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Productivity Commission divides industry

But what is best for working parents?

The Productivity Commission's draft report published in July looked at the issues facing many parents whose lives and working hours don't conform to standard child care hours or "approved" child care services. It also discussed how to address the chronic shortfall of child care places in many areas and how to improve women's workforce participation.

Two of the recommendations made were that overseas Au Pairs should be allowed to stay with one family for the full 12 month working holiday visa (opposed to the current six month maximum period with any one family) and that there should be an extension of child-based government assistance to enable greater access to home-based care services. This is in order to improve accessibility for the growing number of families with parents who work irregular or non-standard hours.

The report also argued that the government should allow approved nannies to become an eligible service, for which families can receive assistance, conditional on those nannies meeting the same National Quality Standards, care ratios and qualifications that currently apply to family day care services.

The above recommendations have been put forward to help address the huge unmet demand for child care in Australia, particularly for the under twos, together with the needs for those families with more than one pre-school aged child, and those with special circumstances, who are working shifts or unsociable hours or who have children with special needs.

In Australia, there are around 3.8 million children under 13 years old, living in over 2 million families. Around half of these children use some form of non-parental care in either the formal or informal sectors or both. And demand is growing as the population and workforce increases.

The Productivity Commission estimates that over 100,000 additional full-time places will be needed by 2026. And increasing long day care places and assistance for Family Day Care Services will still not meet these numbers or the needs of all parents.

Industry bodies and child care businesses of course all have their own opinions to the plausibility, viability or suitability of these recommendations and there will inevitably be some debate over the correct division of child care funding.

The Productivity Commission is suggesting that the various child care benefits, rebates and special assistance be streamlined into one means tested subsidy to make it fair and easy to navigate for parents.

Au Pairs can be a great option for families, particularly if parents buddy up and share an au pair. Only one of you needs to have the extra bedroom, but all can chip in for the cost of bed, board and pocket money. They can bring a different cultural experience for children and often a new language to learn.

And don't be fooled into thinking that Au Pairs are inexperienced or unqualified. Many women across the world have been au pairs for years. They often have child care qualifications in their own countries and are likely to be more experienced in child care than many child care workers in formal day care centres! The only downside is that they can only stay for up to a year.

Nannies have been around for just as long, if not longer, than day care centres and child-minders. They are often seen as elitist, but the fact is that if you have more than one pre-school child they are far more viable, for average income families, not just high income earners. They often become a very valued member of the family and a good nanny is worth his or her weight in gold.

Vice-president of the Australian Nannies Association (ANA), Annemarie Sansom said that families employing a professional nanny should receive subsidies equivalent to those applied to other forms of childcare.

“When families have two or three children in childcare, the cost is comparable to that of employing a nanny. What makes employing a nanny more expensive at the moment is the lack of any subsidy,” she said.

In-home care is essentially a part time or full time nanny service, but one that is approved and subsidised by the Federal Government, due to special circumstances. It enables families with unusual work, location or care requirements to access approved child care in their own home, and is currently only available to those families that are unable to access standard child care services and/or families in unusual circumstances.

In-Home Care is particularly appropriate for families where parents work night shifts or unsociable hours, as well as those who are in remote locations and don't have access to child care centres etc.

Recent Government initiatives and Productivity Commission recommendations have included the expansion of access and eligibility to in-home care and funding has been increased to enable more families to access the service.

To see how in-home care varies from the other forms of child care currently available to parents have a look at our child care comparison table.

There is no wrong or right form of child care. No one-size-fits-all. All families and their needs are different.
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The Productivity Commission

The Productivity Commission is the Australian Government's independent research and advisory body on a range of economic, social and environmental issues affecting the welfare of Australians. Its role, expressed most simply, is to help governments make better policies, in the long term interest of the Australian community.

The Commission's independence is underpinned by an Act of Parliament. Its processes and outputs are open to public scrutiny and are driven by concern for the wellbeing of the community as a whole.

Further information on the Productivity Commission can be obtained from the Commission's website (www.pc.gov.au) or by contacting Media and Publications on (03) 9653 2244 or email: maps@pc.gov.au
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