National Family Day Care Conference and launch of the new Child Care Handbook
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you Ariane (Ariane Dixon, Conference Committee member) for your introduction.
Well I have to say it is with a little trepidation that I come here today – what with all of the talk and misinformation around that I am going to gut Family Day Care’s operational subsidy – if I believed everything I read I feel like I’m about to be hung, drawn and quartered.
Then I thought – no they won’t do that – not this mob – they’ll just throw playdough at me.
I’m only joking – I’m here because I support Family Day Care and I will talk further about what has been going on around the Child Care Broadband and hopefully ease some of the anxiety that has been generated.
As always your program is jam packed with interesting and innovative speakers – I’m sure you are having an enjoyable couple of days.
I see that Dr Ronald Lally spoke yesterday about providing quality child care to infants and toddlers.
My Department invited Dr Lally to Australia earlier this year to speak at a workshop in Canberra on the impact of non-parental care.
This was one of a couple of workshops we have conducted as part of the process of formulating the Government’s National Agenda for Early Childhood.
National Agenda for Early Childhood
Whilst many of you would have heard of about this Agenda there may be some of you who have not and therefore let me give you a brief rundown on why we are doing this and also an update of where we’re up to.
Australia as a country is doing well. We have a strong economy, we have low unemployment and low interest rates – many would say we are a lucky country.
And yet why is it that we still have 20,000 children removed from their homes because of child abuse or neglect.
Why is it at we are seeing increasing levels of obesity, increasing levels of type 2 diabetes, and increasing levels of children who are experiencing some form of mental illness.
We are not quite getting it right. That is why I am developing the National Agenda for Early Childhood – it is all about putting resources at the front end – it is all about early intervention and prevention.
How have we gone about developing the Agenda?
Round table discussions were held with peak bodies and service providers, there were consultations on Indigenous specific issues, and we received a lot of written submissions.
We have some early feedback on all of these and I would like to thank those family day carers and your Council representatives who participated.
There is widespread support for the development of a National Agenda.
People are happy that a National Agenda has bipartisan support at the federal political level, but they also understand there may be some disagreements between political parties on content.
We have seen strong support for three priority areas needing immediate attention: early child and maternal health; early learning and care; and supporting child-friendly communities.
The consultations also highlighted what we already know – that Indigenous children aren’t doing so well, and the need to focus more on what could work better for them.
People also said services need to better target children in Australia from other cultural backgrounds.
This is something Family Day Care already puts great effort into, but the challenge is to do more across the broader child care industry to shape their programs and take account of families’ different traditions and cultures.
People also wanted to see more value placed on the role of parenting within the community, and more support provided to parents in that role.
In this context I asked my Department to conduct parent focus groups. I just didn’t want to hear from key stakeholders I wanted parents views on an Agenda.
The focus groups centred on the changing roles and responsibilities of parents. They also emphasised the links between the wellbeing of parents and the wellbeing of their children.
People recognised that there’s already a lot government and community support for families – including schools, social workers, community nurses, single parent programs, parenting programs, playgroups, mothers groups, child care, and so on.
They said that, among other things, parents weren’t always aware of what’s on offer, and there is a lack of coordination and consistency across services.
As well, parents were concerned that not enough was being done to prepare people for parenthood. When a mother-to-be goes to see her GP for the first time, she asks about ante-natal classes.
There is a great deal of preparation for the actual birth and the first few weeks of life with Baby – but where is the information and the assistance to help Mums and Dads develop parenting skills?
Being a parent is no easy task and I know you as carers – and parents yourselves – will appreciate that raising children is in many ways different today than it was when our parents and grandparents were bringing up their children.
Families seem to live busier and more complex lives and the defined roles of a stay-at-home mum and working dad with a family support network close at hand is a rarity rather than the norm.
Parents tell me they want more information about childhood development and the services available to parents and families.
Just the other day I was reading an article from FKA Children’s Services Journal – their Clearing House, a Victorian service provider.
On their front page they quoted teachers conversations:
“We’re sitting here talking about the way children are just plain fatigued in a way they have never been before in all our experience over years of teaching”. YOU MEAN THREE YEAR OLDS. “The three year olds, yes.”
Or another one –
“Mondays are the worst days of the week now – the kids have had such busy weekends”.
These kids arrive at childcare, pre-school, school – tired and unfortunately many of them unfed.
How can we expect them to learn.
You as family day carers would see this all of the time.
I’m using this as an example of how some parents are just not quite getting it right.
That is why I want to help all Australian mums and dads to be better mums and dads – it will be a major part of the Agenda.
As a down-payment in May, the Prime Minister announced that $10 million would go towards a number of early childhood prevention and early intervention projects.
One of these projects is looking specifically at information that parents really need and want.
This is just the beginning and I am looking forward to further developments as the National Agenda is finalised.
Work and Family
The other important initiative the Prime Minister is progressing is the issue of work and family.
He has called this the barbecue stopper.
It is all about helping families balance their work and family commitments.
Child care is a very important part of this.
For a Prime Minister who is accused by his Labor opponents of living in the 50’s – it is he, not them who is talking about issues affecting Australian families in the year 2003.
It is all about providing families with a choice – enabling them to make the decisions that are best for them in their family relationships and their community and workforce participation.
Child Care – Good news story
But today we are specifically here to talk about issues affecting all of you in the family day care sector.
But before I come to that – I think it is important that I tell you what the Australian Government has done for child care since we came to office.
It is a great story and one I am very proud of.
In our first six years in office we spent what was then a record amount of money – $7 billion – on child care.
This was 70% more than the previous Labor government spent in its last six years in office.
Spending continues to increase and in the four years to July 2006, we have allocated $8 billion to the child care sector.
The number of child care services has increased by 2000 and the number of places has increased by almost 40% to around half a million places across all service types.
There are record numbers of children utilising professional child care services – over 750,000.
At the same time, child care has become more affordable for parents through the introduction of Child Care Benefit in 2000.
CCB has provided a substantial increase in assistance for most families and is indexed each year to keep its value relative.
CCB subsidises around 70% of the total cost of child care for lower income families, and on a comparative basis, a family earning $50,000 with one child in full time care now pays about $380 less a year for child care than they would have in 2000.
The maximum rate at present is $137 for 1 child, $286.36 for 2 children and $446.96 for 3 children per week.
Families using family day care for less than 37 hours per week receive CCB at a higher rate of 133% – demonstrating that the government does appreciate that the nature of family day care is different to centre based care.
Now, although we have done a lot in the child care sector, there is still more to do.
Family Day Care services in many areas need more places to meet the demand for child care.
On the other hand, in some areas the demographics have changed and services are not utilising the places they have.
I want to thank those services that voluntarily returned places to be reallocated to areas of need – this has been very helpful.
I am aware of the increasing demand for places in some areas and I am working to address this issue.
Turning now to some other issues of concern to people involved in the Family Day Care sector.
Disabled Supplementary Services Guidelines (DSUPS)
Just briefly, turning to the Disabled Supplementary Services Program, or DSUPS as we call it – the funding that helps Family Day Carers integrate children with special needs into their care programs
As you know, Interim Guidelines for DSUPS were introduced on 1 July 2003.
They were developed as part of my department’s regular review of its program policies and guidelines.
There were no detailed guidelines before, but we knew the industry wanted them.
I was concerned to get them in place, because not only has DSUPS spending increased and gone unchecked over the past few years, some services (usually through no fault of their own) were claiming DSUPS when they shouldn’t have been.
Overall, we’ve had positive feedback from people who’ve used the interim guidelines.
I want to thank the National Family Day Care Council for helping my department to get the guidelines out there, and used.
While I’m here today, I’d like to let you know about another new resource – the Child Care Service Handbook for 2003-04 – which will start going out to services later this month.
It looks like this – (HOLD UP COPY) As you can see, it looks very different from the seven, old handbooks.
