Childcare survey reveals inequities

Available, affordable, high-quality care is still out of reach for many families.
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In brief

  • Long waiting lists and lack of choice over which days, the number of days and the type of childcare available were the major problems our survey respondents found when looking for childcare.
  • Once they'd got into childcare, high costs and staffing issues(high staff turnover, too many children looked after at once) were problems many parents had to deal with.

It's hard to see how the choice, availability and quality of childcare can improve without an injection of funds - and with parents already struggling with costs, many think the government should be responsible for this.

Childcare - the state of play

We wanted to find out Australians' experiences of the childcare system. So in June this year CHOICE sent out an Australiawide survey to people who have children six years or younger and who have used or looked for childcare.

Respondents told us what problems they’d had when looking for childcare, and those who’d used childcare in the last two years also reported on the difficulties they’d experienced within the childcare system.

Some respondents said they’d had little trouble finding affordable, quality childcare in a community-based/not-for-profit centre, commercial long-day care centre or through family daycare. Others said they’d struggled to find care but were happy with it once they found it.

But many said looking for childcare was a nightmare of long waiting lists and juggling schedules to find a place. Disturbingly, some parents said they’d felt compelled to take whatever they could get. And some said the cost of childcare cancelled out the economic value of returning to work altogether.

Problems our survey respondents had once they got a place for their child or children included:

  • High cost
  • High staff turnover
  • Too few staff, with too many children being looked after at once
  • Having to fundraise for the centre
  • Parking
  • Unsuitable opening and closing times
  • Unsuitability of staff
  • Old or inadequate premises

These problems differed depending on the type of care they’d chosen. 

CHOICE childcare survey

Baby reading book

  • 1239 people around Australia responded to our email survey, which we sent out to readers of our ‘baby’ newsletter.
  • While most of the respondents were CHOICE or CHOICE Online subscribers, 38% weren’t.
  • All our respondents had looked for or used childcare for children aged from birth to six years old.
  • Our initial research indicated that the most commonly used types of paid childcare for this age group were long-day care (community-based/not-for-profit or commercial centres) and family daycare (where a carer, supported by a co-ordination and resource unit usually provided by a local council or community group, cares for children in the carer’s own home).
  • When our survey asked about commercial childcare it didn’t differentiate between small for-profit businesses and corporate, publicly listed ones.
  • 88% of those who completed the survey were women, and 74% of respondents were aged 30–39.

We received responses from people living in all states and territories of Australia.

Our verdict

It’s a hard decision for most parents to put their very young children into childcare. Many have to, in order to go back to work for financial reasons, and others choose to in order to stay in a career and help secure their future.

They shouldn’t then find, on top of this, that their choice of childcare is limited and its availability uncertain, the quality is questionable and the cost almost (or sometimes completely) prohibitive.

  • While commercially run centres can mushroom as long as private investment is available to fund them, the choice of childcare won’t increase unless the government puts greater direct investment into capital costs for more community-based/not-forprofit centres.
  • Quality of care won’t improve until childcare workers are paid better, with incentives to stay in the industry and reduce its high staff turnover, with all the problems it brings.
  • With many parents already struggling with the high cost of childcare, simply charging more for it to fund these changes won’t work. CHOICE’s survey respondents are in no doubt that it’s a government responsibility to put more funding into childcare to help fix the problems identified in the survey. Few families these days have the option of not using childcare, so guaranteeing its quality and availability is simply an investment in the future of the country.




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