says Udy.

9) Take what you can get
Be prepared to be flexible. If you want four or five days, say so, but make it clear you're happy to take one or two at first. "In some centres, Monday and Friday are less popular, so you might be offered a place on those days sooner," says Legg. "If you're offered a day, take it, even if it's not your first choice. Once you're in, you might be able to swap to the days you prefer when a vacancy arises."

10) Get your timing right
Most places become available in January, when the school year starts. "It's a time of change, people rethink their lives and make resolutions," says Udy. Planning on taking nine months off work? Give birth in April! Failing that, get a foot in the door early. "If you're returning to work in March, start at least one day a week in January, so you're in the system." If you wait until midyear, you'll be relying on someone to move house or change jobs.

11) Have more kids
Most daycare centres have a preferential sibling policy, designed to make it easier for families when they're doing the drop off and pick up. So, the good news is, once you have a place, it'll be a lot easier to secure childcare in the future.

12) Don't be disheartened
When they reveal you're on the waiting list with more than 500 hopeful parents, you may feel like giving up. Remember, like you, most are waitlisted at half a dozen or so other places and may take themselves off the list over the next few months. And of the ones that don't, some will extend their leave, hire a nanny or move. "There's always movement," says Udy. "Don't despair if you can't get your child into daycare straightaway."

More related reading:
20 great toddler games
Tips for toddlers starting care
Toilet training made easy
Daylight savings and sleep routines
Parental presence: a new settling method


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