Am I doing the right thing?
Australia’s biggest childcare provider, GoodStart Early Learning, faced a huge challenge when they bought more than 650 ABC Learning centres after ABC went into liquidation in 2008. The new owners, not-for-profit charities The Benevolent Society, Mission Australia, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Social Ventures Australia surveyed parents on how they felt about childcare.
“The consumer research study found that while more than seven in 10 (75%) parents say they initially have negative feelings such as anxiety and guilt when placing their child in childcare, more than nine in 10 parents (91%) feel positive about their decision once their child has been in care for some time. Parents say that the positive reality of childcare – including the relationship they build with staff and the fact their child enjoys being there to learn, develop and grow in confidence – helps alleviate initial concerns.” (GoodStart, November, 2011)
The research indicated that feelings of negativity and guilt about placing a child in childcare are unwarranted, provided, of course, you are satisfied that the standard of care is high.
The push for higher quality childcare
The ongoing public debate about childcare has focused mainly on issues of availability and affordability, but the issue of quality is now driving childcare reforms. In 2006 Emma Rush of the Australia Institute conducted research into “Child Care Quality in Australia”.
The survey concluded that community-based long day care centres offered the highest quality care and that independent private centres offered a quality of care that is usually similar. However, the standard of corporate chains was rated as ‘markedly lower’ on all aspects of quality surveyed.
The survey supported concerns that corporate chains were more focused on cutting costs for the sake of increasing profits for shareholders than improving care standards. It was clear that federal and state governments needed to take a greater role in regulating and supporting quality childcare.
Issues of staff to children ratios, staff qualifications, the quality of learning programs, and health and safety standards came under review.
The National Quality Framework
An excellent childcare system is a necessity in today’s society. It allows parents to balance work and family responsibilities, to continue in their chosen careers, and to know that their child is in an environment which promotes optimal early learning and development. Families can, of course, actively promote early learning in the home environment, but the choice of quality childcare must be available.
In response to concerns, new national standards have been set for the childcare sector in the National Quality Framework (NQF), introduced in January this year. Australian Governments have legislated for significant changes with regard to educational programs, regulatory systems and standards. Childcare reforms are based on indisputable research evidence about the importance of the early years of life to children’s future health, well-being and competence.
Education and care services including long day care, family day care, kindergarten and out of school hours care services will be assessed and rated against the new standards. The NQF aims to drive improvements in the quality of childcare services by highlighting best practice as well as identifying areas for improvement. Centres will be rated on a five-level scale from ‘Significant improvement required’ to ‘Excellent’. The ratings will be available to parents.
The NQF is expected to bring about greater consistency of early years’ services and higher standards in the sector, with an emphasis on ‘child education’ as opposed to ‘child minding’. As usual, the sticking point with any reform agenda is who will pay for the upgrades? There has been concern that increased childcare fees will make it unaffordable for many parents. Governments have committed to balancing improvements to quality with maintaining affordability for families. .
A focus on quality early childhood education
The Queensland Government has confirmed it is focused on providing all Queensland children with access to a kindergarten program in the year prior to Prep.
Newly appointed Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek has reaffirmed the newly elected Queensland Government’s commitment to early childhood education. “I am a proud father of three children so I’ve seen firsthand the great opportunities that flow from a good education,” he said.
“Chloe, Bronte & Piers participated in kindergarten programs at C & K Broadbeach Kindergarten and Fuji Kindergarten in Robina and they all share very fond memories of their time with their teachers Mrs Power (Broadbeach) and Miss Michelle, Miss Sarah and Mr Fujiwara (Robina).
“But what we as parents have witnessed over the years since they left, is the enormous head start that kindy participation offered them in terms of their readiness for learning and life,” Minister Langbroek shared with Kids on the Coast.
“In 2008, just 29% of kindy-age children in Queensland were enrolled in kindergarten programs, so there was a tremendous challenge for all parents, carers, teachers and governments.
“I am honoured to be leading the Newman Government’s commitment to universal access to kindergarten, as I know it will give all Queensland children the brightest start possible.”
Already, 121 extra kindergarten services are planned to be built on school sites in areas of high need by 2013. To give families more choice, more than 815 long day care services have also been approved to deliver kindergarten programs around the state since 2010.
- Kindy is available at low or no cost for low income families and multiple birth families with triplets or more
- Additional funding is being provided to kindergarten and long day care services to help them attract and retain qualified teachers
- Support has been expanded for children with disabilities through additional funding to support kindergarten services to offer inclusive programs
- An e-kindy distance education program is being developed to cater for families in rural and remote areas of Queensland.
