How can all children have adequate access to quality early childhood development and care?
What’s the Problem?
Cost is only one component of measuring whether Australia’s young children have adequate access to early childhood education. Other factors that affect a child’s access to early education include enrolment rates, the availability of places, the quality of programs, opening hours, physical locations and the responsiveness of services in meeting diverse child and family needs. There is also a question around whether there is equal access to early childhood education for families who are vulnerable or at-risk, or for children with disabilities or have special health care needs.
Even if childcare is affordable and enrolment rates are high, the quality of early childhood programs in care centres is also crucial in setting a child up for life. The skills we want to develop in our children can be amplified by high-quality programs that provide rich learning environments and age appropriate, play-based programs. Access to high-quality early education is also an incredibly powerful means of transcending disadvantage.
Given the 24/7 nature of today’s labour market, parents are also working longer and more varied hours. As such, the need for flexible and outside school hours care is also increasing. Although centre-based care is usually preferred because of the social and learning opportunities it gives children, this type of care usually lacks flexibility, such that many parents who work variable or non-standard hours, such as nurses and police, face difficulties in balancing childcare and work.
Lower rates of participation by children from culturally and linguistically diverse families have also been observed. The responsiveness of services in meeting diverse child and family needs is therefore important to overcome the barriers related to not only language, but often also income and perhaps concerns about the cultural appropriateness of services.
Different areas of Australia have different obstacles regarding access to early childhood education and care. While inner and urban areas might face long wait lists at many centres, those in remote and rural communities might experience a shortage of service centres within travelling distances as well as qualified and experienced staff.
What are your ideas on how all Australian children can have adequate access to quality early childhood development and care?
- Research has shown substantially higher impacts on children’s outcomes in classrooms that were rated high-quality. For instance, children in classrooms rated highly for ‘instructional support’ scored over three times higher on expressive language.
- Quality of early childhood education has been shown to be lower in less affluent Australian neighbourhoods, thus further entrenching disadvantage.
- Nearly one in four services experience difficulty in meeting the National Quality Framework’s ‘education program and practice’ standard which focuses on embedding children’s individual learning, exploration and identity in everyday practice
- In a survey on childcare conducted early this year, 45 per cent of parents said they found the experience of looking for care extremely difficult and frustrating. 65 per cent of respondents said they went on one or more waitlists and for 74 per cent of parents this incurred a cost of between $0-$40 per waitlist.
- Availability of childcare service providers and staff will continue to be a problem – the number of children needing care will swell to two million by 2019-20, up from 1.7 million this financial year. It is estimated that more than 1600 new long day care centres will be needed by 2020.
- The Productivity Commission found that despite the number of childcare service providers expanding substantially over the past decade and government funding into the sector having tripled, many parents still report difficulties in finding early childhood education and care at a location, price, quality and hours that they want.
- A 2014 report found that the extent to which early childhood education hours fit with parents' work hours was a very significant factor in parents' decision making about which early childhood education service to use.