Child Care Policy in Australia

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Introduction
Childcare is an Integral Part of Balancing Work and Family
1. More and more families with young children are trying to balance parenting and work. The provision of accessible and affordable childcare is an integral part of meeting this balance. As debates are held over paid maternity leave and flexible work practices, childcare must also be recognised as a significant factor in assisting working families in our modern society. 2. There are a myriad of reasons why families need childcare assistance. Some families need two incomes to survive. Other parents can not afford not to work for a substantial period of time if they want to keep their job or maintain a meaningful career. Childcare services can also provide a respite from home duties for parents who are not currently in the workforce. Whatever the reason, it is clear that balancing work and family is a major issue for our community that needs to be addressed urgently.

Many Australian Families use Childcare Services
3. There are about 1.5 million Australian children under the age of five. Every year 250,000 new babies are born. By the time a child is in his or her second year, 57% of mothers are back in the workforce. By the time their children turns three, 68% of mothers are back in the workforce. In 2001, more than 830,000 children between the ages of 0-12 used some part of the Commonwealth child care system. 4. And the number of working families has been steadily increasing over the past decade.[1] 5. We also know that many parents are working longer and harder than before.[2] 6. Parents struggle to find childcare places and are concerned about the cost of care and the quality of care. Working families need their child care services to be: (a) accessible;

(b) affordable; and
(c) of a high quality.
7. There are good policy reasons for ensuring childcare is accessible and affordable for working families and children. 8. The benefits of providing adequate childcare support for working families include: (a) satisfaction of the work expectations of parents;

(b) effective use of the skills of working women;
(c) supporting women’s equality;
(d) provision of a current and future labour supply;
(e) promoting economic self-reliance of families;
(f) reducing poverty;
(g) increased family income and its flow-on effects to consumption and economic growth;
(h) job growth;
(i) ensuring a broad tax base to sustain an aging population; and (j) higher fertility rates.[3]

Women’s Participation in the Workforce
9. Women now make up 44% of the paid workforce, and contribute significantly to a skilled and valuable labour market. Over half of Australia’s tertiary educated adults are women, in whom our community has invested considerable resources. 10. If Australia wishes to maintain its competitive edge in the global economy, working women and their families need support and assistance to be able to balance childcare and employment. 11. Many women’s jobs are a source of independence, financial security and part of their identity. As a matter of policy, a women’s right to participate in social and economic life outside the family should be recognised and actively supported.

Investing in the Early Years
12. We also know that the early years of a child’s life are the most important developmentally. 75% of a child’s brain develops during the first five years of their life, and half of all the intellectual and developmental potential of a child is established by age four.[4] 13. Early childhood education and care programs serve several complementary purposes, including: (a) children’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development; (b) assisting with school readiness;

(c) parent support; and
(d) early identification of children at risk.

Childcare is an important Foundation for a Clever Australia
14. The ACTU recognises that access to quality childcare and early learning facilities is the starting point of our commitment to equal opportunity...
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