Donating to ASRC in May and June

45 children still remain in some form of detention on Nauru and on mainland Australia. What we have done to these children will haunt them for the remainder of their lives.

I am not one of those courageous few who devote their every day to changing those facts. People in organisations like Save the Children, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and others.

I work in early childhood, and I write. I’m incredibly privileged and fortunate in every area of my life. I have no idea if my writing can help, but I would like to make a small gesture – even if a gesture is all it will be.

Continue reading “Donating to ASRC in May and June”

The importance of relationships

The way we think about early childhood education has changed a lot in a relatively short space of time. It’s amazing to remember that across Australia, guaranteed access to preschool education in the year before school is a very recent initiative. The Universal Access commitment from all Australian Governments (Federal, State and Territory) was only agreed in 2009. For a long time, education was something that only happened once children started formal primary education.

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The loss of the PSCs will make for a less inclusive sector

From July, the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector will face some significant changes to the way support to improve quality approaches is provided. The Federal Government will cease funding Professional Support Coordinators (PSCs) in each State and Territory, while Inclusion Support Providers (ISPs) will continue with an expanded funding framework.

Additional funding to support inclusion issues is of course very welcome. The current Inclusion Support system has been underfunded for many years, particularly in the funding able to be provided to services to be able to raise the educator:child ratio to support inclusive practice. But what will this additional funding achieve, and is it worth the loss of the PSCs?

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Senate Report reveals sector is taking a huge gamble supporting the Jobs for Families Package

The partisan report from the Senate Committee hearings into the Jobs for Families Package clearly articulate the Government’s view of ECEC as parent welfare, not education for children.

After consultations, public hearings and duelling economic modelling at ten paces, the long-awaited Senate report into the Jobs for Families has been released. Predictably, the Government-majority Committee has recommended the Senate pass the package as it currently stands. Labor and the Greens delivered dissenting reports.

For advocates in the sector with a focus on children (not workforce participation with a side order of children’s rights), it’s a tough read.

Continue reading “Senate Report reveals sector is taking a huge gamble supporting the Jobs for Families Package”

Indigenous children’s access to ECE slashed by Government reform package

New report reveals impact of Government’s reform package on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services

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A report from Deloitte Access Economics for SNAICC released today revealed the concerning impact of the Federal Government’s “Jobs for Families” package for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families.

From ABC News Online:

The Deloitte research shows 40 per cent of families using the BBF services would receive fewer hours of subsidised care.

It also shows 54 per cent of families using BBF services would have higher out-of-pocket costs and the biggest impact would be felt by families earning less than $65,000.

Two-thirds of service providers would also receive less government funding.

Hilariously, the Federal Government has claimed the report is inaccurate and fails to take into account other elements of their reform package – despite the fact that the Government has consistently failed to reveal huge amounts of actual information the proposed reforms, both through the Regulatory Impact Statement process and in the proposed legislation currently before the Senate.

The Child Care Subsidy is only vaguely described, how it can be applied for and received is basically unknown, and how children and their families’ situations will be monitored on an ongoing basis is not described.

The economic benefits of the Jobs for Families package are dubious at best. The impact on children and families at-risk and experiencing vulnerability is crystal clear. The argument that this package is “OK with a few amendments” is becoming increasingly difficult to swallow.

A numbers game

Many have come out strongly against the Federal Government’s proposed reforms to early childhood education and care, primarily due to significant concerns on how the proposed Activity Test will affect the right of children to access early education.

It’s been a tricky fight for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones was the complete lack of data and numbers around the number of children and families likely to be affected.

We’re getting somewhere now, after Education Department deputy secretary Jackie Wilson appeared before Senate Estimates on Wednesday night.

Judith Ireland from Fairfax covered the numbers revealed in that appearance:

About 45,000 families will be worse off under the Coalition’s childcare reforms because they pay childcare fees that are higher than the upper limits of the government’s new subsidy rate.

A Senate committee also heard on Wednesday night that a further 37,000 families would be worse off because they did not work enough hours according to the new “activity test”.

This breakdown comes after the government published modelling late last month that showed overall, about 184,000 families would lose support in the new childcare package that starts in July 2017, while more than 815,000 will be better off.

Not insignificant numbers. It’s becoming indefensible for anyone with the interests of children of their families to advocate for this package – even with amendments – to be passed.

Even with the information revealed in Estimates, huge question marks still remain over the nature of the Government’s much-spruiked by un-detailed new safety net.

Hopefully we’ll learn more over the next few weeks.

Goodstart response to Saturday’s blog post

A departure from the norm for this blog, but after Saturday’s post on Goodstart Early Learning’s release of a commissioned report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on the Government’s ECEC reform package, Goodstart contacted me via email. They have asked if the response can be posted on my site, which I am happy to do.

Goodstart’s response in full can be found at the end of this post. I encourage readers to read it, before returning back up here for my quick thoughts.

I actually have had the opportunity to read Goodstart’s submission to the Senate Inquiry, along with every other publicly accessible submission. As with the PwC report, it was not easy to find as (at the time of posting) it is not included on Goodstart’s media or publications page, but is linked to through this blog post.

Goodstart makes some good points (echoed by the rest of the sector) in both their submission and in their response to me below. It’s important to note that my post was not about their submission or surrounding documents though – it was about the specific report commissioned, how Goodstart used that report and how the Federal Government used that report.

Goodstart’s report, and subsequent media release, was quoted in Parliament. By the Prime Minister. To encourage the passing of this package by the Senate.

Goodstart’s submission to the Senate inquiry was not. This is why I posted on Saturday.

The key points that I raised in that post, which are not discussed in Goodstart’s response, are:

  1. Why did Goodstart commission the report at all?
  2. Why did the report not take into account the Activity Test and subsidy cap, both of which will have significant impacts on children, families and any potential effect on workforce participation?
  3. Why did Goodstart’s media efforts following on from the report entirely focus on workforce and economic outcomes, with no reference to the effect on children?

Given Goodstart’s position as Australia’s largest provider of early childhood education and care (or “childcare”, as it is repeatedly referred to across Goodstart’s website and public statements), these are questions that are worth raising and discussing.

It is disappointing that Goodstart believes that with amendments (which are described as “minor amendments” on their media page), this Bill should be passed. I disagree. Major amendments will not save this Bill. The Bill is poor policy. It is regressive in terms of positioning the sector as early education, and splits children into those deemed “worthy” of accessing education (by virtue of being in a “working family”) and those who are not.

Many in the sector more articulate than me agree.

I cannot change or influence Goodstart’s approach to advocacy – and as an organisation they are entitled to view the Government’s reform package in any way they see fit. But I will stand by my view that, in my personal opinion, Goodstart (as Australia’s largest ECEC provider) has an obligation to champion the voice of children and their right to access education regardless of the circumstances of their families. Not sometimes, but all the time. Not for some, but for all.

Dear Liam

I am emailing you regarding your blog post from February 6.

I am sorry you didn’t have the benefit of reading Goodstart’s detailed submission to the Senate Inquiry on the Government’s ‘Jobs for Families’ childcare package – or the media release we sent out explaining our position. Both are available here on our website along with a quick summary of our position about the strengths and weaknesses of the Government’s approach.

Goodstart Early Learning has made a strong commitment to advocacy on behalf of the 60,000 families whose children we care for across the nation. We’ve spent many months working hard to argue for more funding, better access and greater equity through the Productivity Commission process and direct to the Government since it announced its response to the Commission’s recommendations.

As our submissions, evidence to inquiries and media releases on the issue make clear, there’s no question that the vast majority of Australian working families will be better off if the Government injects more money into subsidies.

There’s also no question that the current draft legislation needs to be improved to do more for disadvantaged children [emphasis is Goodstart’s – Liam].

Goodstart lodged its submission to the Senate Committee on Monday February 4 and we issued the media release that same afternoon. Like many in the sector we believe the package needs amendment to ensure disadvantaged children receive at least two days of early learning each week – no matter what their parents do.

