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Childcare challenges

By Emily Morris - 12 January 2015 9

kids-playing

For as long as I have been a mother I have been aware of the cost of childcare and impact it has on the family budget if parents either have to or choose to work.

In Australia we are reasonably lucky to have government subsidy on childcare, which, frankly, makes it vaguely affordable for many families (still out of reach for some). For me, without the subsidy, there would be little point in working other than keeping my ‘hand’ in my career and preventing a gap and subsequent longer term disadvantage regarding promotion and benefits.

I am currently moving my two-year-old and three-year-old from one childcare centre to another. Reasonably high turnover of staff (some days not knowing the name of the individual I am placing the care of my little one in the hands of) and occasional poor organisation and planning foresight led me to the decision to move. It’s a pretty big deal. My kids (like many their age) like routine and the known, but as a parent I wasn’t entirely happy.

What has been interesting is the number of friends I have spoken to in the past month or so who are undergoing similar decisions. I can’t help but wonder why we are having such a hard time obtaining satisfaction in our childcare centres, particularly given the huge outgoing cost for these services – for my family, without subsidy, our childcare costs would be 20% higher than our rent.

Conversations with room leaders last year led me to question the effectiveness and broader impact of the Early Learning Framework. Introduced in 2012, the Framework targets the care provision of children 0-5 years old and addresses five main learning outcomes (and sub-outcomes). Instead of talking about my child/ren broadly – what they do well, where they could use some encouragement, and how their social skills are developing (essentially what I really want to know) – I was given a large folder full of papers running through different exercises/activities and how they matched against the learning outcomes. It felt like a cut and paste job in order to complete the tick box exercise. Did it provide me with a great deal of insight? No. Would it have taken the room leader considerable time and effort to prepare (time I can only assume is away from the kids)? I would imagine so.

When I think about doing this job, not spending the full time available with the children and having less time to organise activities and just enjoy them, making the children enthusiastic about learning and exploring – I have to say, I’m not surprised there are many good people moving on.

I’m starting to wonder if childcare centres would be better to leave the structured learning for the school years and be left with more freedom to play.

What’s Your opinion?


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9 Responses to
Childcare challenges
CheekyChicken 8:50 pm 18 Feb 15

Its a familiar story, sounds like a hassle that rings true with loads of people unfortunatly.

I had a similar scenario with staff not paying any attention to the children at our sons centres… we tried three.

So we took him out and started our own.

you just need a place that cares.

Affirmative Action M 8:43 am 16 Jan 15

Good article. One of the main problems in the sector is that it has gone from child minding to “early learning” & jacked all the costs up.

We had 3 kids & all I wanted for them was they be fed, nappies changed & that they be safe we didn’t give a rats about assessments.

Best care we ever had was a home based Pakistani woman who looked after her own boy plus 2 of hours.

Later we had them in various childcare centres including early learning places. There is no guarantee that carers with high level qualifications are any good we found some very sloppy lazy staff had the highest quals.

Give me a granny or a mother with basic common sense anyday.

wildturkeycanoe 5:26 am 16 Jan 15

54-11 said :

If part of your problem is “high turnover of staff”, then think about what the carers are being paid. My wife is a childcare educator and earns just $20.20 per hour (and it’s been this way for some time and is unlikely to go up any time soon).

So who in their right mind would stick around in a job like that? They have to be qualified, are pushed around by the childcare operators, and are often unappreciated and unloved by the parents.

Until pay and conditions of service issues in childcare centres are properly addressed, then staff will keep leaving. As can be seen in the wider public service, often those who leave are just the ones who should stay (and vice versa).

Perhaps parents should show a bit more love and empathy to the underpaid and overworked people who are looking after your little ones.

Why would anybody put their child into the care of somebody who earns over $20.20/hour, so that they can go to work for only $25/hour to try and help pay the bills? It is counter productive and often cheaper to stay at home instead of having family benefit reduced.
That one carer often looks after not just one child but several, so each child is really only costing say $5/hour to be looked after. If this is the case, where is the $300-400 per week per child going to? Obviously it isn’t into the pocket of the carer as they might get $$600 per week after tax in wages for 40 hours work, for charging four parents somewhere in the order of $1600. My guess is the operators of these places are pocketing quite a nice sum into an offshore account somewhere.

54-11 10:06 am 15 Jan 15

If part of your problem is “high turnover of staff”, then think about what the carers are being paid. My wife is a childcare educator and earns just $20.20 per hour (and it’s been this way for some time and is unlikely to go up any time soon).

So who in their right mind would stick around in a job like that? They have to be qualified, are pushed around by the childcare operators, and are often unappreciated and unloved by the parents.

