Work and play report

Australian families make choices every day that help parents juggle work and caring duties and support young children to learn and develop through play. A key consideration behind their choices is early childhood education and care (ECEC).

The Front Project recognises the need for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of how families make choices and experience ECEC, so engaged Heartward Strategic to conduct independent research with parents of children aged 0–5 in February – March 2021. The findings have informed the report – Work and play: Understanding how Australian families experience early childhood education and care.

The research

The project was designed to address the following three questions:

  1. Why and how are families choosing to engage with ECEC?
  2. What are families’ experiences of ECEC?
  3. How can the system be designed to provide a more meaningful user experience?

The research combined a quantitative survey of 1695 parents and qualitative research through a bulletin board, narrative interviews and a co-creation session.

High-level findings


Australian families greatly value ECEC, seeing benefits for their children, themselves and their family


Parents want quality but find this, and other elements of the system, confusing.


Making choices regarding ECEC can be difficult and parents feel that there could be more affordable and accessible ECEC options for families.


Access to ECEC impacts other family choices.


Parents have an appetite for change, and some want more action from government to improve the ECEC system. 


Listening to the voice of parents is vital for addressing system challenges and progressing ECEC policy reform. We have identified the following opportunities to meet the needs of families using ECEC in Australia.

For Providers:

  • Take steps to improve how families first engage with centres.
  • Reach out to families in local communities to better understand different needs.
  • Provide more information about ECEC options in your networks.
  • Offer guidance on how to determine quality. 

For Government:

  • Take on a stronger role to ensure the market operates effectively and includes affordable, accessible and high quality services.
  • Improve access by ensuring appropriate geographic spread and increasing availability outside of usual work hours.
  • Better equip parents with a way of understanding and identifying quality early learning.
  • Contemplate steps to implement two years of preschool for all Australian children.

Empathy maps

empathy maps 2

Empathy maps help us gain further insights into the families surveyed as part of our Work and play report. Empathy maps provide a visual overview of behaviours and attitudes of different groups – in this case, three core parent groups: parents of babies, parents of toddlers and parents of preschoolers.

These tools help us to summarise and understand these groups' needs, experiences and motivations. It is not until we truly understand these factors that we can begin to find solutions to the challenges these parents experience in Australia's ECEC system.

Report published 17/06/2021