Where are the Dads in childcare Campaign for Families?

Dads also needed in childcare Campaign for “Families”

On Sunday, News Corp and the non-profit group Parenthood launched a “Fair Go For Families” campaign about childcare. I wanted to love it. I really did. I wanted to channel Tom Cruise and jump up on the sofa pumping my fists in the air.

I have previously written on this issue, making my views on the recently passed childcare reforms very clear. Pushing the limits of the kind of colourful language I thought I could get away with here at Women’s Agenda, I think I called them ‘pants’.

I know I said the childcare reforms weren’t radical enough, and they would neither ease the cost burden on families nor fulfil the stated objective of supporting more women into the workforce. I was also concerned that the new activity test would result in some of the most disadvantaged kids – those who need good quality childcare the most – missing out.

I have – not so secretly – been hoping others would continue and help making a fuss about our broken childcare system.

So while I applaud NewsCorp for giving this issue a prominent place in its mastheads, and I have a great deal of respect for Parenthood as well as the influential women who lent their names to the campaign, I, unfortunately, came to the conclusion that while they got many things very right, they got one thing very wrong. Where are the dads in this campaign for “families”? 


The good

Before you hear the collective groan from NewsCorp HQ (those feminists…we can never get anything right), first let me share what I thought was good about the campaign.

The campaign makes some very good arguments (backed up with compelling survey results) about how the cost of childcare is outpacing inflation and wage growth, and why this is ‘crippling the family budget’. Here are a few shockers: close to a third of families surveyed are spending double what they pay on their grocery bills on childcare, and more than a third said they are late paying their bills, mortgage or rent because of childcare costs. 

Secondly, the campaign seeks to raise the issue of childcare up the political agenda ahead of the next election, very clearly saying that the Coalition Government’s recently passed reforms just aren’t good enough — a ‘root and branch review is needed’. In doing so, it is denying the Coalition a victory lap on childcare leading up to the election. 

Reading the Office for Women’s new strategy to boost women’s workforce participations rates (published last month), the Government is clearly cultivating a  ‘job done, we’ve sorted this one’ narrative. Not so fast, say News Corp and Parenthood. And that’s a wonderful thing.

Childcare reform can and should be a high-profile election issue. More reform, like a tax-deductible system or school like investment in childcare (both proposed as part of this campaign), should be on the table.  

Lastly, the campaign makes an explicit link between childcare and the oh so (not) sexy but vitally important issue of “women’s low workforce participations rates”. In my view, anyone who does that should get a special prize. 

I would also like to give an honourable mention to Jamila Rizvi, who managed to weave yet more wonky gender-equality jargon into the accompanying video and talk about the “feminization of the childcare workforce”, thereby sticking up for the low paid women in the childcare sector. Hurrah Jamila.

The bad:

All that said, the campaign scores a spectacular own goal.

Even though it’s titled “A Fair Go for Families” and the survey looks at the impacts of the growing costs on the ‘family budget’, the slick accompanying photo shoot features only mums. And a line-up of famous all white mums at that. The accompanying article only includes quotes from mothers.

Where are the dads?  If childcare is an issue that affects the “family” bottom line, surely News Corp could have found some fathers, famous or otherwise, who have something to say about this? 

Pumping my fist in the air late Sunday night for entirely different reasons, I turned to Twitter to see if anyone else had picked up on this. I saw Emma Alberici was also asking this question. She was soon joined by Juanita Phillips, who received a number of responses from fathers on Twitter, suggesting dads willing to step up to the plate on this issue are not some mythical unicorn creature.

A campaign featuring only mums reinforces the view that childcare is a ‘women’s issue’, rather than a family issue. Just last week a column in the Sydney Morning Herald made the rounds imploring us to stop calculating the costs and benefits of childcare as a percentage of the mother’s salary. How is this any better? 

There are a number of issues where men and women can bridge the so called ‘gender wars’ to fight for a common cause. Childcare is certainly one of them. Framing a childcare campaign in this way is a missed opportunity.

There is a movement of men gathering pace who refuse to sit on panels that aren’t gender balanced. Perhaps it’s time for Australia’s working mums to refuse to join campaigns on behalf of ‘families’ that don’t include dads.

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