The more things change, the more they stay the same

The lack of anything to ensure pay parity? This is a package called Jobs for Families. What, other than the fact that you are in a job and may well have a family you are trying to support on a unjustly small wage, made you think this new package may have good news for you in this area?

“$3.5 billion more for childcare!” That’s what the headlines in the newspapers read in the lead up to, and after, the Federal Budget, Early Childhood Consultant Lisa Bryant writes.

It was hard to turn on a TV news show without seeing a politician with children at a service – whether it was Scott Morrison doing the ‘Wombat Wobble’ or children looking somewhat uncomfortable around the Prime Minister.

But what does it all really mean for educator and care services and for early childhood teachers? Will it make things easier? Will fees reduce for parents? Does it really represent a major ‘child care’ overhaul?

Let’s look at what the main changes are first and then we can examine their impact.

A new single child care subsidy

This is the major change. From July 2017 (yes, two years ahead) existing payments like Child Care Benefit (CCB) and Child Care Rebate (CCR) will be combined into one new payment – the Child Care Subsidy (CCS). (By the way, get used to having to decode a lot of new acronyms).

The Child Care Subsidy will be paid directly to services through the Child Care Management System (CCMS). Families will no longer be able to opt to have it paid to them.

The Child Care Subsidy will be based on a mean benchmark cost varying for different service types. The Registered Child Care Benefit category (used by preschool parents) will no longer exist.

Families will be subject to an activity test. Families essentially will be able to receive access to more subsidised childcare the more they work, study, train or volunteer.

The Child Care Subsidy will replace the existing CCB and CCR so only services which are eligible to receive these on behalf of families will be eligible. Sorry NSW preschools!

A child care safety net

This is the section which will impact education and care services. It consists of three components – an Additional Child Care Subsidy (ACCS), and Inclusion Support Program (ISP) and a Community Child Care Fund (CCCF).

Additional Child Care Subsidy

This starts in July 2017 and is similar to the Special CCB but is only for children at risk, families with temporary income drops and families coming off benefits. Periods of benefits are shorter (for children at risk it is six weeks then additional 13-week periods, for others a maximum of 13 weeks) and some categories appear to be removed eg Grandparent Child Care Benefit.

Inclusion Support Program

This starts in July 2016 and is similar to the old Inclusion and Professional Support Program (IPSP) and will have a subsidy for services to employ an additional worker to assist inclusion of children with extra needs (Inclusion Support Subsidy?) bicultural support, specialist equipment and access to “practical inclusion advice and support” – it is not clear if this means the Inclusion Support Agencies will be retained. It appears as if funded professional development has been removed, which will obviously impact on early childhood teachers greatly.

Community Child Care Fund

This starts in July 2017 and is similar to the old Community Support Program but is based on a competitive grant program where services will apply for additional funds to address barriers for disadvantaged children, to help services be viable in areas where they otherwise wouldn’t be, to help reduce fees for low income families in areas like Sydney and to develop new centres and mobile services. With the start of this program services receiving funding for operational and sustainability support under the Community Support Program will face changes.

A nanny trial

This won’t affect education and care services that much (4000 nannies, 10,000 children across Australia). Nannies do have to be linked to an approved provider so some long day care services, family day care services or in-home care services may be involved in the program this way. Interestingly nannies will not need any qualification other than first aid. (After all, looking after children is just babysitting, right? Why does one need a qualification for this?)

Universal Access funding extended for two years

The Universal Access funding from the Commonwealth to the states has been extended for another two years till the end of 2017.

Impact on children and families

The Abbott Government believes that making these changes will make childcare more affordable and less complicated. Critics have already pointed out that it does little to make childcare more accessible. There is no doubt that the existing CCB/CCR system was complicated. Because the new subsidy does not come in until 2017, (and there is an election due before then) relief for families in the way of higher subsidies will not happen immediately.

There are two main concerns about the impact of the entire package on children and families. The first is the clear separation of education and care. The Universal Access Program has remained with the Commonwealth Department of Education, whereas all else ‘childcare’ related is now with the Department of Social Services. Whereas the previous government worked to pull together early childhood education and care and reduce the divide between them, the current government is embedding it.

The second concern is about access of vulnerable children to childcare/early education and care. Access to subsidised childcare at all will now depend on families passing an activity test. Although there are exemptions (families earning under $65,000 per year and families whose children have been identified as at risk of harm) it is possible that some vulnerable children will miss out on access. Early childhood teachers are aware of the benefits of early education for children who have not yet been formally declared at risk as well as other children who for a range of reasons may not have parents who are working or studying. Tying children’s access to early education to their parents’ employment status further entrenches the idea that early education is not a child’s right but merely something that enables children to be safely stored whilst their parents are otherwise engaged. Provision of universal access to early education and care is the only way to ensure vulnerable children benefit.

Organisations such as The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) are concerned about the impact of the changes on Aboriginal services currently funded through the Budget Based Funding program. These services will be expected to transition to the mainstream Child Care Subsidy – which they believe will result in funding shortfalls and consequent funding cuts for many services.

Impact on services

The impact on services will be varied. Indications are that the new inclusion support funding may be at a higher rate than previously (up to the rate of a Certificate III qualified educator). If so, this is clearly a good thing.

The changes to existing programs feels a bit like ‘here we go again’. So often in this sector changes mean new rules, new guidelines etc to essentially do the same things.

Services will always need extra funding outside of the parental subsidy system to include children with additional needs and to include CALD children. There will always be a need for extra funding for services, who because of what the government calls ‘thin markets’ (eg they are in small towns or have fluctuating populations) cannot survive on parental subsidies alone. How we fund these things and the programs that these needs fall under however keeps changing. There is never enough money provided to do the job required.

The new subsidy for families is supposed to be more generous than existing subsidies. (This is where the additional $3.5 billion comes in). But it is also expected by the government to put a downwards pressure on childcare fees. By basing the subsidy on a benchmark fee, will the gap between actual fees and the subsidy grow over time? Will services be forced to keep fees low (and thus keep fees affordable? What will the impact of this be on service delivery?

Impact on teachers

The three main impacts on early childhood teachers are status and standing issues, possible reduced access to funded professional development and the lack of a skerrick of anything to ensure a trajectory for pay parity.

A government that considers there is a key difference between early education and care, would seem to have some respect for early childhood teachers. But by separating education and care it perpetuates the myth that educators and teachers in some service types (eg long day care services) are merely babysitting children.

The loss of access to funded professional development will cut deeply into teachers and services pay packets.

The lack of anything to ensure pay parity? This is a package called Jobs for Families. What, other than the fact that you are in a job and may well have a family you are trying to support on a unjustly small wage, made you think this new package may have good news for you in this area?

Round up

Professor Edward Melhuish from Oxford University said on ABC’s Lateline a few weeks ago that our system was “equivalent to the child care system in the UK 25 years ago and what we would have seen in other countries several decades ago”.

Additional investment in ‘childcare’ is always nice, but with the majority going to parental subsidies, it is hard to see how this package will bring our education and care system up to what is required in this century and to what other countries now have.

Overly negative? You only have to look at the fact that compared to other OECD countries, Australia spends the least on early education to know that a minor increase in parental subsidies is just not going to do the job required.

What’s your reaction to the Federal Budget and will it affect your service and your career? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us via email: or facebook: