ECEC sector speaks out in response to CCS evaluation report
Following the recent release of an evaluation report, commissioned by the Federal Department of Education, a number of early childhood education and care (ECEC) peak body representatives, and aligned groups, have shared their perspectives on the variable impacts of the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) on Australian families.
The national Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA), Early Childhood Australia (ECA), Early Learning and Care Council of Australia (ELACCA), and parent interest group The Parenthood all provided perspectives in relation to the recent CCS evaluation.
In responding to the report, ACA continued their call for a revision of CCS parameters, to allow all families to qualify for 18 hours per week of subsidised access to ECEC services.
Acknowledging the reports finding, that one third of families are financially ahead as a result of the change of funding model, ACA Vice President Nesha Hutchinson said “this is a wonderful outcome and we applaud the government for their dedication to the early learning sector, and positive outcomes for Australian families.”
ACA went on to note, however, that while the report showcases positive outcomes for some families, negative impacts have been felt by others, who are now experiencing higher costs.
“ACA is concerned about those families experiencing higher costs, along with those that the CCS does not support.” Ms Hutchinson said. “The report indicates a higher rate of increased costs in regional and rural areas along with outer metropolitan areas, where low-income families live.
We’re particularly concerned that vulnerable and disadvantaged families may struggle to afford early learning services.”
Ms Hutchinson outlined ACA’s perspective, that every child in Australia should have access to high quality, affordable and sustainable early learning services through the provision of 18 hours of subsidised early learning.
“We believe the cost to government for extending this subsidy to all at the base level would be relatively small, and it is likely that the savings from reducing the red tape and government administration of the activity test would offset this new cost.” Ms Hutchinson said.
Sharing their thoughts via blog The Spoke, ECA outlined the various components of calculating the cost of providing child care and early learning, before outlining that the evaluation report, delivered by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) was “hampered by a lack of hard data”
As with ACA, ECA noted that the early evidence in relation to CCS implementation was “very mixed” with around one-third of families reporting lower child care costs after July 2018, and one-third of families paying more, with the final third experiencing no change.
ECA also noted that the AIFS report highlights ongoing concerns about children who may be missing out under the new system, due to the effect of the activity test or poor administration of the Additional Child Care Subsidy. AIFS characterises these as ‘consistent and persistent concerns about the impact of the package on disadvantaged and vulnerable families.’
Over the next 12 months, ECA said, the effects of the CCS and the Child Care Package on children, families and services will become a lot clearer, as “winners and losers emerge.” ECA recommended that “keeping a close eye on the data will be crucial for those of us who want to ensure that early childhood policy stays focused on the best outcomes for children and families.”
Speaking on behalf of ELACCA, CEO Elizabeth Death congratulated the Government on the commission and release of the Evaluation Report, suggesting it represented an indication of the Government’s commitment to delivering on the intent of the Child Care Package.
“The report provides a baseline for continuous improvement and that can only augur well for families and children.” Ms Death said.
“It’s important to recognise the benefits of the Child Care Subsidy however it is also critical to understand the barriers that are preventing children experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage from accessing services and why some families have dropped out of or reduced their days in early learning.” she added.
Ms Death reinforced ELACCA’s commitment to working with the Government to identify and enable solutions to support the ongoing success of the CCS and continually improving the access to high quality early learning for Australian children and families.
The Parenthood view
“The data reflects what we are hearing – families are struggling to pay increased costs. Vulnerable children are reducing their hours in care as a result.” Advocacy group The Parenthood described many families as struggling under CCS.
The Parenthood also noted that the report shows that nearly half of all families find it difficult to understand information about child care assistance.
“It is clear that the policy change has not made things simpler for many families. Services are struggling to support families to access what they need. It should not be up to service providers to try and mend a complex system.” spokesperson Megan O’Connell said.
Concerns were also noted by The Parenthood in relation to service viability, with “service providers shouldering debts whilst families are assessed for support.”
“Service providers are bearing the brunt of the changes, particularly for vulnerable families. Their concern for children means some services are bearing large debts whilst waiting for issues with eligibility to be sorted.” Ms O’Connell said.
The Parenthood also noted the report as raising family concerns in relation to accruing a debt, saying those with variable work hours are “finding it difficult to understand the cost of child care – it is hard to manage when subsidy levels may vary from week to week.”
In conclusion, The Parenthood surmised that “the system at present does not serve families or providers well. The Parenthood hopes the Government heeds this report and amends the system to address crucial access issues.”
To read the report in full, please see here.