Survey result 2013

The annual child care and workforce participation survey received 2,494 responses – a record number so far in our eighth year of running the survey. Many thanks to everyone who took the time to give us their feedback.

Part 1 - How long, how much and is it worth it?

It will come as no surprise to most of you that the cost of child care is increasing while the wait for that elusive space gets longer and more expensive. 87% of parents have their children in child care due to work.

The Facts:
44% of working parents with pre school children have kids in child care for over eight hours per day; a further 39% between 7-8 hours per day and kids are most likely to be in care for three days a week.

WA and QLD parents are most likely to have their children in child care for 5 days a week (42%) and for the longest number of hours, with over half their kids being in care for over 8 hours a day.

The highest unmet need for child care places is in NSW and VIC, where parents need to use waiting lists in far greater numbers than the rest of the country. Most likely to find the child care they wanted are parents living in SA , WA and QLD and least likely in NSW and VIC.

Most parents (41%) are likely to pay less than $20 per waiting list on average, but QLD parents pay more for waiting lists than NSW with 24% paying between $40 and $60 compared to only 17% of NSW parents in that fee range.

The most likely search time to find suitable child care is one to two months (36%) but over 20% of NSW parents took over 12 months to find child care, compared to just 7% in QLD.

Child care centres are still the most popular form of child care at 77% marginally down from last year. Use of Grandparents is also slightly down at 17% but nannies are up by at 14%, compared to 10% in 2012. The highest users of nannies are those living in WA at 22% compared to 16% in NSW.

Use of Family Day care is the same at 11% with the biggest users of this type of care being in SA and QLD (22% compared to 8% and 4% in NSW and VIC respectively).

Survey boilerplateT he survey was taken by 2,494 parents (98% mums) Australia wide, 80% of whom have children currently in care, 87% for work reasons. Just under 80% of respondents live in the suburbs, 14% in the inner cities and 7% in rural Australia.

65% of parents would prefer to use a referral from a friend or family member to hire a babysitter, nanny or au pair; 31% would us an agency and 25% using an agency-based website, but only 13% would use a non-vetted DIY website.

While 65% of parents are extremely happy with the child care they eventually got, the cost is still increasing. SA parents pay the least amount in child care with 24% paying under $150 compared to just 11% of NSW and VIC based parents; SA parents are most likely (40%) to be paying $150-$200 per week, whereas over half (54%) of parents in NSW and VIC are paying over $300 per week in child care – up by 3% across the country from last year.

Almost three quarters (72%) of parents think that penalties for arriving after hours are fair, 77% think that they should not be paying for child care over public holidays when the centres are closed.

40% of mums surveyed are working full time and 41% part time and although 79% of working mums said they returned to work for financial necessity, 26% said that work is not actually financially viable – up 2% from last year and 31% say that being back at work has brought more financial complications.

The financial complexity of juggling child care vs income is most keenly felt in SA (41% ) and QLD (36%) compared to 30% in NSW and VIC and over one in 10 mums haven't gone back to work at all due to it not being financially viable.

Part 2 - Quality & employer support for working parents

The second part of our survey results is all about quality of care across the country and support for working parents.

Most figures show little change for the better than last year. Parents are still fearful of what the National Quality Framework guidelines will mean in terms of child care affordability and employers still needing to put their money where their mouth is in terms of real support for working parents. But it does seem that South Australia is where parents are happiest with child care although it's where employers are least flexible.

Parents still unsure of the consequences of the NQF
With the National Quality Framework (NQF) now in full swing and staff to children ratios being implemented across the country, it may come as some surprise that half of the parents surveyed said they didn't really understand much of what the new NQF was about. Least in the know are parents in NT (42%) followed by QLD (38%) and ACT (36%).

However on what they do know, 23% of parents think that the NQF will lead to better quality care and agree with the new ratios and better qualified staff, but over a quarter (28%) are sure that the new guidelines will lead to a further increase in child care fees, when over half (52%) said they would like to reduce the fees they currently pay, followed by changes in the hours of operation.

SA & TAS parents are happiest with child care
South Australia and Tasmania are where parents are likely to be most happy with their child care – 78% of Tasmanians and 71% of South Australians think they receive excellent quality of care in terms of carers and facilities (64% national average, down by 4% on last year). 27% of SA parents also said they wouldn't change a thing about their child care facilities, compared to the national average of 18% and just 12% in VIC, NSW and the ACT.

ACT, NT and VIC seem to be where standards are slipping with 41% of ACT. 38% of NT and 37% of VIC parents believing their child care to be "average", compared to 34% national average.However it seems that parents need to pay a bit more attention to the actual care their kids are getting as almost a quarter (23%) have no idea if their child care provides a structured numeracy and literacy program. This lack of knowledge is highest in NT (38%), followed by ACT (30%) and WA (29%). NSW child care is most likely to provide a structured program (65%) compared to just 38% in NT.

Employers still need to get behind working parents, including dads
Almost a half of parents (43%) believe their employers are fully supportive of working parents. However, almost half still have a lot to do to convince parents of their sincerity, with 44% of parents believing their employers are flexible to a point, but not really fully supportive.

And 8% believe their employers are still living in the dark ages. One fifth of the parents surveyed said that their employers have helped or are helping to support them with child care search, flexibility or other practical assistance. SA and QLD employers being amongst the worst with 10% of employers regarded as being completely inflexible.

Of those employers who are providing support, 34% are providing flexible working hours and 22% allowing occasional or regular working from home. 10% are helping with child care search and the same number providing information and advice.

Of those working mums questioned, 71% had asked their employer for flexible work options, of which 63% had been agreed to. It seems though that employers are still not getting the need for equality across working mums and dads when it comes to parenting duties, with 39% of respondents saying their employers were less flexible with dads.

Part 3 - Returning to work

We just can't win: Aussie mums put up with flack for both working and staying at home.

There's no denying that going back to work after having a baby is incredibly stressful. The difficulty in finding child care and negotiating terms with employers notwithstanding, the actual emotional part of going back to work and leaving your baby at home can be extremely difficult.

"Mother guilt" is still felt very keenly by Australian working mums. In our survey 32% of working mothers said that mother guilt was the hardest thing about going back to work. TAS, NT and SA mums feel it more than most (over 35%) compared to only 28% of NSW and VIC mums.

ACT mums are least likely to feel mother guilt (just 24%), but then a slightly higher proportion of mums in the ACT state "career progression" as their key motivator to return to work and they are more likely to get help from employers than mums in any other state.

ACT working mums also feel more valued at work than those in VIC and NSW, with 21% saying they feel more valued after having a baby compared to 15% of NSW and VIC working mothers.

As far as how mums are feeling at work after having a baby and how their employers and colleagues perceive their dedication is a tricky subject: Priorities shift for mums in terms of how they feel about their jobs and careers post baby. And they're probably also exhausted, given that 60% of working mums are apparently still doing the lion's share of the pick-up, drop off and child care issues. Only 35% said they shared the load equally with their partner.

The majority of working mums naturally prioritise their family over career: 55% of working mums say they are less focused on their career progression than they were before baby, and that's fine! If it weren't the case we'd have to seriously question our motives for having a baby at all.

But by the same token, it should come as no surprise that employers and colleagues might question mothers' dedication to their jobs, which in turn can make working mums feel less valued or stigmatised in the workplace.

At the end of the day no mother should be questioned for putting her children above her job. Really it's a no-brainer. Just because she would ultimately put her children before her career, it doesn't mean that she doesn't take her job very seriously.

While around 40% of working mums don't think their work situation has changed in terms of how valued by their employers they feel, but over a quarter, 27% of mums feel less valued at work after having a baby. This is highest in NSW and SA at 31%. A quarter of those surveyed also said they feel stigmatized by colleagues for not taking their work seriously.

And it's not just at work that working mums are getting some flack. Over a fifth (22%) of working mums say they feel judged by non-working mums for not focusing on their kids, which seems a bit unfair given the vast majority of mums who were working said they returned to work due to financial necessity.

However, there seems to be a breakdown in the sisterhood here, because a fifth of stay at home mums in NSW and VIC have felt stigmatised by other mothers.

For many women staying at home with their children is a choice. For many it boils down to the viability of work vs child care and travelling expenses etc. Sometimes the figures just do not add up.

At no point though should any mother be vilified for her decision to stay at home with her children any more than she should be for deciding to go back to paid employment.

Mothers are entitled to also follow their career dreams. Mumpreneurs are becoming increasingly powerful and visible in the changing face of Australian business, with a huge army of mums now running very successful businesses from home.

However, not all mums are working to follow a career dream and not all are working out of choice. Many are simply working out of financial necessity, to play their part in keeping their family financially afloat.

It's a simple fact that the Australian economy needs working mums in the workforce more than ever. There is nothing wrong with choosing to work as a mother, any more than choosing not to work. And there's absolutely no reason to judge a working mum for choosing to pick up her baby rather than stay for a late meeting. So we need to stop judging women - working or otherwise. Motherhood is serious business, it's building the future of our country, and it's time to start genuinely supporting mothers as best we can – both at home and at work.

Part 4 - National Quality Framework

There's a lot of scepticism and a marked lack of understanding of the new National Quality Framework. Why?

In our survey, almost half of parents said they didn't really know about the NQF, but when prompted, only 20% were able to agree with the main factors. This was particularly high in NT, ACT and QLD.

Is this apathy? Lack of information? Exhaustion or a mixture of all three?

A fifth of ACT respondents thought that the NQF would lead to a better standard in child care, compared to 14% of those in NSW.

Under 20% (average of 15%) said that they agreed with the new ratios of staff to children and slightly more (just over 20%) agreed with the need for more qualified staff, meaning that 80% of parents don't actually agree with the main criteria of the NQF.

Almost a fifth (18%) of those in NSW, VIC and TAS are worried about the cost implications of the NQF to their child care fees – only 12% of WA parents were worried (proving the wealth of WA perhaps).

Considering the National Quality Framework has been created to benefit child care workers, owners, parents and kids, why is there such a negative vibe around it?

At the end of the day regulations have existed in child care for a very long time. The NQF is not something for parents to be sceptical of. But it seems that's exactly what's happening.

The focus on the cost implications of the updated regulations clearly has many parents worried that increased costs to child care providers will be passed down as increased fees to parents. This is not necessarily the case.

Yes, there is no doubt that the NQF will cost child care providers, both in the additional staff required to meet the new ratios (1 carer per four children in the under twos category) and also in the requirement to hire more qualified staff.

There will of course be headaches for child care services who are having to change their ratios and therefore make the decision to either increase their operating costs (and some may not be able to do this without significant negative effects on their business's viability) or to cut the number of places available in order to maintain the costs at their current levels, which means fewer places in their locality and decreased income for the providers. Some may be worried they will not weather this storm.

However there has been a $300million budget allocated by the Federal government to take some of the pressure off the child care providers and minimise the onward cost to parents.

Ultimately the NQF has not been designed to create problems for parents and child care providers. Quite the opposite. It is there to standardise services provided; to attempt to bring into line those child care providers who aren't currently up to scratch in terms of quality and to provide children with the best care possible.

It is not going to be plain sailing. As far as child care providers are concerned, there will initially be additional costs and paperwork. But hopefully this will be evened out by the fact that better paid child care workers with better career prospects and workplace conditions are happier workers. Turnover should be reduced therefore cutting recruitment, training and development costs not to mention increased productivity.

In the past, parents have been concerned about the extremely high levels of staff turnover in child care centres (clearly this doesn't apply to family day care which is, by its nature, very stable in terms of staff).

Giving child care workers better levels of pay, encouragement to train and reward for qualifications can only lead to better standards of child care and benefit all concerned, not least the children.

As far as child care places are concerned we need to look not just at the existing child care services, but at helping new ones to fill the shortage of places; to look at even distribution of child care providers across urban and suburban areas; helping child care providers with planning applications to build new or increase the capacity of existing centres or facilities; promoting family day care, in home care, company crèches and other excellent forms of child care and by incentivising parents to hire nannies and au pairs by allowing child care benefit and rebate apply to all valid forms of child care, not just the currently "approved" forms.

There is a lot of space out there for excellent child care in all forms and the National Quality Framework may well help us to create a much better outlook for child care, working parents and their children in Australia.

View results from other years: