Want a better deal for children, parents & women? #ParentsUp is for you!

Want a better deal for children, parents & women? #ParentsUp is the campaign for you

In 2022 it's time to demand - and vote for - expanded paid parental leave & universal access to early childhood education & care.

Back in June this year I hit a milestone. It marked a full decade since I first began to understand exactly how Australia’s early learning and care system can work against parents. It is sobering that ten years on it still works against too many parents. (Not to mention children and educators.)

After having our first daughter in 2010 while living overseas, it wasn’t until we were due to return to Sydney, in June 2011, that my husband and I experienced a system that didn’t support our family in the way we had both, naively, assumed it would.  

It wasn’t that we expected a handout in managing our young daughter: we just naively assumed there would be ready access to suitable early learning and care places for families who needed them, and that the cost wouldn’t be exorbitant.   

I was returning to my job as a reporter at BRW magazine four days a week and my husband was recommencing his intern year in a public hospital. Neither of our parents lived in Sydney and in very junior roles, even in media and medicine, the idea of engaging a nanny even a day a week was fantasy, so finding a spot for our daughter in an early learning and care service four days a week was essential.  

Months before we were due home, we began searching for places for our daughter near where we were planning to rent a flat. We assumed it would be straightforward. It was gobsmacking to discover we were hunting for a needle in a haystack. As the weeks passed we received upwards for 35 replies that were virtually identical. 

No places. A long waitlist. Good luck. Perhaps join the waitlist for the year after next. 

As the emails backed up, my heart sank and my mind was blown: what are parents of small children supposed to do about earning an income, to be able to provide for those small children, if they can’t access suitable care? How does this even work? 

It sparked an unforgettable aha moment. This is the reason so many mums in Australia stop working after children and it’s not ‘choice’. 

When an email came through from a service in the CBD saying they had a vacancy in the toddler room for our daughter 4 days a week, it felt like we’d won the lottery. Nevermind the fact that neither my husband or I would be working in the CBD and there was no parking nearby. Nevermind the fact the fees were $165 a day. (Ten years ago!) We had a place!

It was the piece in the puzzle we needed in order to be able to work – and like many families, in order to be able to provide for our family, we needed to work. The vacancy was life-changing but it wasn’t easy.

Logistically, it required taking a toddler on a bus with a pram into the city each morning and afternoon – rain, hail or shine. After that often-intense journey trying to entertain and placate a little person for 30 minutes in a confined space with a few hundred other commuters. After surviving that and safely delivering her to the fantastic service, that she thankfully adored, we would then commence the commute to our own place of work another 20 minutes away. And then we’d do it in reverse each evening.   

Financially, it was a shock. We had assumed what was widely expressed at the time as the “50% childcare rebate” was actually a 50% childcare rebate. It was a shock that it was only a “50% rebate” up to an annual cap of $7500. Because the daily fees were so high and because our daughter was attending four days a week, it meant we reached that cap after just 22 weeks from which point we were then paying $660 a week. That was more than we were spending on rent.  

Despite loving the service we started looking for a more affordable option because $2640 a month was not affordable. We spent a few months on a wait list before landing a spot in a(nother) fantastic that was a more affordable, but still steep, $125 a day.  

We persevered but having us both working while paying these fees was effectively a net-zero proposition for one of our salaries. It was not difficult to understand why lots of parents would avoid this sort of financial and logistical nightmare by way of one parent, generally mum, reducing or stopping work. 

If you had a difficult employer who didn’t understand that pick up and drop off was not optional. A job that offered no flexibility. If you had a child who didn’t enjoy their days in care. Or if the only place you could find for your child didn’t feel right. If you had a child with additional needs whom you felt wasn’t going to be supported. If you had a partner who wasn’t willing or able to share the load. Or a partner who couldn’t see beyond the fact the household budget might not be helped by two salaries if the cost of care almost wiped one out.  

If you would almost be better off, in the short-term, by not working to avoid paying hefty fees, is it any wonder that’s the arrangement so many families in Australia “choose”?       

