ECEC centre offers “lovebird package” to families with night-time “babysitting”

The lovebirds special, which costs $95 and operates from 5pm to midnight at the NSW Academy of Early Learning in Casula, says an added bonus is that it is eligible for government rebates.

Owners Antony and Marc Elazzi said late-night care was much cheaper than hiring a babysitter.

“We believe that night care is the way of the future for the childcare industry,” Antony Elazzi said.

“We have created such a complicated world, where people have to work at night. The industry can provide a safe environment for children to stay which is regulated by the government, so that parents can work at night.”

Laura Speranza, Daily Telegraph (24/3/2013)

Well. It’s hard to know where to begin with this one.

This is where the for-profit chains, operators and advocates want to see the sector heading. This is “the future of the childcare industry”, according to Mr. Elazzi.

It’s a continuation of a trend that views ECEC as service for families, not as a right for children. The audacity of this proposal is shocking, and will of course be popular with some families. There will be no doubt some in the sector, perhaps even some of my own colleagues, who view this as a reasonable thing to do for some families.

But it needs to be completely clear that the view of ECEC as a learning and social right for children is completely incompatible with the view that “childcare” is a service for working families that can be twisted into any form that suits.

This is where the flexibility trials announced by Government will inevitably head, make no mistake. Any move to flexibility plays into the hands of profiteering private operators and fundamentally disadvantages children.

Advocates for children and for early learning and education in ECEC need to unite and take a stand on these kinds of issues. With 70% of the sector in the hands of private operators, this is an uphill battle – and we are losing.

Supporting working families and providing options for families is not the issue here. This needs to be worked through with a range of social and workforce policy measures – relying on ECEC to be all things to all families will be the end of any quality reforms we have started.

As for the educators of NSW Academy of Early Learning, any of them who have read this article must be thrilled to know their owners have such respect for them that they are being used as an option “cheaper than babysitting.”

What a lucky team.

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Government announces new trials for extended ECEC hours

The Gillard government will today announce new national trials that will include family day care options in the home for parents who do not work standard 9-5 office hours as well as the extended childcare centre hours.

The national experiment will cost $5 million and seek to answer not only whether extended hours are viable for centres but also track whether they reduce the stress levels of families.

Samantha Maiden, Sunday Mail (16/3/2013)

In an election year, “trials” of this kind were an inevitability. It is no doubt a tricky issue – casualisation of the workforce and issues for shift-workers have always been around. While I am in principle supportive of measures to deal with those issues, I am wary of any measures to extend hours for early childhood education and care centres.

As I have written before, turning ECEC into a 24/7 convenience destroys any chance of the sector being viewed as fundamentally an education sector, and as right to children. Instead, it will remain a workforce participation measure and a right for families.

This is fundamentally inequitable for children, and raises substantial questions around how seriously Australia takes the wellbeing and educational rights of children.

Early childhood education is not just about families

The Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Minister for Childcare and Early Childhood Learning Sussan Ley this weekannounced the terms of reference for a Productivity Commission inquiry into Australia’s early education and care sector.

As expected, the focus is entirely on affordability, flexibility and workforce participation. In the two-page document, there is one reference to early learning outcomes for the 992,520 identified children in an early education and care centre.

I’m not exactly sure why the Shadow Minister bothers to have “Early Childhood Learning” in her title, as it is clearly of little or no interest to her or the Coalition.

The Coalition is barking up the same tree that governments (including the current Labor Government) have continued to bark up for the entire history of the sector.

“What is the impact on families? What is the impact on the economy? What is the impact on workforce participation?”

With nearly one million children accessing early education and care, we should ask a seemingly obvious question: what is the impact on children?

The Labor Government has at least put forward a National Quality Agenda to provide a focus of educational outcomes for children. But without addressing the structural problems of the sector, these will struggle to be anything more than token gestures.

Both sides of politics have failed to reach for an early education vision beyond fees, waiting lists and productivity.

The Coalition would roll back regulations at the first opportunity, creating the environment for more disturbing incidents in services, such as a case of alleged torturein Queensland.

The Labor Government failed to take the opportunity presented by the collapse of ABCLearning in 2008 to fundamentally repudiate the for-profit model of providing education and care to young children and take overall responsibility for the sector.

Research from around the world has repeatedly proven the importance of giving children access to quality, play-based learning and educational experiences in the first five years of their life — and not just 15 to 20 hours of preschool a week. Over 90 per cent of a child’s brain is developed in the first five years, before they even set foot in a school. If the Prime Minister is serious in her challenge of placing Australia’s education system being in the world’s top five, early education cannot continue to be ignored.

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children has also revealed the exponential benefits of early learning in educational and social outcomes in later life. The investment we make in early intervention and equity for all children right at their start of their lives can be repaid many, many times over in their futures.

And yet as a community, we cannot make up our minds about what we want the sector to be.

Early learning advocates have a vision for the sector as a free-to-access, universal model that can be accessed by all children in our community. The possibilities of lifting children out of inequality and vulnerability are limitless.

The other side is those entirely see the sector as just “care”, essentially organised babysitting. This view is one of individualism, that the education and care of children is the responsibility of the child’s parents. In this model, centres can be all-but-unregulated, no qualifications are required and private operators can make as much money as they want.

This is the choice that Australia, as a community, needs to make. It cannot work both ways, but the Labor Government is currently attempting to do both.

Labor speaks of educational outcomes and quality environments for children, but will not undertake the sweeping structural reforms necessary to actually achieve that. Simply adding new requirements on to already strained, underpaid and undervalued early childhood teachers and educators simply will not work.

With the released terms of reference for their planned inquiry, the Coalition is clearly signaling that they have no interest in early education and are purely focused on the short-term economic and political goals.

So much for the nearly one million children in an early education and care service today.

The early childhood education and care sector in Australia is being pulled in two vastly different directions right now, and it cannot continue. A simple choice needs to be made.

Remove all educational requirements from the sector, and just be basic “childcare”. No qualifications required, limited regulation, minimum-wage for the workers and available only to those who can afford the fees.

Or, reform the entire sector so that educational, learning and social outcomes can be effectively set and met. This would require a large investment, but the benefits are far beyond that initial investment. The Government is already committing large amounts of money to the sector, but indirectly (through rebates to families) in a way that gives them no control over where the sector is heading.

Individuals will always complain about their taxes going to things they don’t like, but the community as whole benefits when we support individuals to achieve their potential.

Both sides of politics need to lay their cards on the table. Trying to do both will not work.

But it must address the question that no-one wants to answer in these inquiries. What is in the best interests of the nearly one million children that this will affect?

This article was originally published on the New Matilda website.

24/7 ECEC: Would you like an education with that?

Recent media reports have talked up the possibility of early learning centres remaining open late at night and on weekends to accommodate the needs of families, particularly those with shift-working parents.

As an educator, I instinctually find the idea of expanding operating hours problematic. We have fought long and hard to begin to be recognised as professional educators, not babysitters. That battle isn’t even over yet.

The Federal Government has been instrumental in changing viewpoints on the professionalism of the sector. We are referred to as “educators” in the new regulatory documents and learning frameworks. Spokespeople for the Government even remember to call us that rather than “workers” or “carers”. Most of the time.

To expand the sector to operate until late at night, and 7 days a week, would be a step back for that recognition.

It would entrench the view in society that we are purely a service for working families, with no educational role to play for children. Just like McDonalds is there to service your need for a Big Mac at 3am, early learning centres will become a service industry with a focus of care, not education.

Of course I am not in the position of working shifts, and nor is my wife, so we do not face the issues that those families face. Options for shift-worker families need to be explored, but I am convinced that simply expanding the ECEC sector is a bad idea.

Why don’t we expand school hours for shift-workers? Because as a society we have accepted limitations on what is offered. If the Government is serious about seeing ECEC as an educational environment for young children, and advocating that with Australian families, they also need to accept those limits.

A lot questions about an expansion would need to be answered, and hopefully they will be worked through in any future trials. My first few questions are:

  1. How will extra hours be regulated? Will centres still be under the NQF and the EYLF from 6pm – midnight, when children are asleep? Will there need to be an Early Childhood Teacher there? Or will the sector be split between regular hours (7.30am-6.00pm) and outside hours?
  2. Is this in best interests of children? How do children fit into any expansion of the sector? Is it beneficial to children to be in an ECEC centre at 11.00 at night?
  3. How will educators be paid? Will educators receive penalty rates for work after 6pm, or before 7pm? On weekends? If yes, how is this equitable with educators who work during the day?

There are undoubtedly many more. What are your questions?

This article was originally published on the Big Steps website.