Dan Tehan fields comprehensive feedback session at ACA Victoria Conference
In a scheduled appearance at the Australian Childcare Alliance Victoria’s Annual Conference Federal Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, spent 30 minutes engaging with and listening to feedback from approximately 200 delegates on a range of early childhood education and care (ECEC) subjects important to the sector.
This was the first time in the history of the Australian Childcare Alliance that a sitting minister had been prepared to present at a conference and field feedback from the audience too.
Before the feedback session commenced, Mr Tehan expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to participate in the conference and noted that it was his intention “to develop a good, close and constructive working relationship with the ECEC sector” so as to ensure outcomes are achieved going forward.
He noted the significant reforms applied to the sector in recent times, most notably through the introduction of the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) and having begun the conversation highlighting the value of feedback received via the Productivity Commission process, Mr Tehan expressed his desire to keep the momentum going, saying he was “keen to get feedback around the CCS and to hear any solutions as to how we can fix it if necessary.”
The following is a list of issues put to Mr Tehan over the course of the session.
Families receiving back payments – services carrying debts
The first question raised by a delegate was about back payments – specifically seeking to understand why families that had used an ECEC centres services but had not paid were receiving back payments directly into their bank accounts even though the money was owed to the centre.
The delegate highlighted that this had been the case for two families in her service thus far, and raised the possibility that “this type of loophole is the new fraud” as families can attend care, not pay and then get a payment from the government that is not technically theirs and then leaving the centre out of pocket.
Noting this, Mr Tehan asked whether there was a solution was and the delegate responded emphatically “eliminate the means for families to receive back pay.”
Mr Tehan then asked the room who else was impacted by this issue and more than 75 per cent of delegates in the room raised their hand.
Vacation care registration period too short
A delegate highlighted the frustrations that were being experienced by families applying for vacation care subsidy because of the requirement to register their details in the portal in instances where their vacation care extended to more than the eight weeks allowed under the legislation.
A proposed solution put forward by the delegate was to extend the window to 12 weeks, which would allow for the extended summer holiday period in particular.
Attendance on final day of care mandate – waiver for exceptional circumstances
The issue of children needing to be present on their first and last day of care was flagged by a delegate who noted that families in her service who had extended families outside of Australia were placed at a financial disadvantage when needing to return to their country of origin for extended periods of time during family emergencies.
The nature of these emergencies, such as the death or illness of a family member, coupled with cultural expectations in relation to grieving periods and familial expectation, meant that many children were not able to give two weeks notice to cancel care, or were not present on their final day.
On returning to the centre, having accrued full fees as a result of not being present on the final day of care, many families were met with significant debts. Whilst most families were able to work with the service to pay down the debt, the lack of certainty in the intervening period was problematic for all concerned.
Partially completed CCS application for new services not saved on portal
A delegate raised that if a CCS application for a new service was not completed within the 90 day time limit allowed by the ACECQA portal the application would be wiped and the applicant would need to recommence the process.
This created very real challenges in organisations with broad governance systems, like boards of directors, as each would then be required to re engage with their obligations under the application process.
A request to allow partially completed applications to be saved or “rolled over” was lodged with Mr Tehan.
New supply of centres a real concern – Rules to manage supply
A delegate raised her concerns about the continual building of new services in her region and highlighted the problems this was creating for enrolments, staffing and quality.
The request to Mr Tehan was to consider implementing a system similar to the “pharmacy location rules” used in the Pharmacy Sector. This would mean approved providers would need to demonstrate the level of need for additional services in the area prior to approval being granted.
Trainees joining the ECEC sector not well prepared
A delegate raised his concerns that the trainees coming from certain RTO’s were not of a particularly high quality and that they were not well equipped to become the quality educators that our sector needs.
He suggested that the decline in trainee quality was as a direct result of funding cuts to the vocational care sector, which has rendered the RTO system insufficient.
The delegate asked for the Ministers attention here, noting that educating our educators was crucial to the long term success of our sector.
The activity test excludes children based on parental activity
One delegate raised the issue of the activity test and said to Mr Tehan that “if the Government really cared about early education every child would still be eligible for 2 days of quality early education and care.”
She went on to note that all families should be treated equally regardless of family circumstances and it wasn’t fair to “punish” children for their parents’ circumstances.
NSW pre school funding so much lower than rest of country
One delegate raised the issue of NSW preschool funding being so low and asked Mr Tehan to try and help make NSW more in line with the rest of Australia.
Mr Tehan noted that this was a state based issue but indicated that the Federal Government was involved in an active dialogue with all states on this issue.
To close the feedback session Mr Tehan thanked all delegates for their candour, passion and honesty and restated that he and his government “are committed to working with states and territories and do things better.”
Readers wishing to share their thoughts, perspectives, views and opinions on the ECEC sector with Mr Tehan can find relevant contact details here.