Felxibility - CareforKids.com.au®
The flexibility experiment

An ECEC's point of view

By Liam McNicholas

Fewer than 100 families have made use of the Labor Government's flexible childcare trials, according to figures from the Department of Education published in Fairfax papers. The trials were announced in March 2013 by Minister Kate Ellis, apparently as a result of "a clear demand for more flexible child care options".

The $1.3 million Flexibility Fund was open to children's services to provide a range of different options for families, including longer opening hours and even overnight or weekend services.

The trial featured a number of Family Day Care providers working with shift-workers in the emergency services sector, as well as a handful of Long Day Care centres trialing extended opening hours.

The Government is currently awaiting the outcome of the Productivity Commission Inquiry into the sector before committing to any major changes to early childhood education and care.

But Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley has repeatedly pointed to a lack of flexibility in the sector to accommodate the needs of modern families.

However, this point is hardly backed up by the dismal take-up rate of the flexible options funded by Labor's trials.

But the political debate around flexibility of children's services has never been about facts. It seems to have become an assumed "fact" of the sector that it is not meeting the needs of a significant amount of families, but no person, organisation or peak body has actually provided data on this.

Surveys have indicated that anecdotally there are families who are wishing for extended opening hours particularly, but the Department of Education's analysis suggests this is not a critical issue and that families are only requiring it on an "ad-hoc basis".

So the assumed "fact" that flexibility is a major and concerning issue needs to be investigated. The results of the trial indicate that it is actually a very minor issue compared to actual availability, and affordability for a number of families.

Early Childhood Australia is currently conducting an in-depth examination of the flexibility issue, which should hopefully provide some greater clarity when that research is published.

It's important to remember that the issues around shift-workers (particularly those in emergency services) are not just issues for the children's services sector they need to be addressed as an Australian community. Simply extending operating hours to meet the needs of every single person who requires it is a ridiculous solution to this issue.

There first needs to be some facts on the table on how many families this is affecting, and then a discussion about a holistic approach to addressing it.

The business community needs to be a large part of the discussion. The community sector is often expected to twist and bend itself to meet the needs of business – are there any discussions taking place about business being more flexible to the needs of young families?

It has been tempting for Governments of both sides to identify single issues with the provision of ECEC, and then provide a simple band-aid "solution" to that issue.

But ECEC is part of the broader sphere of community, and touches on the lives of almost every person and business in Australia.

The failure of the Flexibility Fund should encourage policy makers to look at these issues holistically, and not as isolated "problems" that can be "fixed" with a targeted program.

The Federal Government's challenge will be to present policy options that can address identified issues in a holistic way – which will be extremely difficult given they have committed to spending no more of the Budget on ECEC.
About The Author
Liam is an experienced early childhood teacher, writer and advocate. As well as managing community not-for-profit early childhood operations in a variety of roles, he advocates for children's human rights; the need for investment in early childhood education; and for professional recognition and wages for those working in early childhood education and care. To read more by Liam visit his blog

Have your say:
comments powered by Disqus
© 2014 - All rights reserved
Care For Kids Internet Services Pty Ltd
ABN 55 104 145 735
PO Box 543 Balmain NSW 2041

Contact Us | Feedback
Products & Services
Advertise with Us
Advanced listings
Daily News