But government policies aimed at reducing the cost of childcare are not working. Parents are back to forking out almost as much as they were in July 2018, when the government introduced the Child Care Subsidy, raising questions about who is really benefiting from the $8 billion-a-year taxpayer investment. Childcare operators blame staff costs, rent and insurance. Yet wages, rent and premiums have not increased enough to account for the blowout – which means operators are either hiring more staff and improving quality (a good thing) – or they are making bigger profits.
Parents are likely to put up with fee increases because finding care that meets your needs is difficult and change is unsettling for everyone. That first drop-off is hard. More than one parent has snuck around the back of the childcare centre, full of guilt, and cried as they listened to the heartbroken sobs on the other side of the fence. No one wants to go through that twice. It is a huge relief when the strangers who took your child out of your arms become much-loved carers, greeted with bear hugs in the morning – preferably by the children.
Feeling safe and secure is essential to a child’s wellbeing, as reflected in the federal government’s own early years learning framework. There is an added benefit here: when a parent knows their child is happy, they are able to focus on their work. It is disappointing to think commercial operators would take advantage of a family’s emotional investment and need for predictability to make bigger profits.
Parents need predictability – on the homefront, with good childcare arrangements, and at work. As The Sun-Herald reports today, research shows that formal flexible arrangements with employers – like agreeing when you will work from home, or when you can start late to allow for drop-off – give parents greater peace of mind and boost their wellbeing, compared to more informal strategies like leaving early and catching up when you get home, which can lead to distress, fatigue and burnout.
This is an issue of national interest. Employers must work with parents to ensure they can do their job and be there for their families. The government must assess its childcare policies and ensure such significant taxpayer investment flows to the intended recipients – parents and their children. The wellbeing of millions of Australians depends on them balancing their work and family life. We must support their efforts. Because when they succeed, everyone wins.