Complement increased childcare subsidy with workforce changes

Increased childcare subsidy needs to be complemented by changes in the sector’s workforce practices to ensure highly skilled childhood educators are present.

This week’s Commonwealth Government announcement about a major increase in childcare subsidy – from July 2022 – follows many months of discussion and an on-again off-again approach to fee-free child care. It also parallels the development of a National Workforce Strategy by the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA).

Parents with more than one child in childcare will be big winners in next week’s federal budget, with a $1.7 billion package designed to slash out of pocket costs and get more people back into full time work, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Childcare Workforce

Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute says three policy changes are essential to obtain a great childcare workforce: early childhood careers need to be valued; educator well-being needs to matter; and streamline funding responsibility, because it’s hard to get educators’ pay and conditions right when the money comes from different sources.

The system for childhood educators is not working, says Associate Professor Jen Jackson: “Just over half the educators who have gained early childhood certificates since 2012 (when qualification requirements were introduced) are still working in relevant jobs. In comparison, almost all of those who completed vocational certificates in building are still in relevant roles.”

“These figures illustrate the importance of getting the childcare workforce right – and we are far from it just now. The not-for-profit adult and community education (ACE) providers are an important source of training for this sector, and they are ready to assist the child care sector to grow. But this can only be done if workforce needs are met and workers valued,” says Dr Don Perlgut, CEO of Community Colleges Australia (CCA).

Almost half of all CCA members deliver early childhood training, including ACE Community Colleges in Lismore and the Gold Coast, Bankstown Community College, Byron Community College, Coffs Coast Community College, Macarthur Community College, Macquarie Community College, Mid North Coast Community College in Port Macquarie, Murwillumbah Community College, Northern Beaches & Mosman Community College, Riverina Community College, Tomaree Community College, Tuggerah Lakes (TLK) Community College and VICSEG New Futures Training, Melbourne. A number of CCA members also offer child care or before or after school care classes, which provide direct training opportunities for students.

This week’s announcement is not without disagreement; see commentary below.

Commentary on the announcement:

“it’s betwixt and between. It’s not as big as Labor’s policy, and not intended to properly address the systemic problems around childcare and its interaction with the tax and transfer systems, but it’s still substantial.” – Bernard Keane, Crikey

The $1.7 billion investment over four years was “modest” but well-targeted at addressing the disincentives for women to work a fourth or fifth day due to fees eating up their take-home pay. “Overall, it’s a modest but helpful investment that deals with some of the worst cases of high childcare costs and disincentives to work in the existing system. You couldn’t call it a game-changer or a major reform but it is a positive step in the right direction.” – Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute

“This policy is a welcome step in the right direction for reform of early childhood education and care, which we wish was coming sooner than its slated introduction date of 2022…. The next step for the Federal Government is to address a range of other childcare issues, including the activity test that restricts children’s access, particularly those from low income and sole parent families, to early childhood education and care. We look forward to seeing a range of other new measures to address women’s economic security and safety in next week’s budget.” – Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS

“Our analysis suggests the policy package won’t do much to improve the affordability of child care for many families on low to middle incomes. Nor will it do anything to address systemic problems. a family with a combined gross annual income of A$102,000 will still face out-of-pocket costs for full-time child care of about A$11,000 a year…. Nor will it make child-care funding and subsidies any less complicated, despite recent reforms aimed at simplifying the system. The focus on economic growth and female workforce participation also comes at the expense of greater focus on providing a quality service for children and a decent career path for early childhood educators.– Kate Noble and Peter Hurley, in The Conversation

“The need for reform in early childhood education is greater than just fee relief. Ultimately the goal has to be universal access to high quality, early childhood learning and care for every child in Australia. That is where the full social and economic rewards will be reaped. Universal access requires a properly supported and appropriately paid workforce. Fee relief will assist in boosting women’s workforce participation but it doesn’t address the broader issues around workforce, quality and consistency of early learning.” – Georgie Dent, in the Sydney Morning Herald


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