It seems likely that within the next few weeks, the Government’s long-promised and much-analysed early childhood education and care reforms – under the telling title the “Jobs for Families” Package” – will finally come to a vote in the Parliament.
I’ve been writing and speaking about this Package for more than a year now. I am as firmly opposed to it now as I was then, if not more so. As we’re approaching a time where it may either pass and become law, or fail and surely be a wake up call to a Government that has got this policy area so wrong, I thought it might be helpful to clearly and simply articulate my position on this package.
I’m a solitary advocate. I don’t advocate for an organisation, or a peak body, or any other group. My position is informed by my work as an educator, teacher and leader in the sector. It’s also informed by the many, many detailed reports that have looked into these proposed changes. If you agree with me, these points may help you in discussions with your colleagues, or in speaking with your MP, or in encouraging a peak body you’re a part of to advocate against this package.
There are four broad points to consider when thinking about the Jobs for Families Package.
The Package will slash access to early education for children who most need it.
Early childhood development research is unequivocal that the greatest life gains from early education are received by children at risk of, or experiencing, vulnerabilities such as poverty and trauma. The Jobs for Families drastically ties together a child’s right to access early education to their family’s job status, including number of hours worked. Children experiencing vulnerability are far more likely to have families who either do not work or do not work enough to meet the new Activity Test.
At a time when other major countries are working to remove barriers to early education participation for children, this Package marks an alarming and dangerous step backwards.
The Package makes supporting children at risk (if they can even gain an enrolment) a lot more difficult.
For those children experiencing vulnerability who do manage to start at a centre – of which there will be far fewer – it will become much harder for a centre to support them. The current support frameworks that are in place (which are still not good enough), will disappear to be replaced by a vague “Child Care Safety Net”. There is almost no information about how this will work, how it will operate in practice, who will be eligible and how much support they will be entitled to. We do know that the definition of “vulnerability” will be tightened, and minimum access slashed from 24 hours to 12 hours per week.
Supporting this Package is a gamble that the Government will do this right. That is not a good assumption to make.
The Package will make it much harder for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to access early education.
At a time when Australia is failing to meet our Closing the Gap target for early education attendance; and out-of-home care and youth detention statistics are worse than they were before the 2007 Apology to the Stolen Generations, the idea of slashing access to Indigenous children makes me so angry I can barely make this section coherent.
Budget Based Funded services provide critical, community-based and run services to Aboriginal children and families – including early education. This Package will end that funding and force those services to adapt to the “mainstream” funding model. Bluntly put, that is impossible and many of those centres will close.
The Government should be ashamed that this is even on the table.
The Package will fundamentally alter the operational structure of the sector – for the worse.
The proposal to move to an hourly fee cap, and the shift to six-hour block funding,
will severely undermine the current service delivery model for early education. Put simply, the move towards six-hour blocks of ECE will mean the shifting of educators currently employed full-time to casual or part-time hours.
The impact of this on the ongoing campaign for professional recognition and identity, and recruitment of the best people to support children’s learning in high-quality ECE settings, cannot be understated. The aims of the National Quality Framework (NQF) reforms can only be met by high-quality, well-trained and committed educators. This cannot be achieved without career certainty.
Despite some mixed advocacy from the sector on the Jobs for Families package, no-one is seriously arguing that any of the points above are not valid. There are two main pushes from those seeking the legislation of this package in some shape or form. I respectfully disagree with this viewpoints, which are:
If the right amendments are passed, the Package will work as early education reform.
This is major viewpoint across the sector right now. There are a couple of things to consider here. Amendments that fix the above concerns are not amendments – they entirely change the structure of the Package, and will not be accepted by a Government that does not believe early education should be separated from their family’s work situation.
It seems madness that I have to keep saying this, but I will. They called it the JOBS FOR FAMILIES Package. Does anyone seriously believe this Government will address the four points above?
It’s better than nothing – the current system is broken and not supporting all children, at least this Package will help some.
This, for me, may be the most dangerous advice of all and it is one that should be resisted by any advocates for children’s rights and early education reform.
The current system is broken. It’s not working for all children and families. I will be the first to say that. But just because things don’t work now, that doesn’t mean that we can be held to ransom on new reforms. The Jobs for Families Package isn’t better overall. Some parts of it are OK – mainly the streamlining of the CCB and CCR into one subsidy.
But while there is some modelling that suggests some families will be better off (marginally) after these reforms, it comes at the direct cost of the children who most need to access. That to me is a complete undermining of early education.
But saying we should support it because it does a little bit and things are bad now is not good enough.
The early education system in Australia should be a Rolls Royce. At the moment it’s a wheelbarrow. The Government have put another wheel on the wheelbarrow, spray-painted it and told us it’s this or nothing.
I fundamentally disagree with that choice. We shouldn’t accept a fixed-up wheelbarrow. We say no, and demand better. That’s how democracy – and advocacy – works.
So that’s my view. If you agree, or kind of agree, or think there are some interesting points here, please share this with your colleagues. The vote is not that far away, and this will be a “reform” that will have an immediate affect on children and families in all of our communities.
If you want something easy to share, including online and to print and put in your staff room, I’ve put together a simplified version of this post right here.
If you want more detail, I really recommend the Mitchell Institute’s report Quality Early Education For All.
The more people think about these issues, and raise their own voices in advocacy, the more likely we will have actual reform that changes Jobs For Families to Learning For ALL Children.