Saturday, July 26, 2014

There's a glaring inconsistency in the Productivity Commission's Childcare Report

I only got part way through the overview of the Productivity Commission's Draft Report into Childcare and Early Childhood Learning when I realised there was an inconsistency. 

One of the key points in the report on page 2 says:
The benefits from participation in preschool for children’s development and transition to school are largely undisputed
And then in the list of the benefits of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) on page 12 it backs up this claim with:
The benefits of quality early learning for children in the year prior to starting school are largely undisputed, with evidence, in particular, of improved performance in standardised test results in the early years of primary school as a result of participation in preschool programs.
Basically the report is saying that attendance at a pre-school in the year before starting school can result in some good outcomes for the child. And a good outcome for the child carries some long term economic and social benefit for Australia.

The report then also offers a proviso with ECEC and children up to one year old:
For children under 1 year of age, those from homes where the quality of care and the learning environment is below that available in ECEC are most likely to benefit from participation in ECEC. Although there may be some developmental benefits for other very young children from time spent in formal ECEC settings, there is also potential for negative effects (such as the emergence of behavioural problems later in childhood) the closer to birth the child commences ECEC and the longer the time the child spends in formal care. 
... an assistance arrangement which enabled working parents to use care for very young children, at a low cost for an unlimited number of hours per week, would be unlikely to be generally beneficial to child development.

In other words, in loving, engaging home environments, it might be better that the child under one spends less time in ECEC and, reading between the lines, more time at home with a parent or two.

So, it would be good if newborns spent most of their time at home, while it would be good if 4 year olds got some exposure to preschool to prepare them for school.

And then the report displays the following flow chart to show who should get Childcare assistance:

Source: Figure 7 from page 21 of the Productivity Commission Draft Report
See those two boxes down the left hand side? If one of the parents is a stay-at-home parent not working, studying or training for at least 24 hours a fortnight then they are not entitled to any assistance. This might appear fair for parents who decide to have one parent at home during the childrearing years, it's their decision afterall, but not all families are going to fit so easily into that little box, particularly parents who have more than one child.

Lets look at a scenario of a growing family. The parents bring home their little bundle of joy and decide mum is going to stay home with him for the first 12 months. They get through pretty easily in the first six months with the Paid Parental Leave and dad's wage and then push on with the next 6 months as best they can. Once Charlie hits 12 months mum decides he has developed quite nicely and that 3 days a week with other children would be good for Charlie, allowing her to go back to work 3 days a week. The parents are entitled to the full subsidy. Three years later Charlotte is born and her parents would like to give her the same start as Charlie. But now they have a problem: it is the year before Charlie starts school and they would like to enrol him in a pre-school to help him prepare for school. According to the flowchart above, if mum stays home with Charlotte for the first 12 months then they will not be entitled to any childcare assistance. The parents are now in the unenviable position of choosing between doing the right thing by Charlie or Charlotte.

If Charlotte had been born a year earlier then the decision wouldn't be as difficult because the benefit of ECEL for children above 12 months increases the closer they get to school age. Charlie could stay at home with mum and Charlotte for a year, benefiting everyone.

The solution would be a sliding scale of hours that parents have to work, train or study to receive childcare The closer the child is to school age, the less hours they have to work, study or train, with the number of hours being zero when the child reaches the year before compulsory school age.

This post is part of a discussion taking place in The Centre Party of Australia. To follow some of the debate go to 

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1 comment:

  1. Lisa Bryant, a consultant in the early education and care sector and NSW convener of Australian Community Children's Services, comments on the inadequacy of the Productivity Commission's findings: