As the new Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development, not to mention the mum of a two-and-a-half-year-old, the number one question on my mind is – how do we achieve quality early years education and care that is accessible, affordable, and that meets the needs of Australian families?
That, in essence, is what families want for our child care system.
I am concerned the new changes are going to leave hundreds of thousands of families worse off. We know this is the case as budget figures confirm it.
Therefore, as the Minister has done, I too would encourage you to check what the changes to the system mean for you and your family as you could be of the 279,000 families who stand to be worse off.
A lot of the commentary has suggested that the only worse off families will be wealthy families. However, the analysis shows those families who will be worse off are actually in the two lowest income brackets.
The new system is so complex it might be hard to work out where your family fits in. But, briefly, you need to know how the following three criteria affect you and your family:
1. The type of child care service your family uses.
As it stands, this is split into three groups, Long Day Care and Occasional Care; Family Day Care; and, Outside School Hours Care. Depending on which of these your family access will determine the rate you are subsidised.
2. The new activity test.
The amount of work related activity you do per hour will determine how much subsidy of care you are eligible for. These have to be ‘approved activities’ in order to ensure eligibility to access the child care subsidy each fortnight.
I have serious concerns that many families will not be able to meet the requirements of this test because approved activities will be measured over each fortnight, a time frame which is arbitrary and inflexible for many families.
Shift workers, casual and seasonal worker, those working irregular hours, contractors and consultants or people working off a roster may struggle to fit their activity neatly into a fortnightly activity test and therefor miss out on their child care subsidy. This completely ignores the benefit of children regularly accessing early education services, further disadvantaging those families who are most vulnerable.
3. Your combined family income.
This criteria that a couple must have two incomes to access more than one day of child care subsidy will limit access to many families. For example;
- Those families who only have one income of less than $65,710- your access to early education will be cut from 24 hours to only 12 hours per week.
- For those families on one income over $65,710 your guaranteed access to 24 hours of subsidised access is now reduced to zero.
This is once again ignoring the importance of two days of early education and ignoring the other responsibilities that are not covered by the activity test, such as caring for multiple children or an elderly parent.
As it stands, those families who are going to be worse off have not been informed, which will be a nasty shock come July 2 next year.
And what will the impact of these negative changes be for families? For those families doing it tough it might mean they pull their child from care to save money – a disastrous outcome for the child, their parents and the community. It has also become evident the government’s child care changes do nothing to address the chronic waiting lists that families face. For those families suffering from waiting lists which can be years long, there is no relief in sight.
We also know that fees will keep going up under the new system – for those families using Long Day Care, fees will continue to rise by almost 6 per cent each and every year. And the news for families in rural and regional Australia isn’t any better.
LISTEN: Bec Judd and Monique Bowley discuss childcare with the experts on Hello Bump (post continues after audio...)
The government has yet to confirm funding for mobile services – leaving their futures under threat of closure. For families in these communities, where they face social, emotional, cultural and geographic isolation, and one in four children may not be accessing early childhood education in the year before school, this will be a devastating blow. These families have no other services to turn to.
The current child care system is hard to navigate, is inconvenient, and is expensive. But the new changes to child care are not the revolution families were promised. As it stands, it will be more complex, leave many worse off and limits access to early education.
These changes to the child care system suggest child care is only something to help parents get back to work – undermining the principle that all children, not just those with both parents at work, should have access to early education services.
This is the reality of the new child care changes, which depicts a story where many families and children are missing out. I want a system that is built around the needs of families, and that will be my focus as I move around the country about how we ensure our children get the best possible start in life.