Early childhood development

The years from birth to the age of eight are crucial for children’s social, emotional, and intellectual development. Services currently provided for pre-school early childhood development and care are expensive, ill-defined, and confusing. Funding varies from state to state, services are delivered in a wide range of settings and not all children receive high quality education and care. 

According to UNICEF, Australia is at the bottom of world ranking – 34 out of 41 countries – for access to early learning for three year-olds and has among the highest out-of-pocket childcare fees in the world. 

The Federal Government acknowledges: 

The foundations for excellence in learning are laid early in life. Parents and carers who engage children in high-quality learning experiences from a young age make a significant difference to a child’s educational success at school. (Through Growth to Achievement Report: 16)  

Responsibility for early childhood development is shared by Commonwealth and state governments and whilst there is some growth in investment in the sector there is still no guarantee of free 3- and 4-year-old kinder. Only 15% of 3-year-olds are currently enrolled in a preschool program. Some states still charge parents a fee for kinder. Commonwealth funding is neither ongoing nor adequate.  

Our Plan

  • 26 weeks of paid parental leave, for each parent with encouragement for equal sharing. Single parents to receive 52 weeks.
  • Support by healthcare professions to vulnerable families with access to 25 maternal and child health checks plus home visits 
  • Better integration of early childhood services 
  • A new EC funding model integrating education and care and preschool.
  • Vulnerable children entitled to at least three free or low-cost days of high-quality early childhood education and care a week. 
  • Two years of free preschool (20 hours/week) in the years before school 
  • A smooth transition from early learning to compulsory school education 
  • Nationally consistent registration and standards for all early childhood teachers  
  • A strategy for the early childhood education and care workforce that includes proper remuneration and raises qualifications as soon as possible to 4-year degree. 
  • A needs-based strategy for infrastructure and resources for early childhood learning centres 
  • A focus on making early childhood services accessible. 

The Australian Institute of Family Studies reports that fewer than one father in 20 takes Government-paid parental leave yet the benefits of having men and women more equally sharing the role are very clear.

That pay is currently set at up to 20 weeks at minimum pay rates and parents determine how it is shared. This recent change from 18 weeks for the primary care-giver and 2 weeks for their partner, usually the father, does remove the previous incentive and may result in less equal sharing.

According to the AIFS:

Shared parental leave improves engagement, morale and productivity. It makes sense that if employees are satisfied with their work and home balance and their care-giving responsibilities, then their levels of satisfaction at work is higher, and this directly affects productivity.

It argues that a progressive few businesses are driving change but fathers need to feel safe to take their leave.

Companies need to actively develop an organisational culture that encourages men to take leave. This means that company leaders need to identify challenges or stigmas in their own organisations that may be preventing fathers taking leave, and work collaboratively as a business to fix them. Importantly, fathers in leadership positions should themselves take leave, leading by example and removing any bias within the workplace.

According to the Early Learning and Care Council:

  • Two-parent families are constrained in their workforce participation by the negative interplay between Child Care
  • Subsidy rates, other family support payments and the taxation system 
  • Early learning participation by children from single-parent families is falling steeply  
  • Children in low socioeconomic areas much less well-prepared for school 

In Australia, 17.4 percent of children (730,000) live in poverty, as do over 40% of children in single-parent families. Growing up in poverty can seriously affect a child’s health, development and educational success, well into adulthood. 

Qualifications for the early childhood workforce range from the minimum of a certificate in childhood services to a 4-year degree and are paid an average of $29/hour – much less than unqualified workers in male-dominated industries. They also typically work many hours for which they are not paid. Almost one in three early childhood educators leave the profession each year resulting in high staff turnover and shortages. 

Many also argue that the curriculum, frameworks and standards are unnecessarily onerous to the point of restricting the learning environment. 

Early childhood education and care must be accessible to all children, regardless of their parents’ means. It should be publicly funded and universal in the way that primary and secondary schooling is. 

Universal child care is good for women’s participation in the workplace. It’s an enabler for women. They are given genuine choices, and available, affordable child care is a real choice.

Lisa Annese

High-quality, early learning centres should be a basic human right for every single Australian kid, no matter their postcode and regardless of whether both or neither parent works. It’s about uniformity, consistency and equality of access.

Nicola Forrest, Minderoo Foundation

Our plan is informed by the Starting Better Report by the Centre for Policy Development.  According to the CPD, the benefits of excellent early childhood education and care are enormous:

  • Increased access to the workforce for mothers 
  • An increased number of more secure, higher-paying jobs in the growing early childhood education sector. 
  • Higher educational attainment for children, and greater workforce participation when they grow up. 
  • Happier, healthier and more prosperous lives for children  
  • Higher tax revenues and lower health, crisis and policing costs for governments  

It’s a no brainer!

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