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"Dear Senator: This is what a childcare educator does other than 'wiping noses'."

Senator David Leyonhjelm’s comments about childcare educators on last night’s episode of The Project have been passionately criticised by viewers as “insulting,” “idiotic,” and “ridiculous.”

The politician appeared on the program to discuss the Federal Government’s new $3 billion childcare reform package, and argued that a way to reduce the cost of childcare would be to cut back the required credentials of workers. After all, he said, their job consists of “wiping noses and stopping the kids from killing each other.” It’s not all that hard!

“Apart from the fact you want to make sure there aren’t any paedophiles involved, you have to have credentials these days to be a childcare worker,” Senator Leyonhjelm said, implying that such credentials are entirely unnecessary. The Senator then went on to say that women don’t need training to look after children, and that the standard of childcare hasn’t improved since the introduction of minimum qualifications.

Childcare consists of "wiping noses and stopping the kids from killing each other," says Senator Leyonhjelm. Image via Channel 10.

Two people who are all too familiar with these misconceptions are Jack and Nicholas Stephens, my brothers (who also happen to be twins). The men, both aged 23, have been working in childcare for four years. Even within their family (by that uncle, you know the one), they've been described as "glorified babysitters."

On the front line of an increasingly challenging industry, they've learned that the job of a childcare educator (not worker) is exceedingly complex, profoundly important, and entirely indispensable. I asked them to give me a list of what their day consists of -  a list which, according to Senator Leyonhjelm, should be very, very short.

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Unsurprisingly, it wasn't.

For two years, Jack and Nicholas worked in a special needs centre - a context Senator Leyonhjelm didn't come close to considering. But even outside those centres designed specifically for children with developmental, physical or emotional problems, children with diverse needs attend all childcare facilities. But childcare, in and of itself, is inarguably demanding. Here's the list Jack and Nicholas gave me, although they said it's incredibly difficult to reduce their job in dot points. The challenge is maintaining a consistent approach every single day, tailoring all activities and environments to the needs of each individual child.

  • Teach values and manners.
  • Teach language.
  • Maintain a flexible approach to learning that considers the needs of each child.
Nicholas with his face painted, because: childcare. Image supplied.
  • Ensure that all activities are sensitive to diverse cultural, linguistic, religious and social backgrounds.
  • Organise diverse educational activities.
  • Be pro-active in removing threats from the environment and providing a safe place.
  • Create a stimulating atmosphere and environment.
  • Constantly interact with children in a positive way.
  • Promote children's acceptance of people from other cultural, linguistic, religious and social backgrounds.
  • Promote children's acceptance of children with learning or behavioural difficulties.
  • Monitor children's medications on a daily basis.
  • Keep detailed records of children's accidents and illnesses.
  • Foster good nutritional values and attitudes around food. Help prepare meals and organise mealtimes.
  • Change nappies.
Jack with his cousin Archie. Image supplied.
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  • Ensure the centre is clean.
  • Respond effectively to emergencies, in line with the centre's policies.
  • Organise and closely monitor children's excursions.
  • Suggest ways to improve the centre.
  • Help children learn to go to the bathroom.
  • Watch for signs of developmental or emotional difficulties.
  • Keep detailed records (in the form of the day book) of what each child did that day, what they were interested in, and their overall progress.
  • Conflict resolution.

It's not such a short list, and by no means is it exhaustive.

Another issue Jack and Nicholas had with Senator Leyonhjelm's comments was with his ideas about women. The Senator said women don't need training to take care of children (implying that men do), and almost exclusively referred to childcare educators as women.

Nicholas (l) and Jack (r) at work. Doughnuts are an added bonus. Image supplied.

Nicholas is regularly frustrated by the stereotype that as a man, nurturing behaviours won't come naturally to him. He's always loved kids, and hasn't seen any difference between the 'instincts' of a young man and those of a young woman. There's some diversity between how men and women interact with children, he says, but that's a good thing. It's important. Neither approach is better than the other - and they're both necessary.

Jack agrees that assuming women are naturally better at childcare is unfair. Not to mention that the idea of men requiring credentials, while women are just automatically qualified for the job, is simply ludicrous.

So, according to Jack and Nicholas, it takes far more than "not being a paedophile" to be a childcare educator. And the sector is directly harmed by such outdated attitudes.