New report highlights families value early learning but system not meeting their needs

Families in Australia agree that we have a collective responsibility to ensure all young children receive quality care and education, but finding suitable childcare is expensive and sometimes impossible, according to the Front Project’s new flagship research. 

The organisation has launched its Work and Play Report 2023: Understanding families experiences and perceptions of ECEC, which surveyed 1,000 parents and guardians of children aged 0-5 years together with educators and teachers. The report reveals families value early learning and care more than ever before, and is a key enabler to workforce participation, but the system isn’t fully supporting them. 

“These families recognise the valuable impact early learning has on a child’s first years and beyond - we need to go further to ensure all children have access to a quality education,” Jane Hunt, the Front Project’s CEO said.

Just over 60 per cent of surveyed families agreed that the decisions they have made regarding the care and education of their children has come with significant financial sacrifices. An increase from 47 per cent in our 2021 study. 

“Early learning has innumerable benefits in the lives of children, women, families and the economy and is an important way to address the impact of disadvantage.  We must seize the opportunity to make it affordable and accessible for all,” Ms Hunt said.  

The majority of Australian families rely on early education and care. 70 per cent of survey respondents need access to formal, paid early learning and care with 91 per cent saying it makes it easier for people to work or study and 86 per cent saying it makes it easier for women to participate in the workforce.

The current funding system, the Child Care Subsidy, has seen greater investment in recent years. 

“Parents are telling us how the CCS is complex and hard to understand, with a lack of transparency around childcare fees and the big variances in fees between services,” Ms Hunt said. “Their voices must be heard, and action taken to reform the early learning and care system, so it delivers for all children and families, and the sector.” 

Against a backdrop of cost-of-living pressures, parents also reported out-of-pocket childcare expenses are not clear and they are having to make tough decisions about how many days they work balanced against the expense of securing care. Half of respondents said that once they factor in the cost of early learning and care, it is hardly worth them working – this increases to 62% for lower income households earning under $122,000 per annum. Almost half have had to alter their work arrangements to fit in with the care that they can find or afford, while 39 per cent stated they currently aren’t using any form of paid care, largely due to affordability. 

“Rising costs are impacting families who go above and beyond to give their child the best start in life, and it’s evident it has become much harder,” Ms Hunt said. “The Commonwealth Government is on the right track and has initiated important inquiries to set the path for a more inclusive, affordable, equitable and high quality ECEC system. The recent changes to the child caresubsidy have made some impact, but there’s clearly more work to do.

“Government, in the spirit of Medicare, has the opportunity to make big changes to deliver a system of truly universal early learning and care. We urge government to listen to the voices of families and the sector to make the impactful and lasting changes we need."