Af­ter school care cri­sis

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - SUE DUNLEVY

AUS­TRALIA is in the grip of an af­ter school care cri­sis. Tens of thou­sands of chil­dren are en­rolled in ser­vices that have been ruled sub­stan­dard, while oth­ers are on wait­ing lists be­cause schools can’t make space avail­able.

A Sun­day Tele­graph in­ves­ti­ga­tion has found 1313 of the 4800 be­fore and af­ter school care providers that have been rated do not meet the govern­ment’s qual­ity stan­dards.

And one of the worst of­fend­ers is Aus­tralia’s largest provider, US pri­vate eq­uity owned Camp Aus­tralia with 176 of its 665 ser­vices not meet­ing qual­ity stan­dards.

Camp Aus­tralia ser­vices have re­ceived 27 fines. Other penal­ties, com­pli­ance or­ders and reg­u­la­tory ac­tions have also been ap­plied. These re­late to chil­dren leav­ing cen­tres with­out staff notic­ing, over­crowd­ing and ser­vices keep­ing two sets of books to de­ceive reg­u­la­tors.

In ad­di­tion to fall­ing short of qual­ity rat­ings, many cen­tres have been fined or had reg­u­la­tory ac­tion taken for rule breaches that in­clude chil­dren be­ing smacked, hav­ing their mouths washed out with soap and be­ing locked in dark rooms. Tax­pay­ers spent more than $740 mil­lion on sub­si­dies for out­side school hours care in the 2018-2019 year but are not get­ting value for that money be­cause of poor stan­dards.

Child­care providers said the fed­eral govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to axe its $20 mil­lion fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion to the en­force­ment of child­care qual­ity stan­dards in the 2018 bud­get has re­sulted in fewer in­spec­tions.

In many cases the fail­ure to meet qual­ity stan­dards is re­peated year af­ter year with no ac­tion taken.

“Our gov­ern­ments are com­pletely un­der-re­sourced to keep ad­e­quate track or be re­spon­sive when qual­ity is not there,” said Kylie Bran­nelly, spokes­woman for the Na­tional Out­side School Hours Ser­vices Al­liance.

A spokesman for Camp Aus­tralia said: “We have learnt from these is­sues and taken ac­tion to ad­dress them. They are not an ac­cu­rate re­flec­tion of our ser­vices to­day.

“Over the past 24 months Camp Aus­tralia has in­vested mil­lions to im­prove the qual­ity and con­sis­tency of ser­vices.”

He also said par­ents should be aware that a rat­ing of “work­ing to­wards” did not in­di­cate the ser­vice was in any way un­safe.

A spokesman for the fed­eral Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment said state and ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ments are re­spon­si­ble for the reg­u­la­tion of these ser­vices.

United Work­ers Union’s He­len Gib­bons said, “any ser­vice provider that has so many of their ser­vices fail­ing to meet qual­ity guide­lines is shock­ing. A key in­di­ca­tor of a qual­ity ser­vice is a sta­ble staff team. Chil­dren and par­ents need a re­li­able friendly face that they know and trust.”

Op­po­si­tion child­care spokes­woman Amanda Rish­worth said the govern­ment’s cuts to the child­care qual­ity sys­tem were hav­ing reper­cus­sions on cen­tre qual­ity and safety.

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