Kindergartens offer play-based learning experiences under the guidance and care of a qualified early childhood teacher. They cater for children who are at least 4 years of age by 30 June in their kindergarten year.
The Queensland Government Office for Early Childhood Education and Care website says:
“Kindergarten programs offer a safe and caring environment in which your child can build confidence in their abilities, extend their communication skills, be creative and learn early literacy and numeracy concepts.”
Kindergarten programs have traditionally been offered at community kindergartens but approved programs are now also offered at many childcare centres and at newer kindergartens co-located with schools.
The Crèche and Kindergarten (C&K) Association of Queensland has been a leader in play-based educational programs for over a hundred years. It now provides nearly 400 kindergarten programs in Queensland in different settings, as well as childcare and family day care services. The advantage of a kindergarten program is that your child will be in the care of a qualified educator in a structured, approved program that will prepare him well for school.
Childcare centres, also known as long day care centres, usually cater for children under school age. Children are grouped by age and developmental stage, with older children participating in play-based learning programs. Many centres now run approved kindergarten programs for pre-prep children.
The pros and cons of childcare to consider are: (source careforkids.com.au)
- For a single child, it is usually cheaper than hiring a nanny.
- Care is always available during opening hours. The centre will manage replacement staff if any carer is ill or unavailable.
- Provides a structured program with routine and activities.
- Centres are licensed facilities, and all staff will have relevant experience and qualifications.
- Child meets a range of other children and carers.
- Less individual attention than nanny or au pair.
- Child is exposed to more people and more illnesses.
- Child may (initially) find it hard to settle into an unfamiliar environment.
- Many centres have long waiting lists and fees can be expensive.
- May not be flexible enough to meet your child’s individual temperament and needs.
- You will have to arrange travel to and from the centre.
- A relatively cheap child care option.
- A safe home environment with consistent care.
- Most carers have had children of their own.
- Interaction with a small group of children of varying ages.
- Can be arranged to fit in to your schedule.
- You will need to arrange back-up care if the carer is ill or unavailable.
- There is not the same range of toys, equipment and activities as at a child care centre.
- The carer may not have formal child care qualifications.
- You will have to arrange travel to and from the carer’s home.
All approved child care services are required to meet certain quality standards and eligible parents may claim the Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Rebate.
Family day care
Family day care schemes offer registered carers who look after your child in the carer’s home. They work with children aged 0-6 years not yet at school, and sometimes older school-aged children. Hours of care are flexible and some carers will do overnight or weekend care.
Most family day care schemes are approved child care services and come under the new NQF legislation.
Carla Northam CEO of Family Day Care Australia says that the number of families using family day care is increasing.
“Many parents are realising the positive features of family day care and see it as an affordable alternative for quality child care,” she says.
“Family day care is increasingly becoming an attractive quality option, not only for its affordability, but because many parents prefer the small group settings and nurturing environment.”
The pros and cons of family day care to consider are: (source careforkids.com.au)
A nanny can provide care for one or more children in their own home. Nannies may live in or live out and be employed part-time or full-time on a temporary or permanent basis. Nannies in Queensland must hold an approved child care first aid certificate and hold a ‘Blue Card’ (suitability for working with children). Nannies can work without formal qualifications, but many employers and agencies prefer applicants with recognised qualifications and references.
If individual attention, convenience and flexibility of care in the home, and greater communication with the carer are important to you, a nanny could be the right choice. It may also be cheaper than childcare if you have two or more children under school-age.
The main disadvantage is the fact that if you employ a nanny directly you are responsible for background checks, wages, tax, superannuation and other time-consuming necessities. If you employ via an agency, the nanny is employed by and paid by the agency. You pay the agency an hourly rate. You can choose to pay a placement fee only, to be introduced to nannies on their books, but you are then the direct employer with accompanying obligations.
The other major issue is the lack of government subsidy for nanny care at home, except in very specific circumstances. Nannies do not come under the scrutiny and regulation that centre-based employees do, under the NQF legislation, and therefore parents cannot claim the government childcare subsidies.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ in childcare. The best childcare is the one that suits the needs of your child and family. Early childhood experiences lay the foundation for later development, learning and well-being. Giving your child into someone else’s care deserves careful initial consideration and ongoing monitoring.