Margaret Gleeson, Sydney
In announcing the new childcare regulations to be introduced into NSW parliament on May 4, Carmel Tebbutt, the Labor minister for community services, revealed that existing ratios of one staff member to five babies (0-2 years) would be maintained. This is in spite of Tebbutt's April 16 statement that "research indicates strong evidence that a ratio of one staff member to four children under two years could contribute to better educational and developmental outcomes".
During the drafting of the regulations, many academics and childcare professionals identified a 1:3 ratio as best practice. Support for the 1:4 ratio contained in the draft regulations circulated for community consultation was seen by many as a compromise position. One to five is considered unacceptable.
In spite of acknowledging that 50% of childcare providers in NSW already operate on a 1:4 ratio (and many on 1:3), the state ALP government has buckled under pressure from the corporate childcare sector, which claimed that changing to a 1:4 ratio would not be financially viable.
Opposition to the government's cave-in has come from a broad range of childcare and community service providers, and also from the NSW Commissioner for Children.
In an April 15 media release issued by the Council of Social Service of New South Wales, NCOSS director Gary Moore said: "The Minister is relying on a consultant's report which claims childcare places would be lost and fees increased, however the improved childcare ratios are already operating in other states such as Western Australia and Queensland.
"The government has had ten years to deliver better ratios. Over that time around half of centre-based services have moved to better ratios. The Minister should be asking the question — if 50% of services can provide a higher quality service, what is happening in the other 50%?
"For too long, lowly paid childcare workers have borne the brunt of keeping costs low. A ratio of 1:5 places an added burden and stress on staff who know they are not offering the best quality care."
An intensive campaign has been initiated by the childcare sector and parents for an amendment to be moved to regulations to reduce the ratio to 1:4. On May 8 at 10am a rally and march to NSW parliament will take place. Organisers are requesting that supporters wear red to indicate danger!
From Green Left Weekly, April 29, 2004.
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