Means-testing concerns childcare centres, parents

LOCAL childcare providers are concerned proposed changes to the nation’s early childhood sector could end up hurting the children who need it the most.

The Productivity Commission released its draft report last month into childcare and early childhood learning across Australia, which included a recommendation for a more streamlined, but means-tested, subsidy regime.

Goodstart Early Learning, which in this region operates childcare centres in Tamworth, Moree and Gunnedah, has raised concerns that a significant number of disadvantaged families might have to remove their children from care because they will not meet tightened work, study or training activity requirements which allow them to claim a subsidy.

Renae Irwin, the local area manager for Goodstart, said it was pleasing the commission had recognised the importance of additional support so vulnerable children could access early learning and care, but it needed to ensure that children didn’t fall through the cracks in the design of the funding system. 

“For example, we need to ensure the work test and eligibility criteria do not limit access to early learning for vulnerable children,” she said.

“All families need to be supported to afford quality early learning and care. This gives families the choice to return to work and gives children the skills for school and life.

“Goodstart welcomes simplifying of the childcare payments system, but we will need to see how this translates into practice. 

“It appears there would be more support for low-income families, but we are concerned about the impact on other families.”

She said so much depended on how much additional funding the government was willing to put into making childcare more accessible and affordable for all families, which could be a stumbling block considering Prime Minister Tony Abbott made it clear prior at the start of the inquiry that no further funding would be made available for the sector.

Tamworth’s Poppins Playhouse director Kellie Durant said many of her centre’s parents were also talking about changes to subsidy eligibility, with proposed means-testing concerning many.

A financial scale for the means-testing has not been revealed at this point, but Ms Durant said parents were worried about being further out-of-pocket under any changes.

Ms Irwin has also echoed the concerns of other childcare and preschool providers about proposals to “water down” the quality of childcare, particularly for children under three.

“This goes against all the evidence that children learn from birth and qualified professional educators have the skills to develop relationships and attachments with very young children that foster growth and development,” she said.

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