Opening your own day care – what you need to consider

If you are currently working as an early childhood educator in a day care centre, kindergarten or preschool, you know that quality childcare and early education services can make a genuine, positive difference in the lives of kids and families.

With the demand for childcare places steadily increasing, you may have even entertained thoughts about branching out and opening your own centre.

Starting or buying a childcare business is a big investment, and there are a lot of regulations, government policies and requirements you need to get familiar with before you get started.  Whether you are thinking about starting a small home-based operation, or a large commercial centre, here are a few things to consider.

What kind of service can you provide?

Think about your existing skills and experience and the kind of childcare service you would like to offer.

  • Long Day Care (LDC) is a centre-based form of childcare. LDC services provide all-day or part-time care.
  • Family Day Care (FDC) providers offer flexible care and developmental activities in their own homes for other people’s children.
  • Preschools and kindergartens provide services to children in the years prior to attending primary school and involve structured, seasonal programs for two or three days a week.
  • Occasional Child Care (OCC) is a centre-based form of childcare. OCC provides flexible care which allows parents to meet their work related and non-work related commitments.
  • Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) services provide care before/after school and during school holidays.
Also think about the size of the centre you would like to open. Ideally, how many children would your centre cater for? Having this in mind will help determine your choice of venue, staff numbers and pricing down the track.

Start fresh or buy into a franchise?

Determine whether you would like to build a centre from scratch, buy a pre-existing centre from owners, or buy into a franchise. Your decision will depend on your location and how much money you are willing to spend.

  • Building a Centre – Building a centre from scratch will probably cost more than buying a pre-existing centre. You will need to gain council permits, building permits, employ landscape and interior designers for both indoors and outdoors and much more! The biggest benefit of building a centre from scratch is that you will have the freedom to design the centre of your dreams.
  • Pre- Existing Centres – You may be able to buy a childcare centre that is already running. This means that your staff, children and families are all settled and ready to go. Once you purchase the centre you will become the owner and take over responsibility. One of the benefits of purchasing a pre-existing centre is that all the work has already been done for you – all you really need to do is maintain it.
  • Franchising Centres – This involves buying into an existing childcare franchise. Initial start-up costs will be involved, however the franchisor will generally provide assistance with things like identifying a suitable business location, and setting up your centre so that it is ready to open for business. All documentation, policies, procedures etc will be the same across all centres operating as part of the franchise. In some respects, it is easier to buy into a franchise than to start your own business from scratch, as you are buying into a brand and business model that is already well established.
Find a niche:

When thinking about the type of service you would like to offer, consider the existing childcare and education services in your local area. What is the competition like? Where is the service gap? Where is the demand?

Think about creating a childcare business that is unique – something that isn’t currently offered – something that makes you stand out from your competitors.

Finding a niche can give you an edge in the marketplace. For example, you could offer flexibility in your hours of service – providing before and after-school care in a locality where this type of service doesn’t exist. Many commercial and family daycares don’t like having one of the slots taken by a child who won’t be there all day, so parents will be delighted to find a provider who is looking for that type of business.

Understand the relevant legislation:

Before you consider opening a new service, make sure you have a thorough understanding of the regulatory and funding requirements that apply to children’s education and care services in your state or territory.

In the case of Long Day Care, Family Day Care and Outside School Hours Care, all services in Australia must meet the national regulatory requirements and quality standards set out under the National Quality Framework (NQF).

The NQF regulations include operational requirements relating to:

  • Educational programs & practice.
  • Building standards & physical environments.
  • Staffing requirements (staff qualifications and educator-to-student ratios).
  • Policies, procedures & record-keeping practices.
Additional state/territory regulations that you will need to familiarise yourself with include:

  • Local government planning laws.
  • Working with children checks and child protection laws.
  • Health department rules.
  • Food safety requirements.
Contact your relevant state or territory regulatory authority for more information.

There are also specific standards and requirements you will need to meet if you would like your service to be listed as an approved provider for the Australian Government’s Child Care Benefit (CCB) – a funding program that provides subsidies to families using child care.

Assembling your team:

Before you start hiring, familiarise yourself with the rules about staff qualifications that will apply to your childcare service. This will help you to get a clear picture of exactly who you are looking for and the level of education they need.

You will also need to factor in the rules about educator-to-child ratios when determining the number of staff you will need to employ:

Get a professional cleaning service on board:

Strict health and food safety regulations apply to all childcare and education services in Australia. Talk to a professional child care cleaning service about how you can make sure your child care centre is a clean, hygienic and safe environment for the children in your care.

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