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The Sector > Workforce > Advocacy > Over 20 years and counting – Accelerating Queensland’s policy aspirations

Over 20 years and counting – Accelerating Queensland’s policy aspirations

by Majella Fitzsimmons, President ACA Qld & Anita O’Halloran, Public Policy and Government Relations Advisor

May 13, 2024

At no other time in living memory have there been so many separate state and federal inquiries and reviews of the various programs, operations, functions, salaries and outcomes of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). 


Certainly such change can bring apprehension about the process and the impacts of policy, however along with change comes the opportunity to embed meaningful, holistic transformation. 


The state and federal reviews which have passed down scores of recommendations (with more to come in July), are just the start of a very long journey to bolster the evidence-based best-practice transformation our workforce and sector deserve. 


After celebrating its 20th year of operation in 2023, the Australian Childcare Alliance Queensland (ACA Qld) is expanding the legacy of the founding Committee, to etch out and advance this new ECEC landscape.


Our policy aspirations and core principles are centred on the enabling factors that support the ECEC workforce and children’s well-being. We voice the knowledge, skills and lived experience of our 950+ member services, geographically dispersed from Far North Queensland, west of Mt Isa and south to the New South Wales border. Our members collectively employ approximately 17,500 Early Childhood Educators/Teachers, who educate and care for more than 200,000 children of 263,800 parents throughout Queensland.


The context in which our members operate means that our advocacy must reflect their circumstances and the varying issues they encounter to deliver the best outcomes for children and families. Sadly,to the detriment of children and families, workforce shortages are unanimously the principal obstacle our members continue to battle as they aim to  deliver high-quality ECEC.


Consistent with the desert and oases research, in urban settings, is the oversupply of ECEC centres and the undersupply in regional and remote communities.


Some metropolitan members have expressed that staff shortages are causing them to close entire rooms and cap enrolments.  Regional communities are experiencing the worst workforce drought, with numbers so low that they have simultaneously reduced the centre’s operating hours, closed rooms and restricted the number of days they open. In the worst case, some centres have closed entirely.


Supporting the desert and oases research, and exacerbating workforce shortages, is the oversupply of centres. There are currently no mandated proximity boundaries that are applied during the ECEC development approval process in Queensland. No needs assessments, comprehensive demographic mapping, or strategic workforce planning to appropriately determine and illustrate the holistic viability to the community, and the impact on existing providers. 


The purpose of mandated proximity boundaries is not to inhibit new centres from opening but to prevent obstructing existing services’ ability to access staff, to operate at the highest child-to-educator ratio and to prevent an oversupply in areas where the state needs services elsewhere. 


We acknowledge the current Queensland state government’s commitment to the sector, particularly the workforce initiatives that aim to relieve the workforce burden through paid practicum and scholarship programs. We are particularly pleased about the two fully funded, Early Childhood Teacher planning days which we have been advocating for for some time. 


These planning days not only improve the delivery of a kindergarten program but also create parity within the teaching profession, acknowledging that Early Childhood Teachers are teachers too. The commitment applied here sets an important precedent for future years, with an opportunity for the government to embed this policy permanently and to provide all Early Childhood Teachers access to paid planning days. 


Attracting and developing local and global talent to serve our regional and remote communities is vital, and without a collaborative commitment, the workforce shortages will continue to negatively impact children and families. Programs like the skilled migration visa nomination program delivered by the NSW government are achievable for Queensland and is something that should be offered. 


Another program, implemented by NSW,Victoria and South Australia, and most OECD15 countries, is providing access to two years of subsidised kindergarten. 


Access to a high-quality kindergarten program is one of the few proven strategies for lifting outcomes for all children, with evidence suggesting that two years has more impact than one, especially for the children most likely to be developmentally vulnerable.


ACA Qld encourages a holistic response by government agencies to resolve workforce issues and enact universal access strategies. A holistic response for us means that we do not just rely on the education department to remedy the sector, or to enact the numerous state and federal inquiries and reviews alone, but to work together, acknowledging the intrinsic link between education, health, safety, and community planning. 


Responding to these recommendations must be achieved collectively, led by multiple government agencies with participation by peak bodies, universities, and sector leaders. We advocate for an ECEC Summit to truly cement the commitment needed to create the best outcomes for the sector, children, and families.


For more information on our work, head to https://qld.childcarealliance.org.au/advocacy

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