Childcare under threat

LOCAL early childhood educators are disappointed in a long-awaited report on childcare in Australia, arguing many of the recommendations threaten the gains already made in the sector and have missed the opportunity for real reform.

TIME FOR CHANGE: An inquiry into Australia’s childcare sector has received a mixed report card. Photo: Fairfax

TIME FOR CHANGE: An inquiry into Australia’s childcare sector has received a mixed report card. Photo: Fairfax

On Tuesday, the Productivity Commission released its draft report from the inquiry into childcare and early childhood learning across the nation.

Among the recommendations are a more streamlined, means-tested subsidy regime; the diversion of funding from the proposed Paid Parental Leave scheme to childcare; supporting the continuation of federal funding for universal access to preschool for children in their year before school; and provisions to allow nannies to be covered by the childcare rebate to allow more flexibility for families.

There’s also the suggestion that grandparents could be paid to look after their grandchildren if they possessed the appropriate TAFE qualifications.

The government doesn’t yet have a timeframe for considering the report, but prime minister Tony Abbott made clear prior to the commencement of the inquiry no further funding would be made available for the sector.

Alison Thompson, director of the Quirindi Preschool, sees a number of problems with the draft report, concerned there may be moves towards dismantling many of the gains in recent years improving the quality of early childhood education.

She’s concerned with the recommendation to reduce the qualification requirements for educators of children under three and any suggestion of diluting the National Quality Standards, which set a national benchmark for early childhood education and care.

Changes to teacher/student ratios would also be detrimental, Mrs Thompson said.

“There’s been a lot of change since 2012 and we’ve done a huge amount of work in terms of improving quality and recognising the importance of early childhood learning,” she said.

“Many of these recommendations fail to recognise these advancements. They’re just putting everything we’re fighting for at risk.” 

Tamworth Family Day Care manager Joanne Spinner believes her sector has received something of a raw deal from the draft report as well, failing to recognise family day care educators and their ability to provide towards the education and care outlined in the draft report. 

Family Day Care Australia believes the sector’s capacity to expand to meet the need for alternative forms of “quality, affordable and flexible” home-based care has been ignored.

Ms Spinner does believe a single, means-tested payment that would go directly to the parents’ choice of provider was a step in the right direction.

Under the recommendation, those on a family income of $60,000 or less would get 90 per cent of the cost of childcare covered, dropping to 30 per cent for families on $300,000 or more.

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