4 February 2022

ACT parents paying more but getting less flexibility as childcare costs rise

| Lottie Twyford
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Fees for childcare in the ACT might be the most expensive in the country, but parents aren’t getting much flexibility with that. Photo: File.

ACT parents might be paying the highest fees in the country for childcare, but they are still faced with the least flexible system.

According to the latest Report on Government Services from the Productivity Commission, parents are forking out $610 for 50 hours of childcare – more than $70 above the national average.

For a family on a wage of $75,000 with one child in 30 hours of child care, as a proportion of weekly disposable income, this equates to 26.4 per cent of the household budget (before subsidies).

Almost 20,000 children aged five and younger (59.2 per cent of that age cohort) attended approved childcare programs in the ACT. Of children aged between six and 12 years, 12,512 attend childcare services (31.8 per cent).

In 2021, the median weekly cost for these families for 50 hours of childcare was $610 (up from $604 in 2020) and well above the national average of $540 a week.

For a week of family daycare, families are forking out $582 for 50 hours, down from $608 in 2020, but still well above the national average of $530.

Childcare was the cheapest in the Northern Territory at $500 a week.

Despite the high costs associated with childcare, the ACT performed poorly in terms of providing care during non-standard hours.

Nationally, in March 2021, 41.5 per cent of all approved child care services provided non-standard hours of care. Most of these services provided care before 7 am on weekdays.

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But in the ACT, only 6. 2 per cent of all childcare services provided care in non-standard hours, such as early mornings and evenings.

In Queensland, which leads the nation, 74.9 per cent of all childcare services operate over non-standard hours.

Even the country’s second-worst performer, the Northern Territory, had triple the number of services (18.6 per cent) than the ACT for non-standard hours.

For centre-based daycare, 6.2 per cent of ACT services provided care in non-standard hours, while the national average was 40.7 per cent.

Nationally, 42.9 per cent of local family daycare services provide care during non-standard hours of care, down on the national average of 51.1 per cent.

Only 2.3 per cent of outside of hours care for school-aged children in the ACT operated outside of standard hours, while in Queensland, 76.8 per cent did. The national average is 42.1 per cent.

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There are 333 approved childcare services in the ACT. Of these, 78 were rated as working towards the national quality standards (NQS) while 105 were meeting them, 148 exceeded them and just two were rated as excellent.

In 2020-21, there were 217 confirmed breaches of standards at ACT childcare services, down from 2019-20 when 349 breaches were recorded.

Throughout the year, 811 serious incidents were recorded at all childcare services in the ACT: 609 incidents involved injury, trauma or illness; 95 cases required emergency services to attend; and 107 cases involved a child being locked in or out, taken away or unaccounted for.

ACT childcare services performed the worst in the country regarding dangerous incidents, with 278.7 incidents per 100 services recorded. This is well above the national average of 173.

The next worst-performer was South Australia which had 230.2 incidents per 100 services.

In the ACT, in 2019-20, there were 637 serious incidents. In the previous year, 578 serious incidents were reported.

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