The Australian Government’s announcement of new funding for early childhood education and care (ECEC) is an important win for all Australians.
Incremental changes like this have shaped our ECEC system over more than a century to become the diverse, vibrant sector that around a million families rely on today.
However, it is not just families using ECEC who will be better off from improvements to the system.
Investing in ECEC delivers benefits for children’s futures, family stability, a strong workforce, business continuity, innovation and competition and healthy and safe communities. This all adds up to a return of double every dollar invested.
Early learning professionals, researchers, parents and indeed anyone who intersects with the ECEC system have been aware of this for some time.
Politicians understand it too, and this especially showed last year when they did everything they could to keep what they termed a ‘vital’ and ‘valuable’ sector operating during a national crisis.
And recently the conversation has included unified voices of leaders in business and industry.
The pressure leading up to the announcement of new funding yesterday is the result of more and more people coming to understand that improving early learning won’t just help one section of society, it will impact every Australian.
We’re used to these conversations at the Front Project because a key part of our work is showing ways to improve the ECEC system to benefit all society.
What many people are likely not used to seeing is the country’s leading industry bodies like the Business Council of Australia and Chief Executive Women publicly championing this as their central policy focus.
We have been working closely with business and government to suggest options for them to create change, so it has been thrilling to see more and more voices from these areas championing ECEC and enhancing the work we do with the sector.
However, there is still an essential voice missing.
Each morning, in millions of Australian households, mums, dads (and many grandparents and other carers) head out the door to some type of ECEC service.
Theirs is the key voice missing in this conversation – families who use, or choose not to use, the system, and experience its benefits and challenges first-hand.
I am excited to inform you that that the next piece of Front Project research will bring their voices firmly to the front of this conversation.
What do these families think about ECEC services in Australia? What do they value? How do they make decisions? How do they feel during this process? What do they think about costs and access? How do they determine quality? Are their needs being met? Do they think the system needs to change? If so, how?
We asked Australian families these questions, and I am sure that their frank and generous responses will be of the utmost interest to anyone who is involved in the current conversation about early learning.
For now, I can reveal that most Australian families view the current ECEC system as vitally important to their lives, but they think it can be better, and they need it to be better.
They want the system to provide more choice and more flexibility and make it easier for parents to get back into jobs.
For the vast majority of families, affordability is a barrier to getting back to work or taking on more hours, as well as to having more children.
The new Australian Government investment for early learning go part of the way towards helping these families.
Additional $1.7 billion investment in ECEC
- Increase the child care subsidies available to families with more than one child aged five and under, by 30 percentage points to a maximum subsidy of 95 per cent for their second and subsequent children
- Remove the $10,560 annual cap on the Child Care Subsidy.
We will continue working to see even more improvements in the future – some priorities include ensuring quality across all ECEC services, better supporting children experiencing disadvantage, recognising the value and importance of the ECEC workforce and taking steps towards two years of preschool nationally.
What is most important now is that we have a commitment for additional support that will see more children accessing stable education and care, and more parents being able to work and have extra money in their pockets and time to invest in their families, their careers and the economy.
Each investment that brings us closer to realising the full potential of our early learning system is a good one – not just for those who directly rely on the system but, as the growing voices calling for change are reminding us, for everyone.