We don’t believe there is a conflict in lobbying the Government to do more for children from low income households while also welcoming changes which will make early learning more affordable for the majority of working households in Australia.

As you noted in your blog post, late last week Goodstart also released independent modelling from PwC which demonstrates the Government’s claims that the changes will be good for two-income families were well founded. Importantly there will be strong economic benefits for the nation when more women return to work as a result of early learning being more affordable.

We are urging the Senate to pass the bill, with amendments to ensure disadvantaged children receive at least 15 hours of early learning each week [emphasis is Goodstart’s – Liam].

Liam we hope you will be able to correct the record with your readership by posting this email or at the very least the links to our submission and media release.

Kind regards

Wendy George
Campaign Manager, Goodstart Early Learning

This is what advocacy looks like

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I’ve written before about the failings of advocacy in Australia’s early childhood education sector. We’re too fragmented, our voices aren’t loud enough, and our actions don’t back our rhetoric.

With that context in mind, it has been nothing short of incredible to watch the actions of the doctors, nurses and support staff of Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) over the past few days. Their visible, clear and brave advocacy on an issue so important as the health and wellbeing of vulnerable children is inspirational.

For anyone not following the news, the staff at RCH have publicly stated that children from immigration detention facilities being treated in the hospital will not be returned to those facilities. This a powerful act of advocacy from a traditionally conservative group – and could even be in breach of the Government’s insidious “Border Force Act”, which in effect criminalises health workers speaking out about the treatment of people in immigration detention.

“We see a whole range of physical, mental, emotional and social disturbances that are really severe and we have no hope of improving these things when we have to discharge our patients back into detention,” one paediatrician told News Corp.

The outlet reported that it understood the issue was sparked by a month-long standoff between doctors and authorities over the release of a child with a range of health issues this year.

Staff have also been outraged at immigration guards placed at the entrances of some patients’ rooms for 24 hours a day.

This is a courageous stand, and should be supported. This is an opportunity for the early childhood sector to add its own voice to this issue.

I’m proud to be an employee of an organisation that today released a public statement of support for the RCH staff, and called for an end to children in detention. I’d be very grateful if you would read and share that statement.

I wonder how many other organisations that work with young children will follow suit. If you’re in a position to, ask your organisation to do so. Please send any links to me, I’d love to share them out.

Children’s Week launches in two weeks time. The theme is “Children’s Rights are Human Rights”. Wouldn’t it be amazing if instead the usual “dress-up days” and “teddy bears picnics”, we saw leading early childhood organisations stand together and show their support.

What is our collective responsibility for children?

As Early Childhood educators and teachers, what is our collective responsibility for children? Australian children? Children born overseas? What about children locked in Australian-run immigration detention facilities on Nauru and Manus Island?

The Guardian reports today that Transfield, the company that has overseen shocking abuses of human rights in those facilities, is the Government’s “preferred tenderer” to oversee operations on Nauru and Manus for another five years.

It’s worth considering exactly what Transfield’s record has been, thanks to Ben Doherty in the Guardian:

Thirty-three asylum seekers on Nauru have alleged rape or sexual assault and a further five say they have been asked for sexual favours in return for contraband. Some of those allegations have been made against Transfield staff.

Transfield subcontractors, in particular Wilson Security, have been accused of a series of abuses, including handcuffing childrenspying on a senator when she visited the island on an official trip, assaulting asylum seekers who were handcuffed, and running a secretive solitary confinement facility on Manus.

The idea of Transfield continuing in its role in these facilities is monstrous. But for the children in these camps, it could be even worse.

Guardian Australia understands the announcement from the government means that Save the Children, which was providing welfare services for children and families on Nauru, will no longer operate on the island. That role will be taken over by Transfield.

There is plenty of evidence that Australia’s immigration detention facilities are abusing children. The idea that the “welfare services” currently operated by Save the Children will be handled by Transfield is chilling. This would be a catastrophic outcome for children.

The Government has worked this year to strip away rights for those imprisoned in this facilities, including provisions that would make it illegal to report instances of child harm within them. Replacing Save the Children with Transfield would entrench the secrecy and lack of accountability of these practices.

Putting it mildly, those of us who work in the ECEC sector are not the first to put their hands up when it comes to political battles. We’re staring down the barrel of a terrible Government reform package (for the details of which I direct you to the incredible writer Lisa Bryant), and even this has barely caused a titter in the sector.

But our roles are directly tied to the ongoing wellbeing of children. We should be Australian children’s first line of defence. When atrocities such as those on Nauru and Manus are allowed to continue, we should be the first to stand and say “not on our watch”.

It can be difficult to know where to start – and what to do. But there’s a couple of small things you can do soon.

The Abbott Government is playing the community off against itself on the right to childcare

The Productivity Commission is due to hand down its draft report into the Childcare and Early Learning sector this month. As the deadline approaches, we are finally beginning to see indications of policy approach from the Federal Government in this area.

The Coalition spent most of its time in Opposition, and so far all of its time in Government, blasting the ALP for inefficient management of the childcare sector. “Costs have skyrocketed”, they’ve declared; “educators are drowning in red tape”, they’ve proclaimed.

Over the last week a new angle has become clearer. The ALP’s mismanagement has left the system open to rorters and fraudsters. Decent, hard-working families are being denied places at their local childcare centre as the service is full-to-the-brim with the children of “stay-at-home-Mums”.

So determined to drag childcare into the Government’s overall narrative of “lifters versus leaners”, the Government has even started to demonise the very “stay-at-home-Mums” that during the Howard years were feted and showered with election-eve spending at the slightest hint of a poll drop.

The Government has been determined to reframe a difficult post-Budget period into a classic “us against them” battle, and it was inevitable that the complex and difficult issues around quality, affordability and accessibility of childcare would similarly be split.

Let’s get the obvious retorts out the way first. The Government has provided no data, statistics or numbers on any of the claims it has made. None at all. It has merely presented these issues as facts, and expected people to respond to them as such.

There are already clear, priority-of-access guidelines in place for all long day care services which clearly prioritise working families. If the Department of Education has specific evidence that specific services are flouting these guidelines, in breach of their operational commitments, then they can be followed up.

The Government has also alleged widespread rorting of a subsidy for parents who are studying (Commonwealth Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance or JETCCFA scheme), and has again directly implicated service providers. Apparently “some” parents are over-claiming this subsidy, and “increasing number” of services are claiming for services not provided and “a number” of services are overcharging to claim more of the subsidy.

It might be hard to pick through the dense layer of hard data and statistics quoted above from the Assistant Minister for Education’s press release, but it’s hard to actually tell how much of a problem this is from the information provided.

It’s the same story with the bludging parents taking up all the childcare places. The Assistant Minister has provided no evidence or data on the amount or increase of this problem. “It’s a very frustrating thing when you can’t get a place and you are a working parent and others who are not already have a place,’’ said the Minister – and she is undoubtedly right.

But the problem is that the Government are not proposing anything that will actually resolve these issues.

What the Government is doing is finally giving us an indication of what their policy approach to childcare will be.

A Productivity Commission into the sector was the right call, and should actually have been carried out some time ago. Childcare and early learning is an entirely different sector now than it was in the 1990s.

But the Commission has been critically held back from actually proposing the reforms that are desperately needed. The terms of reference provided to the Commission by the Treasurer Joe Hockey explicitly state that no further budget funds will be provided to childcare overall, despite investment in early childhood education being internationally recognised as best practice.

Given that restraint, the Commission will not be able to propose any policy changes that will actually fix the chronic underfunding and fragmentation of the childcare sector.

It is in that context that the Government’s framing of the debate becomes clearer. Despite the irrefutable evidence that access to high quality childcare has a hugely positive benefit not just to children and families but society as a whole, the Government will be making it harder for some children to access childcare.

For children’s advocates, every child has the right to access a high quality childcare service.

But rather than invest, repair and expand the sector to meet the needs of the modern Australian community, the Abbott Government will seek to play the community off against itself on which families and children have the right to access a service.