Until pay and conditions of service issues in childcare centres are properly addressed, then staff will keep leaving. As can be seen in the wider public service, often those who leave are just the ones who should stay (and vice versa).

Perhaps parents should show a bit more love and empathy to the underpaid and overworked people who are looking after your little ones.

Masquara 8:40 pm 12 Jan 15

jgsma said :

I think it is a genuine attempt to ensure that child-care centres provide the kind of learning experiences that good parenting would supply if the child is cared for at home. Many years ago when my children were small there was little regulation and some child-care situations were appalling, such as the lady I met whose idea of play was to put the children out in the back-yard with no play equipment or toys so that they could ‘just run around’.
Unfortunately, with bureaucracy often comes over-kill.

Haven’t you ever seen kids “stuck in the backyard without toys” picking up whatever is lying around and using their imaginations? I remember a bunch of kids turning the tanbark in a garden bed into toy cars and thing by rubbing the larger chunks on a rough footpath to shape it, and e.g. using sticks as axles.

briggles 7:59 pm 12 Jan 15

Couldn’t agree more. Our childcare does an ‘assessment’ full of early years framework nonsense and very little about my children. Then they say they have a ‘school readiness program’ which consists of them teaching the children their abcs (probably incorrectly). I sent my son to our free preschool this year and could not be more happy with the result, and can’t wait to send my daughter next year. Learning through play should be the aim of the game for children in child care and while i think there does need to be some kind of framework and quality to the system, the early years framework seems to have made that harder than it actually is.

jgsma 3:56 pm 12 Jan 15

I think it is a genuine attempt to ensure that child-care centres provide the kind of learning experiences that good parenting would supply if the child is cared for at home. Many years ago when my children were small there was little regulation and some child-care situations were appalling, such as the lady I met whose idea of play was to put the children out in the back-yard with no play equipment or toys so that they could ‘just run around’.
Unfortunately, with bureaucracy often comes over-kill.

crackerpants 3:45 pm 12 Jan 15

Amy Birchall said :

Until I read this article I wasn’t aware that kids in childcare were assessed against learning outcomes. They’re babies and toddlers, for goodness sake. I don’t have kids yet, but common sense suggests that it’s best to let kids be kids, and to let childcare workers do the work they’re trained to do (looking after children), rather than swamping them with meaningless administrative tasks that do little to improve a child’s development or wellbeing and provide no real insight for parents.

Even when you take into account the long hours and low pay, it’s no wonder that staff turnover is so high…

Best of luck with moving to the new centre, Emily!

They’re not assessed as such – not graded. It’s just a way to check that children have been exposed to the prescribed range of experiences and activities. Our experience has been that when our eldest started daycare at the beginning of 2010, our centre was already using the framework (or a very similar precursor) and had been doing so for some time. So we know that all of this is happening because we’re given info on it at the start of the year, the children are assigned a symbol for their learning group but other than that, it’s all very smooth and unobtrusive. We get a simple one-page progress report at the end of the year. We’ve probably been very lucky, and I can imagine that a centre implementing this would find it very unwieldy to begin with.

As for taking time away from caring for the children – our centre has always put programming time into the staff roster, and staffed the centre accordingly (after all, there are required ratios now, so I imagine that rather than staff being pulled away from childcare, they are rotating through a slightly larger pool of staff).

I absolutely agree that babies and toddlers should be playing without being “assessed” but even “just” playing takes a lot of organising and administration to make it happen. Instilling enthusiasm and love for learning in children takes a great deal of planning to allocate resources, rotate activities and keep it “fresh” for kids, developing learning experiences that draw on the children’s own experiences and environment at home (the reason for having the “observation groups”. To my mind, this is just a way of ensuring that a broad base is covered – otherwise children might find themselves in repetitive, uninspiring learning environments (I say learning, but of course at that age, playing=learning=”work”).

So the upshot of all that is that while I appreciate some centres might struggle to implement the framework, it can be done, and I think overall it’s a positive. As with all things childcare, it will come down to the centre and how well they manage the process and adapt.

Best of luck with the move, it’s a huge decision (we made a similar one regarding schooling last year) and I hope it all pans out for your family.

Amy Birchall 1:33 pm 12 Jan 15

Until I read this article I wasn’t aware that kids in childcare were assessed against learning outcomes. They’re babies and toddlers, for goodness sake. I don’t have kids yet, but common sense suggests that it’s best to let kids be kids, and to let childcare workers do the work they’re trained to do (looking after children), rather than swamping them with meaningless administrative tasks that do little to improve a child’s development or wellbeing and provide no real insight for parents.

Even when you take into account the long hours and low pay, it’s no wonder that staff turnover is so high…

Best of luck with moving to the new centre, Emily!

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