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Time to put the child in childcare

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Opinion
Author: 
Peatling, Stephanie
Publication Date: 
5 May 2015
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EXCERPTS

It seems like a weird thing to have to point out but in the discussion about the federal government's changes to childcare, there is one significant group of people that hasn't had much of a say.

About 1.3 million children attend childcare or preschool every week and yet they have been negligent about writing letters, providing feedback, commenting on discussion papers and lobbying politicians about the future of their sector.

Much of the language about the reforms has been what parents, employers, taxpayers and the economy in general need from childcare but not much about what children need.

Children clearly need better peak body representatives.

Childcare needs an image overhaul. Too many people still think of it as glorified babysitting for career-obsessed parents or yummy mummies who would rather do Pilates than finger painting.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott went some of the way on Sunday when he defended taxpayer subsidies for childcare against the criticism that it is more middle-class welfare.

"It is important that childcare is seen not as welfare but as a way of strengthening our economy because the more people we can get who are contributing, well, the better for everyone," Mr Abbott said.

Parents need and want to work. Childcare lets them to do this.

But children are also the workers and taxpayers of the future.

The best way for them to contribute to society as adults is to provide them with high quality childcare because childcare is the foundation for education which, when done right, can set a child up for life.

It was encouraging to hear Education Minister Christopher Pyne acknowledge this alongside Mr Abbott at the weekend: "At four years old we are expecting every Australian to be beginning their education in a formal sense, building on what they've learned from childcare in the previous three years."

If this sounds a bit tiger mother-ish then consider that by the time children officially start school at the age of five their brains have already had the five most crucial years of development.

Children attend childcare during the years in which their brains are like sponges soaking up every bit of information they come across, absorbing and learning at an incredible pace.

Two of Australia's foremost early childhood researchers wrote last week that 20 per cent of Australian children, more in some areas, start school behind their peers and might never catch up.

Frank Oberklaid, from the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, and Sarah Wise, from the University of Melbourne, wrote of the critical importance for all children, but particularly those from low socio-economic and other vulnerable backgrounds, of ensuring the government's new policy sees childcare not just as a way of boosting the workforce participation of parents but as the educational foundation for children.

Guaranteeing four-year-olds access to free preschool education is a great thing.

It would be even better if the federal government made it clear to the states and territories that the funding be available not just to preschools attached to the school system but to childcare centres running preschool programs with accredited teachers.

Childcare centres are grappling with the problem of parents wanting to send their children to preschool because it is free which leaves centres in financial difficulty. Centres typically recoup the higher cost of the care of children aged up to two years of age, who require a greater number of staff, from the lower cost of services for older children.

Allowing childcare centres to access the funding would also help parents who struggle with school hours and the lack of after-hours school care.

As Mr Pyne pointed out children are pretty much starting school at four and building on what they have learnt at childcare.

Which is why early childhood experts and childcare operators are concerned about a work and study test for parents before they can receive childcare assistance payments.

Childcare is expensive and it can be extremely difficult to get.

Anyone familiar with the system knows you take a childcare place when it is offered and hope that work can be found on those days.

People like me who earn more money and have a permanent job can afford to take a place and pay for it until they return to work from maternity leave.

But that is a luxury for people with low paying casual or part time jobs. They need help to pay for care so they can work. They cannot afford to pay $100 a day or more for childcare for a few weeks or months until they find work or return to work after the birth of a child.

Imposing an activity test would push those people into a cycle of being unable to work until they have childcare but unable to afford childcare until they have work. Parents would find it extremely difficult to work and children would miss out on potentially transformative educational opportunities during the years when their brains are most hard wired to learn.

This is why childcare organisations want the government to guarantee two days a week of care for children from low income and vulnerable families.

The lottery of birth gives some children a better starting position than others but all children deserve the very best chance to make the most of their potential. Some just need more help getting there.

-reprinted from Brisbane Times 

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Entered Date: 
6 May 2015
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