I am pleased to share with you our latest research report, Work and play: Understanding how Australian families experience early childhood education and care.
Australian families are at the centre of our early childhood education and care (ECEC) system.
Behind all the stories about ECEC are the mums, dads, grandparents and carers who walk out their doors each day to engage with our ECEC system.
They ask themselves what is best for their children, themselves and the family budget – they are who we read about when we seek to learn who uses ECEC, what benefits are we seeing, does it seem affordable enough and is quality up to standard.
However, this richness – the detail behind the choices that families make – has been largely missing from recent public conversations about how to improve our ECEC system.
At the Front Project, we want to change this, so we commissioned independent research to provide a deeper understanding of what ECEC experiences are like for families.
Families value ECEC but want the system to improve
'Our child is discovering some new passions we didn’t know she had, and the centre has worked so hard to find out what each kid likes ... We don’t expect them to know our child all that well, but to love and care for them as they are able. They’ve gone beyond that.'
– Participant – user of ECEC
Overall, families view the current system as vitally important to their lives, but they need it to be better. Families believe that ECEC delivers multiple benefits including supporting children’s education and development, assisting parents to work and improving overall family wellbeing.
Costs impact whether or not families use ECEC services
'...it wasn’t worth me taking them to childcare and then going back to work. By the time I got to work…it would cost more to put him in childcare, like I’d only be making maybe $10, literally a day. So there was no point…'
– Mother of two-year-old, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
ECEC costs factor into many family decisions including returning to work, working more hours or taking up study opportunities.
Families value quality but struggle to define it
'Quality to me means how the educators attend to a child’s needs. Are they loving and caring? Are they taking the time to get to know the child? Sometimes you might not even know for sure and it’s more about your gut feeling.'
– Participant – non-user of ECEC
Families widely recognise the value of high quality early learning and they think the ECEC workforce is key to ensuring that children have quality experiences.
Opportunities for the system to work better for families
The research signals a need to enhance the ways that families share their experiences with the ECEC sector. Providers could take steps to improve how families first engage with centres, reach out to families in local communities to better understand different needs, offer more information about ECEC options in their networks and guidance on how to determine quality.
From government, parents want greater intervention to ensure that ECEC is affordable and available when and where it's needed. They also want government to play a stronger role to help identify quality.
Now that we have a better understanding of what families’ experiences of ECEC are like, we can make sure any future ideas for change match what families have said they need.