The Great Waiting Game

Published on Monday, 05 December 2016
Last updated on Wednesday, 04 December 2019

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Chances are if you know about child care then you know about waitlists, they go hand in hand. Successfully navigating your way through the world of waitlists takes patience, planning and nerves of steel, but you can do it!

There is a shortage of child care in many parts of New Zealand and finding high quality child care, when and where you need it can be like searching for a needle in a haystack, especially if you are looking for care for children under two years old.

The best way to ensure you find the care you need is to start looking early and take a proactive approach to securing your child a spot. Although it may sound a little extreme, pregnancy is a great time to start.

First steps

Research, research, research! Use online child care resources such as to learn about the types of child care available, the services in your area, what they offer, whether they have vacancies and what their waitlist policy is. You may want to pop in and check out a couple of the services in your area and/or talk to the director of the places you are most interested in.

Once you have a feel for what is on offer and what you like, develop a short list of services you want to waitlist your child on. Remember, waitlisting your child at a service does not mean you have to go to that service, but, if you know you want a spot for your child when they hit a certain age then it is crucial to have your name on as many lists as possible to increase the likelihood of securing a spot.

Many large child care providers offer centralised waitlists and quite often you can apply online, others will require you to go in and pick up a form and leave it with them.

It's common practice for child care services to charge a waitlist fee with no guarantee of a spot. These costs vary between providers, are non-refundable and are charged to cover the costs associated with administering the waitlist.

Many parents have complained to us that once they have put their names on a waitlist and paid their fee there is no further communication from the centre. If you don't like this way of operating, take things into your own hands and maintain communication with the centres you have listed with, especially your top two or three.

Be systematic in your approach to managing your wait list applications, keep diary notes when you call the service, remember the name of the person you talk to and if possible consider popping in to the service to see the staff on a regular basis. Remember to maintain a positive and upbeat demeanour in your approach to dealing with the waitlist administrators as they are unlikely to help you if you are pushy or rude!

Unfortunately, it is not common practice for a child care service to cap the number of people on their waitlists and most will accept anyone who fills in the application form and pays the fee.

The CEO of a large community-based child care service, says providers do not cap their waitlists as most parents list with more than one service and the waitlists are an unreliable indication of who is likely to actually need a spot.

"We don't usually close off our waitlist, however in areas of high need where we do have long lists, we inform families if they are unlikely to gain a place for their child at the time they indicate they will need it. In this situation families can choose to stay on the list and put their child's name on other waitlists,” she said.

How are spots allocated?

It should be a simple case of putting your name down and working your way up the waitlist, however, this is not the way most services operate. Many services operate with a set of guidelines which means that some children move up the waitlist more quickly, siblings often gain priority access and in employer sponsored child care services the children of employees are given preferential treatment. Maori, Pasifika and children from low socio-economic backgrounds may also receive priority access in order to boost participation rates. 

Always remember, the vast majority of people find child care eventually and by starting your research and groundwork early you will maximise your chances of securing a spot where and when you need it.


  • Start your planning early, putting your child's name on a waitlist at least 12 months before you need care will maximise your chances of securing a spot where you want it and when you need it.
  • If you know you definitely need a spot for your child by a certain age then ensure you are on multiple waitlists.
  • Call the centres you are listed with at least once every month to touch base and keep your details updated.
  • If you go away for an extended period of time, leave alternative contact details as you may be contacted by phone if a vacancy comes up and miss your opportunity to take the spot.
  • Enrol your kids in the same service; siblings get priority on the waitlist in most centres.
  • Be flexible in your approach, accept care earlier or on different days to what you planned as once you are in a service you will have opportunities to change your days.
  • Stay on the waitlist at your first choice service even if you accept a spot elsewhere. Once you have paid your waitlist fee you don't have to renew it.

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