Like many parts of Australia (and the world, I hear), Canberra’s childcare situation is pretty dire. It is widely known that you will have a difficult time finding childcare, and then once you have it you will lose a significant chunk of your income to pay for it. I’ll tell you about my experiences, which are by no means unique in Canberra.
I have two children, aged one and two. When I was three months pregnant I put Reid’s name down at 12 different childcare centres around the Inner North (where we live and work). By the time I returned to work when he was 13 months old, I had one day a week at one of these places. And that was only because I called that centre on practically a daily basis as I got more desperate. The days soon increased and I was able to go to full-time work within three months.
When I was pregnant with Ari I only put his name down at Reid’s childcare centre. I had been told that I would get priority and as we were happy with the centre (and didn’t want to have to take two children to two different centres) we didn’t put his name down anywhere else. Besides, I only needed three days pw, shouldn’t be too hard to get a spot, right? The thing that I didn’t factor in is that my boys would need to get the same days, in different rooms. So not only was I waiting for a vacancy which doesn’t come up very often, but I was waiting for two vacancies in two rooms on the same days. Practically impossible.
And it hasn’t happened. Ari is now 12 months old and I’ve been told that there is unlikely to be any vacancies until next year.
So I have had to come up with alternate arrangements, which lucky for me, has been possible. I know that a lot of other people would not be so fortunate. I am looking after my friend’s baby (she’s in a similar situation) two days pw, and she’s looking after Ari two days pw. This has at least allowed me to return to work, although it’s only two days, and I’d prefer three. But still, better than nothing, and Ari loves it at her house (and I love having her little girl here!).
Another factor to consider is cost. Our childcare centre costs $96 per child per day. If you were to return to work full-time it would work out to be $960 per week. You get a government rebate of 50% of your childcare costs, up to $7500 per year, which equals max $288 back per week. So that leaves you at $672 per week for two children in full-time care. Not an insignificant amount!
I have become increasingly aware of the option of an au pair, as a number of people I know have resorted to this option. So I started to look into it, and this is what I have found out.
Cost? There are a number of costs involved with having an au pair, but they are surprisingly less than I expected them to be. You need to pay for their room and board, as well as ‘pocket-money’ of between $200-300 per week (depending on their hours). They pay for their own air ticket and organise visas, travel insurance, etc. but you provide them with transport from Sydney. There are also other miscellaneous costs, such as increased car insurance, petrol, a mobile phone, etc.
How? There are two ways to find an au pair, through a pairing site, such as Au Pair World (which costs about $60 to register), or an agency who sources someone for you and organises everything (which can cost up to $900). I have decided to go through Au Pair World, as I would rather have control over the process myself, and also the AP organises their own visas and police checks, etc. so there’s not much extra work involved.
Who? We have had over a hundred applicants from all parts of the world, from Asia, Africa, North, Central and South America, the Pacific and Europe. We have shortlisted to ten girls, mostly from Europe. They all have previous experience and a driver’s licence. I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the applicants. The hard part is shortlisting!
I know that it is difficult to share your house with essentially a stranger, and I also know that at the moment I am looking at it through rose coloured glasses, but I like having people around. Besides, Nick is at work most evenings, so I would love to have company! Luckily we’re in a house that’s big enough to allow everyone their own space, if required.
I understand that the au pair can apply on a working visa, which is up to 12 months. Although there is a proviso on that visa that they can only work for the one employer for 6 months, I have been told that au pairing doesn’t count as real work, so it’s ok to stretch it a little longer. But I will look into it further before I go any further.
I actually already wrote these final few paragraphs, but for some reason the blog published an earlier version, so I’m sure they were better the first time! (Have you ever noticed that if you have to re-write something you are so bored with it that you do a terrible job the second time around). So here are my parting words….
Au Pair looks like a good option. Childcare sucks.