parent opinion

Opinion: 'It’s time to acknowledge our childcare system is broken.'

They say there are two sides to every story, and this is certainly true when it comes to the Australian government's ‘free childcare’ program. 

On one hand you hear about the need to stop free childcare - that centres can’t afford it or that some parents can’t access the care they need. On the other are the small business owners, parents who have lost jobs and those hit hardest by the global pandemic, pleading with the government not to be so hasty in switching it off. 

Whichever side you are sitting on there is one thing we all agree on: the current childcare system is broken.

Having spent the majority of two-and-a-half years at home with two kids, I recently started thinking that maybe I'd go back to work full time. I genuinely feel like I need a mental break from being a Stay at Home Mum.

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In the end, I have no choice to make. We quickly realised that no matter which way we cut it, our family would be worse off if I worked more than three days per week.

Our family now hits the childcare subsidy cap of $10,373 per child. When we did the sums it came to light that I would be paying for the privilege to work any additional days over three. If I wanted to work part-time in my own business we, hands down, couldn’t afford it, and if I went back to work full time in my ‘real job’, well, what was the point?


Given the current global climate, I couldn’t believe I would be saying no to work due to unaffordability of childcare.  

KPMG looked at the ‘cost of coming back’ for mothers in 2018, and in particular called out that when women want to increase their days above three per week, they are faced with significant workforce disincentives. Our family, like many others, would be worse off by myself (the mother) wanting to return to work full time.

The example that really struck me was one where two partners are each earning the equivalent of $100k annual income. I like this example, because I previously worked as a physiotherapist in the NSW public healthcare system, and given the award wages this would most likely be my income had I stayed on.

Okay, so we have two hardworking healthcare professionals working in the public healthcare system. This is not the story of corporate couples working in finance and law with larger amounts of disposable income. If the mother decided to return to work full-time, she would cost the family $4,082 a year by increasing her work days to five.

It doesn’t make financial sense for women to work more.

It makes financial sense for them to work less.

Listen to The Quicky, Mamamia's daily news podcast. In this episode, we discuss Australia's complicated and expensive child care system. Post continues below.

It is clear how we have landed with the common parenting model of one primary earner (usually the father) and one primary carer and secondary earner (usually the mother). 


Prior to having our first child my husband and I were on even salaries. Since taking maternity leave and returning to work part time, I have had no career progression - I had career regression when I wasn’t able to return to work part-time as a manager and I haven’t had a pay rise. From an operational and performance-based reward perspective, I understand why I am in this position, but as a result, our family’s pay gap is substantial.

The problem: Now that I am in this position, I can’t get out.

We now have a clear primary income earner. We can’t afford for me to go back to work full time, to put myself back in the race and start to even out the playing field again. My partner and I had always considered that he may take paternity leave and be the primary carer if we had more children, but now our pay gap is so large, this is no longer an option.

There has been so much talk about essential jobs and keeping those with jobs in work. Here is an opportunity to change things for the better so women can actually afford to work more. 

Why would we ‘snap back’ to a broken system when we should be taking the opportunity to fix it? 

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Carmen Pascoe is the Co-founder of SitClique, which helps give women the opportunity to be financially independent and not be limited by their domestic care responsibilities through hiring support for flexible in-home babysitters, home tutors and nannies.  

Feature image: Getty.