How would free early childhood education & care impact your family?

How would free early childhood education & care impact your family?

free early childhood education & care

“The pre Covid19 cost of child care was punitive, especially for women. I am currently classified as an essential worker, but if we return to previous charges, I will not be able to do what is expected of me as ‘essential’ .”

“Free childcare has literally helped me put food on the table. I have another child due to start daycare soon and if it goes back to fee structure from before COVID it will cripple us financially.”

“My husband is a firefighter. Going back to paying for childcare makes it impossible for us to balance his shifts and demands without it costing thousands of dollars a fortnight.”

“My out of pocket expense is 3/4 of my salary. When bills come in I often have to work out how I can feed my family or pay the rates. The free daycare has made me cry knowing I can feed my family and pay our bills. My work doesn’t give me the option of part time or flexible work arrangements.”

‘Free childcare has been very, very positive in my household. It has allowed our family to keep my child enrolled where she receives the much needed social interaction and learning environment that I simply can not provide in a home-style setting with limited access to toys and learning resources.’

These are just a small sample of comments parents right across the country left in an online survey of 2,200 families The Parenthood conducted in late May and early June. 

Between April and July this year, for the first time in history, families in Australia had access to fee-free early childhood education and care (ECEC) and the message we received via the survey of parents was clear: the difference it made in households right around the country was profound.  

Even before COVID19 hit, families were struggling with the high cost of ECEC. The sudden and widespread job and income losses as a result of the pandemic stretched many household budgets – and parents – close to breaking point. Three months of fee-relief for ECEC gave them welcome breathing space. 

But the fee-free arrangement was incredibly difficult for many services and placed considerable pressure on family day-care services in particular. This – and especially the personal toll it took on educators and carers – was an issue many of the 2,200 parents raised in our survey voluntarily as being unacceptable – even while acknowledging their own family couldn’t have managed without the fee-free arrangement. 

It is emblematic of the broader problem: the current funding system means too many Australian families struggle to access or afford the quality ECEC their children deserve, while too many early childhood educators aren’t paid the wages they deserve. 

Back in June Dee Behan, a Sydney-based mum of one, co-founder of Frankly Co and member of The Parenthood, got in touch.  

She wanted to do more to make this issue understood and suggested activating a group of women who knew – first hand – just how crippling the return to full fees in the midst of the economic slump triggered by COVID would be. Women like her, with small children, trying to run and salvage businesses they’d poured time, soul, energy and money trying to build. 

“The devastating economic impact caused by COVID-19 has just exacerbated how unaffordable early education and care is, while simultaneously proving how invaluable and essential it is,” she told me at the time.  

The result was Make It Free, a coalition of predominantly women-led businesses spearheading a call to make early childhood education and care free.

With support from Verve Super, Women’s Agenda, Shebah, Frankly Co, Logie Interiors and Her Lawyer, over 1500 parents and more than 100 businesses and organisations signed on to support the campaign.

Make It Free was borne from the frustration and disbelief a number of female entrepreneurs and leaders experienced about an “inaccessible and unaffordable” system for ECEC that acts as a barrier for them to grow their businesses and earn a living, while also failing to adequately value the work of early educators

In Australia around 38% of small businesses are owned by women. ATO figures indicate that 45% of small business owners have a taxable income of under the minimum wage. For those women that means every single dollar counts. And it’s why quality, ECEC being affordable for women in the small business space is critical.

Regrettably, this issue was not addressed in the historic October budget. Families, women and children were largely forgotten in the biggest spending budget in Australia’s history. That cannot happen again. 

Which is where I need your help. Over the next few weeks The Parenthood & Make It Free are co-hosting a conversation on MindHive to directly ask women and families how this issue has or does impact them. Mindhive is a digital platform that’s like a hybrid of Facebook and LinkedIn.  

We are inviting parents, educators, entrepreneurs and interested citizens to join the discussion. It’s free to create an account and you can either comment anonymously in Incognito mode or use your own name. To start the conversation we are asking three questions:

  1. How does the cost of early education and & care impact your decisions about work, your family, and your future? 
  2. What did the three month period of free early childhood education & care mean to your household and/or business? 
  3. What would your business and/or career look like if you didn’t have to pay for quality early childhood education & care

We welcome comments addressing issues of inclusion, equity and diversity that we know often make accessing ECEC even more complicated. For example, families with children with special needs, families living in remote or regional locations, families experiencing domestic and family violence, culturally and linguistically diverse families, shift workers. There are so many factors that can contribute to quality ECEC working for any particular family and we want to hear from as many of you as possible.

The discussion runs til 21st December 2020 and we’re going to let the Federal Government know what you say. Help us make sure the Federal government can’t ignore families in May. Join the discussion here.

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