The State of Child Care in Australia
Does your state do enough to support child care?
The 2015 edition of the annual Report on Government Services has just been released, and with it, an updated view of Australia’s early childhood and care industry. Contained in the massive 1,800 page report is a ton of useful information for parents, child care professionals, providers and students alike – if you can find what you need!
New South Wales may have won State of Origin last year, but in the child care funding head to head, who will be the winner? More importantly, does spending actually translate to better outcomes for your children or your child care service?
Let’s take a look.
Child Care Spending by State
State and Territory spending on child care varies wildly between different states and territories.
The Northern Territory is the surprise standout with spending of $1151 per child, $459 ahead of the next state, Western Australia. Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria spend comparatively tiny amounts, as little as $193 per child. The ACT, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia sit comfortably in the middle, spending $550-700 per child.
The Australian government also contributes a significant amount per student with Western Australia receiving the least at just $1107 per child. Other states and territories receive between $1544 and $2009 per child.
When combined, children in NT received the most funding at $2,695 each, but is closely followed by the ACT at $2,569. Western Australia’s $1,799 and New South Wales’ $1,850 make up the bottom two places.
Now that you know how much your state spends, it’s time to see if this actually results in a higher quality of child care.
Does Government Spending Lead to Better Child Care in Your State?
There is a huge variation in the percentage of services in each state and territory that meet or exceed the new National Quality Standards (NQS).
The NQS introduced a wide range of changes to child care services in Australia including:
- Raising the required qualification for workers and educators to the Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care
- Required access or presence of early childhood teachers depending on the number of children
- Larger minimum educator to children ratios
- Using 7 quality areas to assign ratings to providers
So how many services are meeting or exceeding these standards?
Right of the bat you can see that no one is fully compliant with the NQS. Each state still has a great deal of work to do, but some have made more progress than others.
Victoria, which receives the 3rd lowest amount of funding per child at only $1951, leads the country with more than 3 out of every 4 providers meeting or exceeding the NQS. The Northern Territory, which receives one of the highest levels of funding at $2695, is at the other extreme with less than 1 in 5 providers meeting the new standards. In New South Wales, which has the largest number of providers in the country, just over half of them are compliant.
Why are some states succeeding while others fall behind?
The current results indicate that services across Australia are facing challenges. Let’s take a look at which among the the 7 quality areas of the NQS are the most difficult to meet:
- Educational Program and Practice: 28.6% are below the NQS
- Physical Environment: 24.3% are below the NQS
- Children’s Health and Safety: 22.5% are below the NQS
- Leadership and Service Management: 22.4% are below the NQS
- Partnerships with Families and Communities: 13% are below the NQS
- Relationships with Children: 11.8% are below the NQS
- Staffing Arrangements: 10.3% are below the NQS
As you can see, there are several issues providers have to work on.
Some centres were even fined last year for failing to keep children supervised which led to kids being found alone in car parks and highways. A lack of qualified workers also pushed a chain of child care centres to ask parents to keep their children at home because they couldn’t meet the minimum educator to child ratio.
For now, the quality of child care services seems to depend on a combination of factors instead of just the amount the government pours into it. One of these could be time.
After all, it has only been 2 years since the National Quality Standards came into effect and only 40% of services have been assessed so far. You’ll likely get a better picture of child care in your state when all the assessments are complete.
What’s important is that your state continues to push providers to upgrade their services. In the words of Karen Curtis, the CEO of the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority:
“We know how much there is to gain from improving the quality of education and care in the crucial early years of a child’s life, and also how much there is to lose if we don’t try to give every child the best possible start.”
Do you think your state gives enough support to do just that?
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