Our survey of more than 200 parents found many are concerned about the cost of child care.
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A good childcare centre is like gold dust - hard to find and, these days, it seems, just as expensive. And once you’ve sold a limb to pay for it, you then have to join the back of a very long queue to sign up.
When CHOICE surveyed parents recently, asking about accessibility, affordability and quality of child care, what we found was concerning:
- Fewer than half of parents with children in long day care (LDC) were very satisfied with the quality of care;
- Only one in five were very satisfied with the ease of securing a place;
- And a paltry one in 10 with the cost.
“We’re currently trying to find child care for my 14-month-old baby and it’s a nightmare,” says Nicola from NSW, summing up the frustrations of many parents. “There are no places and high fees to get onto very long waiting lists. How are women supposed to get back into the workforce?”
Putting the quality in quality child care
Quality child care is essential – the first three years of a child’s life have been shown to have a huge impact on their development, learning, and wellbeing. At latest estimate, 410,500 children are enrolled in long day care across Australia.
In June 2011, the National Childcare Accreditation Council found many centres fell short in a number of areas:
- 27% in ensuring toileting and nappy changing are positive experiences
- 25% in supporting each child’s rest, sleep and comfort needs
- 23% in implementing effective and current food health and hygiene practices
- 21% in assisting each child to be a successful learner
- 19% in ensuring potentially dangerous objects are not accessible to children
And a recent report found preschool children in Victoria and Queensland received, on average, a low level of support for expanding their knowledge and understanding.
But even if you find out your day care centre is a poor performer, you may not be able to take your child elsewhere.
“I am not 100% happy with the only available option in our town,” Natalie from NSW tells us, “but unfortunately we have little choice.”
Bringing child care up to standard
In an effort to ensure decent centres are available to everyone, the federal government recently launched a program to raise the standard of care throughout the country. The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care is designed to improve the quality of child care over the next few years. However, it’s also likely to raise costs.
The National Quality Standard came into effect on 1 January 2012 and sets a new national benchmark for the quality of education and childcare services. Changes will be phased in until 2020, including lower staff-to-child ratios and more qualifications required of child care staff – this includes the requirement for employing an early childhood teacher for most long day care.
The new staff ratios for long day care are one carer for:
- Four children up to two years
- Five children of two to three years
- 11 children of three to six years.
According to the Productivity Commission, as an effect of the reforms, fees are likely to increase by 15% for long day care and 5% for family day care from 2012 levels. Where that leaves parents and their children is unclear.
As of August 2013, one in five child education and care services had been assessed against the new standards, with only 56% meeting or exceeding the standards. Five per cent of centres are allowed to stay open even though they are not meeting certain requirements, with the understanding that they are working on overcoming those shortcomings.
To check if a service has been assessed and to see its rating, you can visit the national registers of The Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority.