One of biggest opportunities we have to get parents into jobs and give young children the best start to life is to improve the way Australian families experience our early learning system.
The first independent, national report on how families experience early childhood education and care (ECEC) across Australia shows a clear need to improve affordability, flexibility and quality.
The Front Project CEO, Jane Hunt, said the research out today reveals surprising insights while providing a deeper understanding of what ECEC choices and experiences are like for families.
“Families see early learning as vitally important to their lives and understand the multiple benefits that it delivers, but the system could work better for them,” Ms Hunt explained.
“Around 80 per cent of families believe that access to ECEC supports mental health and wellbeing for the whole family – this is on top of supporting children’s learning and development and assisting parents to work.
“However, finding early learning that is the right fit can be stressful. Parents feel like they lack genuine choice after taking into account issues surrounding affordability, available places and alignment with individual family needs.
“Costs are getting in the way of work opportunities for parents – almost 80 per cent say ECEC costs are a barrier to finding or returning to work, working more hours or retraining or studying.
“There is also evidence that ECEC costs are impacting decisions about having more children.”
The findings show that parents widely recognise the value of high quality early learning and think the ECEC workforce is key to ensuring quality. Over 80 per cent of parents agree that ECEC professionals have a significant impact on children’s learning and wellbeing and more than 70 per cent support changing pay and conditions to reflect the importance of this work.
While the report shows clear value for ECEC overall, there is strong agreement that the existing system needs to change. Parents want to see government intervention to improve affordability, ensure appropriate geographic spread and increase availability outside of usual work hours.
Some opportunities for government to improve family experiences include ensuring the market operates effectively, providing new ways to help parents determine quality and taking steps towards two years of preschool.
Ms Hunt said the experiences of families in today’s report must be brought to the centre of any public conversations, operational changes or policy proposals aimed at improving ECEC.
“The experiences of mums, dads, grandparents and carers who rely on early learning on a daily basis need to be closely considered as we continue exploring new ways to optimise our system.”
The full report, Work and Play: Understanding how Australian families experience early childhood education and care is available at www.thefrontproject.org.au/work-and-play-report
The Front Project is an independent national enterprise working to create positive change in Australia’s early childhood education system. www.thefrontproject.org.au
The Front Project engaged Heartward Strategic to undertake research with a nationally-representative sample of almost 1,700 parents of children aged 0–5 in February to March 2021.
The findings reveal strong support for optimising our current ECEC system.
Australian families view early learning as important to their lives, but they want improvements.
- 83 per cent of parents and the broader community value high-quality ECEC and believe that it gives children crucial foundations for school and beyond
- 85 per cent of families agree that the ECEC system needs to change to better support parents to work and/or enable more children to access quality early learning.
- 80 per cent of parents agree that ECEC needs to be more flexible, especially for families who work unusual hours (such as those working in health, emergency services, hospitality or the gig economy).
Parents rely on ECEC for fundamental support to work, but costs get in the way.
- 79 per cent of parents say ECEC costs are a barrier to finding or returning to work, retraining or studying
- 52 per cent of parents agree it’s hardly worth working after factoring in ECEC costs – and nearly half agree that they’ve had to make financial sacrifices or change work arrangements to fit in with the service they could find/afford.
Overall, families want high-quality, flexible and affordable ECEC
- Many parents say they have little genuine choice and affordability is impacting workforce participation.
- Access and affordability factors into parents’ decisions about having children – when they might have children and how many.
- Quality is a key factor when choosing a service, but parents struggled to define it.
Families want to see some government intervention to improve the system
- Qualitative research suggests some parents would like to see government intervention to ensure ECEC is affordable, accessible and high quality.
- From our survey for access and flexibility issues:
- 76 per cent of parents support more types of care attracting the (CCS)
- 65 per cent of parents support lifting the top level of the (CCS).
- 87 per cent of parents support government funding for preschool – at least one year of free or subsidised preschool.
- 72 per cent agree that government should support two years of free or subsidised pre-school.