I could suddenly see how the system was stacked against parents, particularly against mums. And it incensed me. It was the match that ignited my burning desire to write, speak, research, report, tweet and advocate about this issue as much as possible. I live in hope for the day that flame is extinguished. 

For ten years I have been convinced that reforming early childhood education and care in this country is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet for improving the lives of children, women and the nation. The evidence to prove this is incontrovertible – and it has been for decades. Yet the fight to have this understood has endured. Thousands and thousands of women before me have been saying the exact same thing for decades and decades. The leadership and commitment for reform has eluded us. 

To say it’s time feels trite. It’s been time for decades. But, still, it’s time. And the 2022 Federal Election is the opportunity we have to convince political representatives across party lines – established and aspiring – that we will not wait any longer.     

Our early learning and care system isn’t the only thing parents and children in Australia are up against. In the year 2021 Australian parents have access to one of the least adequate paid parental leave schemes in the OECD. 

Parents here have access to 18 weeks at the minimum wage. The average length of paid leave in the OECD is 50 weeks. Dads in Australia take less than 20% of the parental leave than dads take around the globe. 

It isn’t just grossly inadequate: it perpetuates stereotypical gender roles from the moment a baby is conceived – whether the parents want to share the care or not. The gap between hours spent caring by mums and dads is more pronounced in Australia than in other countries. 

And it’s not inexplicable. It’s an inevitable consequence of our paid parental leave policy settings that provide 18 weeks of paid leave to primary carers (98% of whom are mums) and two weeks of leave to ‘dads and partners’. 

The combination of inadequate paid parental leave and prohibitively expensive early childhood education and care makes raising a child in Australia harder than it need to be. 

It doesn’t have to be like this. 

Adequate and equitable Paid Parental Leave and access to quality, inclusive Early Childhood Education and Care, as well as Outside School Hours Care, are the “bridges and roads” that enable parents to get between work and home. To be there for their children and provide for their family. 

Without these supports, parents, carers and children are left stranded trying to build their own roads and bridges to get between home and work. You can’t go to work if you don’t have a road to get there. You can’t go to work if you don’t have an affordable and safe place for your child. We don’t expect commuters to create their own train lines or bus systems to get into the office but that’s what parents and carers do day after day.

All parents need to be able to care for and provide for their children. Love alone doesn’t feed a child or pay the bills.

Every mum and dad deserves to be supported through the life-changing adjustment of becoming a parent. And every baby deserves for their carers to have that support.

With decent paid parental leave, Australian families have the option to choose when and how long each parent will stay home with their new baby.

With affordable, quality early childhood education and care for children, Australian parents can work and provide for their children. They can then plan for their families’ futures.

Adequate PPL and affordable and accessible early learning and OSHC gives both parents flexibility to make choices about work and parenting that are right for their family.

With access to quality, inclusive Early Learning and Care before they start school, children can reach their full potential. 

Expanding PPL and creating universal access to quality, inclusive early learning presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our country – for the better. These policies will ensure parents and carers are supported to give children the best start to life and the opportunity to reach their full potential, and ensure Australia’s future is prosperous.

These are health-boosting, job-creating, inequity-shrinking, life-improving, future-proofing reforms which pay for themselves. They sound too good to be true but they actually are! 

And if you’re interested in making health-boosting, job-creating, inequity-shrinking, life-improving, future-proofing reforms election issues, then I have got the campaign for you. 

#ParentsUp is a parent-led campaign The Parenthood has initiated that is kicking off today. Ahead of the 2022 election we’re asking political candidates and parties to make commitments on two policies that will deliver a better deal for children, parents, women and the country:

1. One year of Paid Parental Leave to be shared between parents, at full pay including super.

2. Universal access to Early Childhood Education and Care and Outside School Hours Care.

With your help we can make it happen. So if you want a better deal for children, parents and women sign the petition. Join the campaign, consider volunteering, start spreading the word among your friends, your local school community, your family. Anyone who will listen!

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