The information in this article is derived from: (1) A nationwide poll of 1,515 Australians aged 18 years and older, conducted by Galaxy Research in September 2017; and (2) An online forum data analysis of around 11,000 posts on Early Childhood Development and Care, conducted by La Trobe University’s Research Centre for Data Analytics and Cognition.
Many parents are feeling frustrated with rising childcare costs and want a solution to the problem. Among parents with young children, around 2 in 5 say that kids and childcare are putting pressure on their household budgets and more than half (57 per cent) believe that the cost of childcare is a ‘major problem’ that needs to be fixed.
According to data from the poll, the average fee that parents pay for childcare in Australia is almost $300 per week*, with New South Wales being the state with the most expensive childcare at an average of $349. Not surprisingly, childcare is significantly more expensive in capital city areas, with parents paying an average of $339 per week compared to $217 for those in regional and rural areas.
When it comes to childcare, costs seem to be at the forefront of parents’ concerns. Our analysis of online forums also revealed that most parents discussing childcare were indeed concerned with issues on costs, asking others how much they pay for various childcare arrangements (long day care, nannies etc), whether childcare fees on public holidays are justified, and discussing the portion of their take home pay that they spend on childcare.
Do most of these parents feel that this expenditure is a good value for money? It seems that this depends very much on the amount that parents are paying. The majority of those paying less than $200 per week (59 per cent) believe that their childcare represents a good value for money, while amongst those paying $200 per week or more, 48 per cent consider it poor value.
If the problem of rising childcare costs is not fixed, it could have serious implications for the labour force and our economy. Already, only half of parents (51 per cent) with one child under eight are working full-time, and this number drops to 43 per cent for parents that have more than one child under eight.
Yet even among this group of working parents, many say they would have to make significant sacrifices if childcare was not available to them (or if costs keep increasing). 42 per cent of parents surveyed said they would have to give up their jobs if childcare was not available, while another 27 per cent say that either parent would have to negotiate more flexible work arrangements in exchange for a pay cut.
To parents, however, childcare is not only about having someone to mind their children while they are at work. When asked what they thought was the most important role of childcare, 40 per cent said to ‘support the workforce by looking after children while their parents work,’ but another 42 per cent chose ‘equipping children with knowledge and skills for life and learning’. Clearly, the rising cost of childcare is not only worrying to parents because it might affect their careers and work arrangements, but they are also worried that their children would not have access to the educational, social and academic benefits of childcare.
The analysis of online forums also revealed other factors that were important to parents when choosing their type of childcare such as health and safety standards, distance to work and home, educational standards and the amount of social and playtime that their children get.
To make childcare more affordable, the top 3 initiatives that parents believe the government should introduce are (1) to open more government funded childcare centres, (2) introduce legislation to set an upper limit on the amount childcare centres can charge and (3) allow the opening of more childcare centres in general.
The analysis of online forums also found many discussions focused on the Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate. Many users expressed confusion about these government schemes, seeking advice on eligibility issues, how to work out their fees after the benefit and rebates, and when they will get their benefit and rebates. The recently announced reforms would thus go a long way in simplifying these schemes.
*Note that these estimates do not take into account daily rates of service, the number of days that children are enrolled, type of childcare service, rebates and whether parents have more than one child in paid childcare. For a more in-depth look at the latest figures of childcare costs across states by service type, please refer to the Department of Education and Training’s report on Early Childhood and Child Care (September 2016) at https://docs.education.gov.au/node/43466.