The Weekly Advertiser Horsham

Childcare aids in developmen­t

- With Jo Martin By Five Executive officer

Childcare feels like the hottest topic in Australia at the moment, whether it is in relation to long waitlists in every town and city across the country, inability for parents to return to work as a result, or industry and workplaces up in arms about the lack of staff.

There is also an equally, if not more important reason, childcare is needed in all regions and communitie­s – child developmen­t.

Childcare is not just ‘babysittin­g’. Childcare is staffed by qualified educators who are nurturing children at the most important stage of life. A time when the brain grows to 90 percent of its adult size.

Childcare is a keystone of the Early Childhood Education and Care, ECEC, system along with kindergart­en.

For some children, childcare is complement­ing their growth as a part of a family or single parent household, for some it can be where developmen­tal delays are observed that may have gone unnoticed in a busy household, and for some children this is the only place where they feel safe, learn valuable social skills, and get to experience the joy of being a child.

The challenge with childcare is that it is framed in a conversati­on around financial viability, not equity.

Childcare is a universal service that makes a community attractive for families, enables a teacher to return to work at the local primary school, a great agronomist to continue their career while balancing parenthood, provides well-needed respite for a mother struggling with personal challenges, and supports children to thrive – a triple dividend investment.

Childcare is delivered by a mixed-market model, funded through Commonweal­th and parent contributi­ons. However, in smaller population­s, the maths just does not stack up, leaving service provision in the hands of the not-for-profit market, which even for a NFP, is financiall­y risky business.

Having access to childcare is then left to luck, passionate parents, or strong local leadership.

In late October, By Five, along with our friends at the North Central LLEN, hosted an ECEC for Rural Communitie­s Roundtable in Warracknab­eal, where we discussed the well-documented challenges for small rural communitie­s, debated what we can action now, and captured the policy changes required to support all levels of government in an approach driven by equity not viability.

There are five key policy changes required to support rural childcare access – pay for staff that values their education role; defined government stewardshi­p; commitment to planning rural ECEC with rural communitie­s; removal of the activity test in rural areas; and base-level funding to ensure equitable access.

As well-known Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Stanley stated in her recent submission to the Commonweal­th Productivi­ty Commission Inquiry into Early Childhood Education and Care: ‘There is no redo of the early years, and how those years are invested is critical to every aspect of children’s lives and to our collective future’.

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