Protests against child-care changes

Wednesday, August 14, 1996

By Kamala Emanuel and Melanie Sjoberg

Some 250 people attended a Who Cares About Child-care? rally in Newcastle on August 4 organised by Central Coast-Hunter Regional Family Day Care (FDC) to protest against the federal government's proposed changes to child-care funding.

An interim Economic Planning and Advisory Committee report was released in July which recommends the removal or reduction of federal operational subsidies to community-based child-care; the restructuring of all child-care assistance into a single family payment to parents; lowering the eligibility for child-care assistance and/or ceiling limits; and abolishing cash rebates.

Family day care is one of the cheapest and most efficient services partly because care providers are very low paid. Across the country more than 100,000 children are looked after by 20,000 care-providers and 2000 coordinators. Removing the operational subsidy will open up the possibility of it becoming a deregulated "backyard" operation.

Ariane Dixon, regional representative for Central Coast-Hunter FDC, says the changes would not only harm family day care, but other community-based services such as pre-schools, out-of-school-hours care, long-day care and occasional care. These non-profit services are currently sponsored by local governments and community groups which rely on federal funding.

Dixon told Green Left Weekly that federal funding, which is based on a levy per child, per week, makes child-care accessible to low- and middle-income parents. She said the loss of funding would result in fee increases of $20-30 per week for long-day care, and 50 cents per hour in FDC, as well as a loss of services. Community Child Care Victoria has estimated that cuts to child-care assistance may force fees to rise by up to 300%.

The cuts would also jeopardise quality of care. Currently, FDC is coordinated through units which recruit, train and monitor carers, assist with resources and match children to carers. National guidelines limit the number of children cared for in any one household, and ensure that health and safety requirements are met.

Jan McGrath, vice-president of NSW FDC Association, said that the loss of FDC units would mean that carers would lose their public liability insurance because of concerns over the loss of quality and increases in the number of claims.

While the government claims that directing funds from service providers to parents would "empower" the latter, Dixon says that removing the accreditation process (necessary for providers to receive federal funding) would lower the staff to children ratio.

Directing funds to parents rather than community-based child-care services is another Howard handout to business. It will force parents to pay more to private providers for less regulated care.

The final EPAC report is due to be released in October; submissions are being received until August 30. In the meantime, the National Family Day Care Council and Community Child Care Victoria are campaigning against the changes, and the Public Service Association (SA) is mobilising care providers and field workers to lobby MPs and is mailing information to women's groups.