child care for shift workers -®
Shift workers are being left with no affordable child care choice

By Annemarie Sansom

Vice President of The Australian Nanny Association.

As if new parents don't have enough challenges today, if you're a shift worker or work unsociable hours, you're largely left with an unregulated, unsubsidised system, where affordable child care is an impossible balancing act between family, friends and child care operating hours.

It's not easy being a new parent today. There are so many decisions to make about your style of parenting:
  • Are you a baby wearer?
  • Do you breastfeed or formula feed?
  • Do you co-sleep? Or do you put baby straight into the cot?
Then of course we have the heated discussions about getting your baby to sleep.

After those first few months of tough decisions, you then have to look at the pros and cons of going back to work, and indeed if you have a choice.

If you are returning to work you then need to work out the costs and options for child care. More confusion!

If you can actually work out if you are entitled to any Government subsidies through a complex calculation of child care benefit and child care rebate (some of which is percentage based on your combined income and capped), you then still have to run the gauntlet of what type of child care suits your needs and that you can actually afford. The two are often mutually exclusive.

What if you work weekends and are a shift worker on nights? Where do you fit into the current regulated and subsidised system?

Who are shift workers? They include, but are not limited to:
  • Emergency personnel such as: Doctors, Nurses, Ambulance paramedics, Firefighters, rescue workers etc.
  • Hospitality – Catering staff, chefs, cooks, wait staff, restaurant owners, bar tenders etc.
  • Transport staff, including Taxi drivers, bus and train drivers and engineers
  • Factor workers, retail shop staff, mining etc.
  • Call centre and 24/7 customer services staff
If you think about it, the list goes on. Please accept my apologies to any shift working profession I may have missed.

So what choices do I have for my child to have the same affordable, continuous, quality care that children of non-shift-working parents can access?

How do I return to work? Take on the shifts my employer is asking of me? Afford to pay my bills?

Sadly, if you can't afford your own private nanny or don't want a live in au pair, then you would be trying to juggle a combination of Long Day care, family or friends.

If you're really lucky and made it through a possible two-year wait list and strict eligibility criteria, you may be able to access the funded in home care (nanny) scheme.

This may not sound like your child has continuity of care by being juggled between services. Or the fact that they may have to go to a Family Daycare providers home in the middle of the night. Not taking into consideration that taking your child out of his/her own sleep environment to go to another location might be unsettling. This is the reality of a shift-working parent.

Why is it, that families who fit into the standard employee hours and child care box have options, but shift workers don't or have much more limited ones?

There is a gap in the current regulated child care system that is not being met. There is a need and demand from families who do not have choice of care. I get calls on a weekly basis from emergency personnel trying to juggle child care and cannot afford to hire a nanny. I have a friend who is an Ambulance officer and her husband is a Firefighter. They don't have family close by and both work a variety of shifts. Both need to maintain a certain amount of hours to keep their jobs.

As a community we expect our emergency personnel to always be available, on call in case something happens to one of us or our family, but we don't always consider how these amazing people manage with the same family decisions and costs that the rest of us do with our families.

Thankfully, The Productivity Commission inquiry into child care has recognised this problem and has recommended a regulated, subsidised and supervised child care option, such as qualified nannies that are overseen by qualified coordinators to fill this gap.

The problem is that when people hear the word ‘nanny' they often think of Mary Poppins or unregulated care or only for rich people. Nannies have actually been around for hundreds of years and have helped out in many shapes and forms over the centuries, but the role in Australia has changed dramatically, especially in the last two decades.

It's interesting to note that centre-based care and Family Day Care were originally run by mums and grandmas - “childminders” - caring for children in a community location, such as a local hall or building or in their own home.

Child care was unregulated but, over time it was recognised that there needed to be some form of regulation to ensure quality. This has now also moved from a general caring role to early childhood education. It's inspiring to see how far child care has come over the years, but in some ways, in terms of meeting the different needs of parents, you could say it's actually gone backwards.

I feel this is where nannies sit today in an unregulated caring role, where parents have a need for a particular type of care. Nannies are meeting that need for those families, but not all families can afford to pay private fees for a nanny. Just as not all families could afford to pay a centre's fees without the Government subsidies currently in place.

Every day parents are utilising nannies and au pairs to help them juggle a combination of centre-based care, manage the school run and in-home care. You don't even have to be a shift worker to fall outside of child care hours. You simply have to have a long commute, which given the geographics of Australia, is very likely.

The good news is The Productivity Commission also recognises that families on lower incomes are in need of this type of service but cannot afford it. The recommendation is that there be an option for nannies to be accredited through a coordination unit and supervised by a Diploma or higher qualified Coordinator similar to Family Day care. Any subsidies would be means tested the same way as other forms of regulated child care.

The Federal Government is currently considering the recommendations in the report and will hopefully make an announcement in favour of nannies becoming subsidised later in the year.

In the meantime, I will keep lobbying along with my colleagues at The Australian Nanny Association on behalf of all families and hope you will join me.

Annemarie Sansom is the owner of Night Nannies Australia, a Mother of 5 children and has a volunteer position as Vice President of The Australian Nanny Association.
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