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In-home child care can provide answers for working families:

David Wilson on why child care will be the 'BBQ Stopper' of 2013
By David Wilson
Date: December 16 2012
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As the President of the National In-Home Childcare Association (NICA) it’s a great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak directly to mums regarding our plans for extending the In-Home Childcare (IHC) program to provide  greater childcare flexibility for families.Mainstream childcare is increasingly unable to respond to the real demands of modern families for more flexible delivery during an increasing range of additional hours that are being required to match today's workplace requirements.

NICA as the national peak body for the Commonwealth funded In-Home Childcare (IHC) program was privileged to be included in detailed conversations with both the Government and the Opposition relating to how we can best deliver flexible and affordable early learning and care to families.

In-Home Childcare (IHC) is a vital but small program that, since 2002, has provided childcare in a family’s own home during times of crisis and stress. It is presently providing assistance to more than 5,000 families across the country, but unfortunately IHC represents only slightly more than one half of one per cent of the Federal Government's approved child care for families in Australia.

IHC makes an important contribution to positive outcomes for so many families, often to whom life has dealt some very difficult hands and IHC provides helping hands in the guise of dedicated child care educators who care for children in their own homes.

This is why NICA has submitted a plan to both the Government and the Opposition to extend the In-Home Childcare program.  This is a plan that will provide an additional 30,000 IHC Flexibility places immediately into the system, delivering high quality early childhood education and care to families.

There is no doubt as we move towards 2013 and with a federal election, due between August and November, the early education and care of our children is one of the key issues facing Australian families.

In 2001, former Prime Minister John Howard famously coined the expression, the 'BBQ stopper' when describing the difficulties of finding life/work balance in a family with children.  Flexible and affordable childcare is the BBQ stopper issue for 2013 and this is not just important for the welfare of our families, but it also a key productivity measure for the country.           

Studies in the US undertaken by Princeton and Columbia universities show that the lack of adequate or reliable childcare is a risk factor for parents missing work or leaving work all together.  Whereas, appropriately tailored childcare including IHC can assist parents maintain independence and provide for their families. 

Present child care policies do not go far enough to fully support the aspirations of working women, and while issues of gender have recently been prominent what could be more important to this debate than giving mothers the flexibility to return to work in the confidence of knowing their children are being well cared for whether it be in the family home under an extended IHC program, or in an Early Child Learning Centre.

And while NICA acknowledges and supports the announcement by the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott of the terms of reference for the Coalition’s Productivity Commission inquiry into child care no inquiry replaces good well planned policy that advocates affirmative action in child care policy

This issue is real test for both the Government and Opposition as they consider options for restructuring the funding accessed by families with children who attend approved early education and care services.

They are also giving consideration into opening hours and flexibility at Early Learning Centres, and offering parents a real choice by extending In-Home Care (IHC) to those parents who do shift work and have abnormal working hours.

What is the point of having abundant childcare if it is not open when you need it? Or if the only availability is not in your local area? That is like having no childcare. This issue reaches out and touches so many of us, and in turn affects our productivity as it places limitations on families, usually mothers to fully commit to full time employment opportunities.

Therefore, both the government and the opposition need to put some policies on the table.  Parents are working longer hours and just unable to wait the time a Productivity Commission inquiry will take to identify how the current system can be improved to make it more responsive to their needs.

According to the ABS 110,000 parents are saying they are unable to return to work because they can’t find suitable child care.  Our current child care system was designed to support a 9.00 to 5.00 working day instead of the 24/7 economy that is now our daily reality.

Of course consideration must also be given to availability.  There are a number of ways to address this issue but the one that does not get enough attention is the role of the employer in all of this.  I am sure that given an attractive framework most employers would be in favour of providing employees good access to Quality Early Childhood Education and Childcare facilities.

Naturally it would be in the best interest of the employer and also perhaps a solution in their fight to attract and retain high quality employees.  This would require some considerable policy work involving the Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT).  Presently, employers who provide onsite child care are exempt from the FBT where employers who provide employer sponsored childcare are penalised with a hefty FBT liability.

This issue also throws out a challenge to all providers of early education and care to work together towards the best outcome for the families we collectively care for.

There is also evidence this issue is receiving the support of many opposed parties who with the fierce agreement believe that a solution is needed now as families struggle under the burden of a system of patchwork regulation and unregulated care because of the lack of places in certain areas and lack of flexibility across the board.  With both unions and business organisations agree that we need a system for funding childcare that supports all women in the workplace fairly and equitably.

We also know the shortage of places and lack of flexibility is forcing many parents to seek unregistered and unlicensed nanny services or hiring child care workers online.  These are often workers who don’t have any qualifications as educators and without any vetting in terms of police checks and first aid and qualifications.

Presently, families who are using these services are not entitled to receive any assistance from government such as the child care rebate.

Under the NICA plan to extend IHC, the educators will be qualified and registered, giving parents a greater sense of security that the people looking after their children have satisfied all these requirements and have the appropriate first aid and police checks.The additional 30, 0000 flexibility places are achievable by calling on the support of existing family day care workers and rolling into the system educators working as nannies but who are currently unregistered.

These IHC flexibility places could be designed especially to assist parents who are doing shift work and prolonged hours such as emergency workers like nurses, police, fire people, ambulance and paramedics who are reporting they are unable to return to work because they can’t find suitable care.  In Home Care can respond immediately.

Presently IHC exists under the Governments current ‘Approved Child Care Service” delivery model, the program is national, time tested and has been in successful operation for more than 11 years’ operating under a strict set of national standards.

Extending the IHC program will require the government to pass legislation that will allow approved families who use registered and approved IHC educators or Family Day Care workers the ability to claim the Child Care Rebate.

In-Home Care is currently delivering for children and families by providing a safe, nurturing environment.  There is no doubt that extending IHC to provide flexibility places is an important part of the solution in providing parents with a choice on whether they choose to organise the education and care for their children within the family home or in an early education centre.

NICA would be interested in hearing your views and I would be happy to respond online to any questions you may like to put to me.

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