LDC funding, enrollments and hours the big winners in latest Report on Government Services

LDC funding, enrollments and hours the big winners in latest Report on Government Services

by Jason Roberts

February 04, 2022

The Productivity Commission has released the early childhood education and care (ECEC) component of their Report on Government Services (ROGS) 2021 series in which a complete snapshot of the ECEC sector’s performance in key areas such as participation, funding, costs and compliance are presented.

 

The ROGS report is released annually and is designed to provide information on the equity, effectiveness and efficiency of government services, including ECEC, in Australia.

 

This year’s report included encouraging results for the ECEC sector overall, but specifically in relation to the long day care (LDC) segment which saw record levels of funding levels, enrollment and hours spent in care in the 2020-21 period. 

 

879,364 children under five years of age attended an LDC service in 2021, an increase of three per cent on 2020, with hours spent over a week increasing to 31.0, up from 30.0, both results impressive given the COVID-19 overhang that persisted across 2020-21. 

 

Preschool setting performance was expectedly more subdued as school closures impacted both absolute and relative levels of attendance. The one bright spot in this space was that the proportion of children enrolled for 15 hours or more of preschool per week rose slightly to 96.6 per cent in 2021. 

 

For a full summary of this years performances please see below:

 

Total funding – Total Government funding, both Federal and State based, on ECEC in 2020-21 continued to reach new records. Federal expenditure increased 17 per cent to $10.01 billion and State and Territory funding was up 12 per cent to $2.2 billion. Increases were a function of both COVID specific measures to support affordability and increased attendance levels in the childcare space. 

 

Universal Access funding – The Commonwealth funding contribution through the National Partnership on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education that supports states and territories to increase participation in preschool in the year before school rose marginally in 2020-21 to $442m million compared to $440 million in the prior year. 

 

Children using approved child care services – 47.2 per cent of all children under the age of five years are now enrolled in an approved child care service, a new record. The proportion of children using an approved child care service has increased steadily over the last ten years, up from 38.3 per cent in 2010. In terms of numbers of children, 879,364 under five years of ageused a child care service in 2020-21, a three per cent increase compared to 2020 which is around the ten year average annual growth rate. 

 

Children using approved child care services by age groups – In this year’s report the primary growth driver of children using child care services came from the youngest cohorts with the enrolment of children aged from birth to to one year up ten per cent year on year, and one to two year old enrolment up seven per cent. These are substantial increases and bode well for medium term participation as the children move through the system. 

 

Children enrolled in a preschool program – The percentage of children enrolled in a preschool program in the year before school fell in 2020 (the latest year reported) to just 84.7 per cent across Australia, down from 87.7 in 2019, with COVID-19 closures being a key factor driving the reduced performance. New South Wales continues to be the laggard with 80.6 per cent. Children enrolled 15 hours or more per week however rose slightly in 2020 to 96.6 per cent. 

 

Hours of attendance per week – Long day care hours of attendance rose to another new record of 31.0 hours on average per week with the highest attendance levels being recorded in the Northern Territory, at 37.3 hours, and the ACT at 32.1 hours. Family day care (FDC) attendance continued to fall and is now down to 23.5 hours per week and Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) was steady in 2020 at 10.3 hours per week.

 

Children from special needs groups attendance at child care – The proportion of birth to five year olds from low income backgrounds attending child care services was 24.0 per cent, slightly lower than last year but still higher than the five year average. For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, attendance of birth to five year olds rose to 4.3 per cent, a new record level. 

 

Children with special needs attendance at preschool – 2020 (the latest year reported) was not a strong year for children who are classed as having special needs and attending preschool, with falls in the proportion attending from disadvantaged backgrounds, non english speaking backgrounds, and families of children living with disability. The only cohort to see a year on year improvement was the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community which now has 6.1 per cent of children enrolled in a preschool. 

 

Confirmed breaches at NQF approved ECEC services – The total number of confirmed breaches in LDC, OSHC and preschool settings all climbed again this year. It is unclear whether the key driver to the last several years increases is more rigorous reporting or an underlying shift towards increased incidents. LDC recorded 200.0 breaches per 100 services, up from just 115.2 in 2016-17. OSHC and preschool also rose year on year but less materially and FDC saw a large decrease from the elevated levels reported last year. 

 

Serious incidents at NQF approved ECEC services – Serious incident reports surged by 23.9 per cent in 2020-21 with LDC the main driver of the increase. LDC reported 14,412 incidents, up 30 per cent compared to last year. Incidents classed as Injury/Trauma/Illness were the most prevalent and saw a 26 per cent jump, with the less prevalent emergency services attended and child locked in/out, taken away or unaccounted for seeing much lower numbers but high increases. 

 

For more information on this year’s release including reports and data sets please click here.

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