Child care used to be thought of in pretty basic terms. It was simply a group babysitting service so that parents could go to work. Not anymore. We now know that child care is about so much more than that – that’s why there have been debates, reform and huge new investments in the sector.
So what exactly has changed?
Firstly, a huge body of research now clearly demonstrates that the first five years of a child’s life are the most critical in terms of learning and development. The experiences of a child in these early years will shape their future outcomes.
This is the time when children crave stimulation, are curious about everything and hungry for their knowledge to expand as they grasp the basics of sight, sound, movement and thought. In fact we know that 90 per cent of brain development occurs within the first three years.
I am an absolute believer in the power of education; to ensure that individuals have greater opportunities than those enjoyed by their parents and grandparents, to lift people out of poverty and of course, to ensure we are a smart nation for the future.
All of the evidence shows this power of education is at its height during these early years and we get the best results through giving children access to trained and qualified early childhood staff, who can provide adequate attention and supervision by not having too many kids under their care.
Another thing that has changed is just the sheer size of the early childhood sector.
We now have more children in early childhood care than at any time in Australia’s history. These children are attending care for longer; being enrolled for a far greater number of hours than the generations that have come before them. And we are spending more taxpayer dollars to support their care than at any time before.
All of these facts combine to mean we need to get it right.
Early childhood education and care needs to be of high quality – we know that – and that’s why the Federal Government and every State and Territory Government in the country came together and agreed on National Quality reforms that commenced on the 1st of January.
These reforms will see gradual changes, implemented over a number of years that will improve the quality of care that is provided to kids during those previous early years.
This year, parents who have kids in child care aged between 0 and 2 years will notice there is now one staff member for every four children. This was already the case in a number of states but is now national and I think most would agree that four babies is more than enough for one hard working staff member to manage!
Similar improvements to staff-to-child ratios will come into effect for other age groups over the next few years.
And we’re going to change the qualification requirements so that our amazing, hardworking early childhood staff members are better equipped to lead the activities that help our children learn and develop.