Did you know that the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) is gathering information about the impact of the Australian Government’s Child Care Package?
The evaluation has been commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Education (formerly the Department of Education and Training) over three years starting in 2018. This includes information collected from surveys with parents, services (Directors or Managers) and interviews with providers and other key stakeholders. It also involves analyses of administrative data.
This July you will see stories in Amplify asking for your response to questions that the AIFS and its consortium of researchers have prepared for this stage of the evaluation. We will ask you to respond directly to CELA, where your answers will be collated for each section. When we have all your responses, CELA will combine the material with other member reports and share the results with AIFS.
When the Morrison government was re-elected in May this year we summarised the big issues that still faced the sector. This stage of the AIFS evaluation, a survey of stakeholders like CELA, will touch on many of them. The questions we will share with you are about the overall impact of the Child Care Package, and also about specific issues such as affordability and flexibility of child care, simplicity of child care assistance, and the accessibility of child care for disadvantaged and vulnerable families.
Respond to help children
The Child Care Package is one of the biggest reforms to funding the sector has seen. Many families are financially better off as a result, and many are not. More than 280,000 families around Australia are worse off according to the Department of Education’s own calculation (see the table below) and that includes 88,000 families of disadvantaged children.
This latter number means more than 100,000 vulnerable children who most need access to quality education and care now receive fewer hours instead of more. The new Activity Test provisions can add to the disadvantage vulnerable children already experience. If their parents are unable or unwilling to meet the work, study or volunteer requirements of the Activity Test, children receive fewer subsidised hours of ECE than under the previous legislation.
Educators are also reporting anecdotally about families who have not applied for the subsidy at all because of the complexity of the new system. It’s a sad truth that many families experiencing difficulties have those disadvantages compounded because their language, literacy, physical or mental health prevent them from navigating the administration paths to more assistance.
Safety Net failure
We know that the Australian Government policy was to rely on a Child Care Subsidy (CCS) Safety Net to waive the Activity Test for vulnerable families – but we also know that many ECE services now report the Safety Net is ineffective and often obstructive for a number of reasons, including the complexity of the process.
In fact, recent data shows the number of children receiving the supplement has reduced by more than 14,000, over a third, since the introduction of the new Child Care Package. We believe this is an unintended outcome of the package and the Additional Child Care Subsidy needs reviewing and amending to ensure that the process for approval does not act as a barrier to vulnerable children accessing services.
Ahead of the election the Morrison government announced a further $4 million to ‘enhance’ the CCS. While well below the funding the ALP proposed, all additional funding is welcome and we need to ensure the government and its policy makers are well aware of the areas most in need of ‘enhancement’.
Respond to help your service
Another major area of Child Care Package impact is the administrative burden felt by many services, which is extending well beyond ‘teething troubles’ and into a serious financial and management issue for directors and families.
Your experience in implementing the package through your CCS management provider will be helpful, and so will any examples you have gathered of families who have been caught with unexpected CCS debt or unreasonable administrative requirements.
Make sure you check Amplify each week in July for the next batch of survey questions and be ready to respond. We will make it as easy as possible for you, and we are here to answer your inquiries along the way.