Any working parent of kids in primary school knows the problem well: how do you work a standard eight hour work day, while juggling the drop offs and picks up associated with a standard six hour school day?
And how do you manage the school holidays, which suddenly seem significantly more generous than what you remember of them when you were at school?
For many working parents, a child starting kindergarten marks a significant shift in just how to plan a working week. Child care is typically available from 7am to 6pm, making the ability to get to and from work (while still a scramble) an at least somewhat possible exercise.
But school is different. And it can also mark the point where some parents will step back on the days they are working and/or leave the workforce altogether in order to accommodate their child’s new caring needs.
The answer for many parents, of course, is Out Of School Hours care, also known as OOSH or OSHC.
Although it’s only an answer if you can access such OSHC placements (many schools don’t have it on site, or have waiting lists that can see kids languishing for years).
So it’s good to see OSHC has become a NSW state election issue, with everyone from the Liberal party to the Labor party, the Small Business Party and the Greens putting it on their platform agenda in some way.
However, as early childhood education consultant Lisa Bryant tells me, such promises are only as good as the follow through on actually spending the money. She notes the $20 million the Liberal Party promised at the previous election, which has not been completely spent.
And while she’s happy to see this issue is finally being discussed — given the lack of access to such services is keeping many parents out of work, and particularly limiting options for single mothers — she wants to see a cultural shift in how we value out of school hours, so that more schools see it as a vital part of the what they do, and keep more space available for such services. (Lisa also recently penned this very good opinion piece on the issue for the Sydney Morning Herald.)
The NSW Liberals have promised to make such care available at public primary schools by 2021, with a $120 million investment to help reduce costs by up to $225 per child per year, while offering capped rental subsidies of up to $15,000 for providers who use school groups for their services. It says that schools across Sydney, Newcastle and major regional centres must open up their facilities to before and after school care between 7am and 6pm, and it will provide transports services to offsite providers in remote areas when onsite OSHC services are not viable. According to Community Early Learning Australia, the policy does not adequately explain how it will achieve these things.
The Small Business Party is going one step further, it wants to see free OSHC placements for all families with working parents in NSW — and promises to push for this if elected on Saturday.
“With OOSH waiting lists getting longer and costs rising, we need to provide parents with the support they need to stay ahead,” said Small Business Party founder Angela Vithoulkas. She says families are spending around $150 to $200 a week on out of school care which, on top of other rising costs of living, is making managing a family increasing difficult. While it’s significantly less than the cost of day care, it’s still a huge cost for parents, especially those with multiple kids requiring such services.
And what about those parents who can’t even get OSHC placements? “They are forced to juggle working hours, or lose working hours, or even use increased sick leave to pick up their children,” says Vithoulkas.
Meanwhile, NSW Labor has promised to ensure all new public primary schools have OSHC facilities available, alongside a review of the Department of Education’s tender processes that its says run against parent-managed and NFP OSHC providers.
It also wants to save parents from the “double drop off” (of daycare and school) with new education precincts being built by NSW Labor to be multipurpose and include either a preschool, a long day care centre or out-of-school hours care.
Lisa Bryant says the demand for out of school care has increased significantly in the past few years. And while the lack of access to placements and long waiting lists has become a common BBQ conversation among parents, she’s happy to see the conversation is now going further.