parent opinion

"It caused many sleepless nights." We need to talk about the cost of daycare in Sydney.

When I first found out I was pregnant, it was a shock, as it was not planned at all. 

My partner of two years (at that time) had just moved his entire life from England to Sydney for love (me). He had found a full-time job which he enjoyed and was looking forward to our lives together whilst waiting for his permanent residency visa to come through.

The conversation of having children did come up from time to time, but it was never something we were planning for in the near future, so my partner’s initial reaction to the two pregnancy tests (we did two because I didn’t believe I could get pregnant so easily after years of polycystic ovary syndrome) went from shock to silent horror. 

Watch: Why childcare in Australia needs to change. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

Safe to say, aside from the initial shock of an unplanned pregnancy, the life-changing moment bonded us together when we saw our baby’s first ultrasound. 

We were in love and about to dive into the unknown realm of parenthood. Fast forward, 18 months later, we would experience yet another moment of shock, but this time to our household budget as our 11-month-old daughter would start full-time childcare.

The daycare discovery phase was quite methodical. I searched for three daycare centres near our home that met the criteria of location, cost, standard of centre, and recommendations from friends and reviews online. 

The criteria that stunned me the most were the costs. I mean, I should have known since I managed the household budget, but I was gobsmacked that the daily rate for one of the centres was $190. 

I looked at that daily rate if we weren’t eligible for childcare subsidies. For a bit of context, I migrated to Australia from Papua New Guinea almost 15 years ago, but I only just became an Australian citizen the year before our daughter was born. 

The realisation that we would possibly pay $950 per week to put our daughter into daycare full-time to return to full-time work made me feel sick in the stomach. I felt perplexed and disheartened. Yet, amidst a COVID pandemic, I had no choice. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Without any family support at all, our daughter had to go to full-time daycare. Cue the onslaught of mum guilt, having to put my daughter to care due to the necessity of maintaining living costs in Sydney while attempting to save for a house deposit for our future home.

A study conducted by the Productivity Commission on Childcare Comparison found that 37 per cent of non-working parents weren’t working because they couldn’t find affordable care. The same study found that the medium weekly cost of full-time care in 2018 was $480, or $400 for family day care. That was a 2.8 per cent increase from the year before and the rate of inflation was only 1.8 per cent.

Without childcare subsidies (CCS), we would pay $950 out-of-pocket per week, which was more than our $615 rent per week. However, with CCS, we would pay $520 per week out of pocket, which was still close to the cost of rent. 

We knew we needed to make some quick changes to our imminent situation, as the impact of high childcare fees on our household budget was not sustainable long term. 

The first expense we needed to reduce was rent, so we looked at moving to a suburb closer to my job with slightly lower childcare costs. As childcare costs aren’t regulated by the Australian government, we found cost varied across Sydney and individual organisations.

Once we made the move to a new suburb and a new daycare, we quickly realised that each centre had their own sets of requirements and fee structure. The cost of nursery rooms versus toddler rooms differed as well as cost of incidentals, such as baby formula. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Some centres required parents to provide formula on top of the daily costs. As my daughter was 10 months old and had only just stopped breastfeeding, I had to provide her goats' milk (she had a cow's milk intolerance). 

At the time, our new childcare fees were $515 per week plus $38 per month for goat's milk, while our new weekly rental expense was $600.

However, after a year at the childcare centre, when COVID restrictions eased off, a fee rise was announced. The cost increased from $515 to $528. This increase was due to rising inflation rates across the world. 

An Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report stated that childcare prices rose 6.5 per cent year on year across the metropolitan cities of Australia. This concerned me. 

Once again, the cost of childcare was increasing, as were the cost of goods and services and housing prices, especially in Sydney. Yet my salary was not, and neither was my partner’s wages.

We began to forecast the long-term costs of one child in full-time childcare for the next three years (our daughter would be four years old). Image: Supplied. 

ADVERTISEMENT

If the cost increased from $515 to $528 per week, the projected 6.5 per cent increase year on year would mean fees would increase by $34 per week each year. Therefore, the lifetime cost for our daughter's childcare would be $87,672.

The projected lifetime cost completely baffled me. How the heck do parents get a break?

Over the course of those three years, we would spend close to $90,000, which is almost a third of a 20 per cent house deposit in Sydney (Sydney’s median house price in $1.4M). 

We were distressed immigrant parents without any family support. It caused many sleepless nights and moments of anger.

Here we were, two full time working parents with decent income and stable jobs, yet our household budget was haemorrhaging.

The idea of even having a second child, a sibling for our daughter (as my partner and I come from big families) was snatched out from us. Not because we couldn’t, but simply because we could not afford it.

And in the end, the high childcare fees were like birth control for us.

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

Patti is a staunchly proud Papua New Guinean mother of one who is passionate about financial literacy and advocates for generational wealth within the Pacific Islander community. She has worked in the Tech and Media space for the last 10 years. As an outspoken WOC working in a predominantly male (white) industry, she has navigated through the tech space, working with Google and Facebook. From leading development teams to launching new solutions into the market, she has kept true to her culture and heritage by wearing her afro out and upholding her feminist viewpoints.  You can follow Patti on Instagram here.

Feature Image: Supplied.

Is your career important to you? Take this short survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher!