Exploring Australia’s Use of the Child Care System

Child Care Use In Australia

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2008, Australia had approximately 1.5 million children aged 12 years or under in some kind of child care arrangement.

  • About 750,000 attended formal care (government regulated care away from the child’s home, including long day care, family day care, before and/or after school care and occasional care)
  • Approximately 1 million children attended some kind of informal care (unregulated care, arranged by the parent/guardian, which may or not be in the child’s own home and may be provided by siblings, grandparents or other relatives as well as other people like friends, neighbours, babysitters or nannies who may be paid or unpaid)
  • There was an overlap of approximately 250,000 children who received both formal and informal care.

Child Care Arrangements In 2008

The attendance of informal care is relatively consistent across all age groups. In comparison, there is a significant peak in the percentage of children in formal child care arrangements, with around 50% of children attending care at the age of three, with a rapid decline to 20% by the age of five. This decline is associated with children moving into the education system – preschool and other early childhood education – rather than remaining formal child care.

These figures are the latest in a trend towards increased use of formal child care in Australia. During the period encompassed by this Australian Bureau of Statistics report, 1999 to 2008, the proportion of children attending child care (in the week before the surveys) increased from 17% to 22%, which is largely attributable to an increased participation by children under the age of five in long day care.

Source: ABS 2008 Childhood Education and Care Survey


Percentage Of Parents Employed By Age Of Child

There is a roughly proportionate and corresponding increase in the workforce participation rate by women with children under the age of five – up by approximately 6% (from 47% in 1999 to 53% in 2008).

Typically parents with young children, particularly mothers, will take time away from the workforce or diminish their participation rate for a period while their children are still young.

As the children get older, participation in the workforce by parents increases again. For example, in a 2-parent family, 45% of children aged 0-2 had both parents employed in the workforce; increasing to 64% by the time the children were aged 9-12 years.

Source: ABS 2008 Childhood Education and Care Survey


Proportion Of Children (0-12) In Child Care According To Labour Force Participation By Parents (2008)

Single-parent families had much lower workforce participation rates and higher rates of child care use. For instance, 78% of children in single-parent families attended child care when the parent was employed full time. This dropped to a 64% child care participation rate when the single-parent was employed part time and finally 40% if the parent was not employed at all.

Couples had significantly lower rates of child care use, even when both parents were employed full time. In cases where both parents did work full time, only 60% of children attended childcare (compared to 78% for single parent families).

This dropped to 51% when one parent worked full time and the other part time and 41% if both parents were employed part time. When only one parent in a couple was employed full time, child care usage rates dropped down to 25% and remained relatively steady at 26% when the working parent was employed part time. If neither parent was employed, then the proportion of children using child care dropped to 17%.

Source: ABS 2008 Childhood Education and Care Survey


Type Of Child Care Used

Major determinants of the type of child care employed include: the level of household income, the amount of workforce participation by the parents, composition of the family and the frequency and amount of care required for the children. The age of the child(ren) was another significant variable that affected the type of care utilised.

Type Of Child Care Arrangement For Children Aged 0-12 Years (2008)

0-2 years
3-5 years
6-8 years
9-12 years
Total 0-12 years
Type of usual child care used

Formal care
Before and/or after school care
Long day care
Other formal care(a)
Total formal care(b)
Informal care
Other relative care(c)
Non-resident parent
Other person
Total informal care(b)
Total usually attending care(b)


Total children aged 0-12 years

Source: ABS Childhood Education and Care, Australia, June 2008 (cat. no. 4402.0)

Grandparents were the most popular provider of informal care for children across all age groups surveyed and also one of the most popular types of care whether formal or informal (with the exception of children aged 0-5 years in formal long day care).

They cared 24.2% of children aged 0-2 years, declining as children got older to 14.8% of children aged 9-12 years. As the proportion of children cared for by grandparents decreased, other relative care (including brothers and sisters) increased in each age bracket from 3.4% for children 0-2 years up to 6.5% by the time children were aged 9-12 years. Likewise, non-resident parent care increased in each age bracket from 2.2% for children aged 0-2 up to 6.5% of children aged 9-12 years.

Formal care participation was significantly different to informal care. Long day care was by far the most common type of care used, with 24.4% of 0-2 year olds and 26.2% of 3-5 year olds in this type of child care. Use of long day care dropped to effectively nil in age brackets 6-8 years and 9-12 years because children moved into school.

Before/after school care participation began when children were aged 3-5 years with 5.1% of children in this type of formal care, peaking at 15.6% of children aged 6-8 years and dropping to 8.1% of children 9-12 years.


Child Care Overall

Child care participation peaked at around age 3-4 due to a high rate of participation in formal long day care and informal care provided by grandparents. Once children reached age five and started going to school, the use of formal long day care dropped off to effectively nil. Some children continued using before and/or after school care but participation rates dropped off quickly as children got older.

Informal care was much more steadily employed across all age groups, with care provided by grandparents decreasing as children got older, while the proportion of children looked after by other relatives, such as brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, or non-resident parents increased as children got older.

The major factor determining whether a child used some form of child care was determined by the employment status of the parent(s). The more the parent(s) worked, the more likely children were to use some form of child care. The proportion of single parent families using child care was much greater than two parent families, whether the parents worked full-time, part-time or weren’t employed.

Source: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/[email protected]/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features50Jun+2010

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