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Family Day Care or Centre-Based Care (Long Day Care) - which one to choose?

They are different types of early childhood education and care services, occurring in different environments and both have benefits.

Preparing to go back to work after having a child can be overwhelming, and one of the hardest decisions for parents to make is what type of education and care service to choose.

When you’re a new parent looking for an early childhood education and care service for your child, chances are that you might be confused by the differences between Family Day Care and Long Day Care (centre-based care) services.

FDC and LDC services have both differences and similarities and we recommend that you visit both types of services to find out which one will best suit your child and family’s needs. 


Early childhood education and care services in Australia operate under the National Quality Framework (NQF), implemented in 2012 to improve the quality of all service types. All services:

  • go through a compliance and assessment and rating process, implemented by the State and Territory regulatory authority.
  • are rated under the National Quality Standards (NQS).
  • are eligible for the child care subsidy.
  • provide an educational program which is child-centred, stimulating and maximise opportunities for enhancing and extending each child’s learning and development.
  • employ educators who are required to hold qualifications in early childhood.
  • must adhere to ratios and employ educators to maintain these ratios throughout the day.
  • employ an educational leader that provides guidance to educators on the development of the children’s program.

Some of the differences that you may find within the family day care and long day care services are:

  • The daily fee and opening hours. There are some services that operate on weekends, overnight and during school holidays. Be sure to ask about this before enrolling your child.
  • Meals – depending on the service, these may or may not be included in the daily fee.
  • Staff leave – in long day care, an educator on leave may be replaced with a casual educator, while in an FDC service, children may be cared for by another educator in a different home/venue. Importantly, educators often plan leave in advance with their families, and orientation and visits to the other home takes place. Families should be informed when an educator in any service is on leave, so that you know who will be caring for your child and to support continuity of care.
  • FDC schemes employ a ‘coordinator’ who will make regular visits to the educator’s home/venue to provide guidance on regulatory matters. In an LDC service, this is the role of the nominated supervisor or other person in charge of the day to day operations of the service.

Other differences:

Long Day Care

Family Day Care

Number of Children

In a long day care setting, the number of children enrolled is determined by the Regulatory Authority and is dependent on the size of the building and outdoor play space.

Children are often grouped by their aged according to the age of the children, the size of a room and the number of educators within the room. For example, services may have a 0-2 year old room, a 2-3 year old room and a 3-5 year old room. In larger services, there may be more than one room for each age group.

In an FDC service, educators operate from within their home or an agreed venue.

For family day care services, the ratio is one educator for seven children, and there can be no more than four children who are under school age.

Educators provide education and care within their homes to small groups of children. FDC has a strong community focus as educators are encouraged to go on routine outings into the community daily.

Educator to Child Ratio

The NQF regulates the educator to child ratios for services.

LDC services employ a number of educators to meet these ratios throughout the day. Educators often work either a morning or afternoon shift if the service is open from early morning to evening.

For more information, visit the website’s ‘Educator to child ratios’ resource.

One educator looks after children of mixed age groups.

Some educators have assistant educators – mostly used for transportation of children where the educator can’t drive or where they have children preschool age and under and are required to drop off and pick up school age children.

For these services, the ratio is as mentioned above. Educator’s own children or any other children at the FDC residence are counted in the overall total of children if they are under 13 years of age and there is no other adult present and caring for those children. The number of educators at a residence cannot be increased in order to increase the number of children that can be educated and cared for.

Age of Children

Multiple educators mean there can be more children present, and they will usually be grouped with children of their own age.

There will be fewer children enrolled and can be of different ages.

Meals and Nappies

May or may not provide meals and nappies.

May or may not provide meals and nappies.

Activities for Children

Depending on the philosophy of the service you choose, the educators may or may not take children on excursions. The service is required to ask for your permission before taking a child out of the service, and they must conduct and make available a risk assessment of the transport and location that they are visiting.

Some routines may be considered ‘regular outings’ to such things as the local library, post office, café etc. Other excursions may be planned based on the children’s interests throughout the year.

The service may invite people with specialised skills to the service for children to take part in shows, music, sport or technology activities.

For more information on excursions and visitors to the service, be sure to speak with the Nominated Supervisor.

FDC educators participate in child centred routine outings. This can include visits to the library, local park, community, play group, kindy gym, coordination unit play session, museum, and community gardens. FDC educators may visit a local TAFE to participate in play session. This supports FDC educators to network, and children within FDC to play with other children. It also supports Certificate III and Diploma students to plan activities for children and child based learning experiences.

The educator/service is required to ask for your permission before taking a child out of the service, and they must conduct and make available a risk assessment of the transport and location that they are visiting.

Some routines may be considered ‘regular outings’ to such things as the local library, post office, café etc. Other excursions may be planned based on the children’s interests throughout the year.

Some additional tips to help you choose the right type of service:

  • Think about your values, circumstances, needs and wants. Then look at the different characteristics of long day care and family day care to see which model fits best with these.
  • Be familiar with the difference and the structure of the two types of services. Though in case of Family Day Care there is usually just one educator working with the children, the educator does not work in isolation. Family Day Care services have a coordinator, family liaison officer, service manager, who supervise and attend play sessions/play groups.
  • The educator is also supported and monitored by a team at the coordination unit – it is important for families to meet the team at the coordination unit so that they feel comfortable in asking them for advice. Remember, not all enrolment interviews happen at the office, some occur at educator’s home.
  • Families are encouraged to visit both family day care and long day care (centre-based) services. Having a list of questions ready for your visit can help in your decision making process

You might like to find out:

  • What is the services rating under the NQS?
  • Is there a waiting list, and how long will you have to wait?
  • What is the services philosophy and how does this influence the educator’s relationships with the child?
  • Has there been any recent staff changes? What is the longest time someone has been employed at the service (a high turnover of staff may indicate that the service is working towards quality practices)?
  • How many educators will there be in the room with your child?
  • Has the service been sold recently?
  • Who is the approved provider of the service – this is the person approved under the national legislation to operate the service.
  • How long has the service been operating for?

If you’re visiting a family day care service, you also might like to ask:

  • Does the educator take the children to a playgroup, and how often does this occur?
  • How often does the coordinator visit the educator’s home?
  • Who else will be at the home/venue when your child will be attending?
  • What experience the educator has working in the early childhood sector.

You can refer to our infographics on key questions to ask when selecting a child care service and what to look for when visiting child care for more information.

Process of finding a service:

Long day care: you can find an LDC service near you by using Starting Blocks’ Find Child Care search. Our search function also allows users to filter by service type. You can ring up your shortlisted services and then attend for a tour/visit.

Family day care: Starting Blocks’ search function will allow you to find a family day care scheme near you. Make contact with the scheme first. They will then refer you to an FDC educator in your area.

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