What’s good about the new handbook is that it consolidates information about the seven different service types into the one handbook.
Getting this together was not easy.
But it was worth doing. Its format is simple and clear and it’s now much easier to find out what you need to know about your own service type.
From now on, we’re going to put out a completely updated handbook in July each year.
This means you won’t have to muck around replacing pages in binders anymore.
Given so many people now use the Internet, the handbook is also going on-line.
And because the information in the handbook is written for child care professionals, we also decided to put together some fact sheets that you can give to families.
To make sure all services get them, these will be inserts in Child Care News.
Many people in the child care sector helped us develop the handbook and I would like to thank you, once again, for your help.
Now, this is a special advance copy so I can’t leave it here with you but the new manuals are at the printers and will start being sent out to Schemes very shortly.
We want to get your feedback on this new-look handbook, so we can keep improving it in the years to come.
Now to the issue I know you are most concerned about – the Child Care Support Broadband redevelopment.
Let me say here very honestly that I have been extremely concerned at the misinformation that has been put out in the sector.
I understand at the Queensland Family Day Conference the constant theme repeated by speaker after speaker was not IF, not PERHAPS, but WHEN our operational subsidy is removed.
For me personally this has been upsetting and even insulting.
You might not believe it but I have been one of your strongest advocates, not only as the Minister but as a parent who has used family day care for my kids.
I am going to read this part of the speech – because I want there to be no misunderstanding.
As you know the Government has focused on a very consultative approach.
Indeed, many of you have been involved in some way or another in every stage of the consultations.
I am totally aware that we are looking at some complicated issues and Family Day Care have been very vocal with their concerns.
I respect your right to have your say and to lobby on behalf of your industry.
However, I am concerned that many of you have formed a belief that Family Day Care is at risk and that funding will cease this month.
My office has been inundated with calls from distressed parents who are convinced they will no longer receive CCB for Family Day Care or that their Family Day Care scheme is about to close.
It is unfortunate that the language used to encourage people to contact my office in support of Family Day Care has panicked many in the sector.
I want to again reassure parents and carers that FDC is a valued care choice for families and the government has no intention of making decisions that are not in the best interests of children, their parents and the availability of quality child care services.
This review is not about cutting costs, not about trimming budgets and not about spending less on child care.
It is about clearly identifying the aims, focus and scope of Broadband funding priorities to provide greater support to the child care sector as a whole, based on solid evidence and defined outcomes.
My ultimate goal in this Broadband redevelopment is to ensure that we put what is best for children first.
I have made every effort to ensure that the process was open and as all encompassing as possible.
Nothing was quarantined from consideration, no preconceived ideas were taken into the review and there is no hidden agenda.
While these processes can take some time, I made a commitment to this approach because it was important that everyone was given the chance to have their say.
I want to publicly congratulate Community Link Australia for the very professional way it managed a difficult and complex consultation process.
I am advised its report is coming to me very soon.
The next step will be to look at the options my Department puts to me to achieve the outcomes recommended in the Report.
Any decision made will be carefully considered, taking into account any impact on services and the sustainability of care.
It is not much point solving one problem while creating another.
Make no mistake, the issues are complex and it will take time to “get the mix right”.
As previously discussed, the Prime Minister’s Work and Family policy is under development at present.
Child care is an important component of this policy and so the Broadband review must also be considered in the context of other developments in this area.
This may mean final decisions and announcements take a little longer than originally anticipated.
I have said from the outset that, as Minister for Children and Youth, my responsibilities and priorities are to achieve better outcomes for families and to make sure that Broadband priorities ensure the pre-eminence of children in all our efforts.
I am confident this process will result in the very best outcomes for children and services as a whole.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the great contribution that Family Day Care makes to the lives of families and their children.
With 123,000 Australian children in Family Day Care, as the Minister responsible, I want to reassure you that the Australian Government values and supports the work you do in communities right across the country.
We have no intention of abandoning Family Day Care or taking any steps that will not be in the long term interests of children and the availability of quality, accessible and affordable child care valued by parents.