Running a childcare business is equal parts exciting and daunting. You need to consider how you are going to market your business, find qualified and motivated staff, set up a valuable learning environment and meet parental expectations. You should also be aware of your legal obligations. Specifically, you may need a licence or approval to operate your childcare business. This article sets out how you can fulfill your obligations and licence requirements under Australian law, if you are running a childcare business.
Applicable Laws and Regulations
In 2009, the Australian Government introduced a reform of the early childhood care and education sector. It developed the National Quality Framework (NQF), which applies to childcare services that are predominantly offered outside the child’s home. The NQF includes:
- the establishment of a national body to regulate, guide and implement the reforms called the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA);
- a set of standards for each service in Australia known as the National Quality Standard (NQS); and
- the enforcement of the NQS through the overarching national framework governing each state and territory, except Western Australia, which consists of the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 (National Law) and the Education and Care Services National Regulations.
Most states and territories have adopted the National Law through further legislation. For example, New South Wales (NSW) has the Children (Education and Care Services National Law Application) Act 2010 and Queensland has the Education and Care Services National Law (Queensland) Act 2011. Victoria has adopted the National Law without further legislation.
Type of Service
As a childcare business owner, the laws and regulations applying to you will depend on the type of service you are providing. There are a number of services classified as early childhood education and care options:
- centre-based childcare or long day care, which is provided in a more formal centre setting;
- private home or family day care, which is a more flexible type of care provided in a carer’s home;
- after school care or outside school hours care, which is provided in a more formal centre setting before and after school hours; and
- in-home care, which is provided by educators, generally in the child’s own home.
Licences and Approvals
To operate a child care business in Australia, you need:
- service approval;
- provider approval; and
- supervisor certificates.
The operation of childcare businesses is highly regulated. Therefore, you need to ensure you have applied for the proper approvals before starting your business.
Each state and territory has its own regulatory authority which will assess you against a set of standards. Generally, you will be evaluated based on the following:
- your compliance history before your current application, if you are an existing or previous approval holder;
- relevant results from Working With Children Checks and national criminal history checks; and
- the documentation you have provided to support your application.
Following the assessment, you may be required to:
- attend information and training sessions;
- perform knowledge assessments; and
- attend department interviews.
You will then need to prove to the relevant regulatory authority that you are a fit and proper person. Additionally, you need to satisfy them that you understand your obligation to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of the children you will be caring for.
If your application is rejected and you believe an error has been made, you may be allowed to appeal the decision.
Find Qualified Staff
Once you have the appropriate licences, you then need to ensure that you find qualified childcare workers. They need to have completed their Working With Children Check and mandatory notification training.
You and your staff need to be vigilant and aware of your obligations under child protection laws, especially in the states and territories. For example, the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 in NSW, Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 in Victoria and Child Protection Act 1999 in Queensland.
It is not necessary for all of your staff to have childcare qualifications, although it is best practice to employ people who are suitably qualified in all aspects of childcare. The NQF states that 50% of the educators at the childcare business must have an approved diploma level qualification. The remaining educators must have a Certificate III in an approved qualification.
As the owner of the business, you should check each staff member’s qualification and maintain records of ongoing training and renewal periods.
Local Government and Council Approvals
The operation of a childcare business requires approvals from local governments and councils. Depending on the type of service you are providing, there are planning permits you need to acquire from the council before you can start operating.
Furthermore, areas within your council are ‘zoned’ to allow for certain types of infrastructure, so you may need to seek approval for permitted use of your proposed site.
Food Hygiene and Preparation
When developing a menu for your childcare business, you need to meet food hygiene and preparation standards. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) is a government body which develops food standards across both countries.
FSANZ issues the Food Standards Code and provides extensive resources to childcare businesses about:
- risk management;
- allergy advice; and
- food recalls.
Additionally, local governments and councils may inspect the premises of the childcare business. This is to ensure the processes of food storage, preparation and service meet hygiene standards and food safety guidelines.
Illnesses and Health Concerns
In addition, you should be aware of federal and state-based health department rules regulating what childcare businesses should do in the event of illnesses or health concerns.
The Australian Department of Health (ADH) provides statements regarding health advice for childcare businesses. For example, what kind of strategies your childcare business should implement and which reporting requirements you should comply with, if a child becomes ill in your care.
When running a childcare business, your primary responsibility is to the children in your care. You must ensure that you:
- hold the appropriate approvals;
- hire qualified staff; and
- keep updated with government health advice and standards.
You should also abide by your obligations under the legislative regimes governing the operation of childcare businesses. Therefore, if you need help getting your approvals or setting up your service, contact LegalVision’s business lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.
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