Page 1374 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 9 April 2013

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MR RATTENBURY (4.02): I am pleased to be able to speak on this issue today. Indeed, investment in early education and child care is a very important issue for families of young children here in the ACT. Securing access to affordable child care has long been a major issue for many parents and my understanding is that the challenge continues. Waiting lists for child care and early education continue to be significant and families and carers still find themselves under pressure juggling care arrangements with work commitments.

There may also be other reasons why a family may seek child care, such as personal illness or changed care arrangements like kinship foster care. Individual circumstances, the imperative of coordinating family life, taking into account a child’s special needs or changes in family circumstances, such as a new workplace for a parent or carer, can put additional pressures on the requirement for child care. It is not easy in the ACT to change days of care or location of care and families can feel additional pressure if the care that is available is not suitable for their child or children.

The Greens believe that all Australian families are entitled to access high quality, affordable child care when they need it. We understand how important it is for families, especially as they plan a return to work, to feel reassured not just that their children will be well cared for in a supportive environment but also that this is integrated with high quality educational programs.

The Greens believe it is important to enhance the availability of a mix of adequate and affordable high quality childcare services for ACT families through initiatives to support social inclusion and culturally appropriate care. We have also strongly advocated for improvements to conditions, remuneration, training and career opportunities for childcare workers as we know that this not only values the important role childcare workers play but also means we can deliver better quality child care.

The years between zero and five are precious ones. Whoever we entrust our children to, they are impacting on our children’s social, cognitive, physical and emotional development at a crucial stage of their lives, where new skills are being acquired at a rapid rate and patterns for future life are being laid down. Research into brain development and early childhood psychology has clearly highlighted this. As such, there is a clear imperative that child care and early education teaching must be evidence based. This is something that I believe the sector takes seriously.

Child care is expensive and there is no getting around that. It can impact heavily on a family budget, particularly low income families. We ask that the ACT government continue to work with their federal colleagues to seek relief for these parents. We do know, however, that most parents value improvements to services and do not begrudge small increases in cost that might have come about as a result of changes that have occurred in the last two years—standardised qualifications for professionals in the sector and increases in the number of childcare professionals for each child, and ensuring children have better access to qualified professionals. Improved staffing began in 2012 with a certificate III qualification becoming the entry level required for the profession by 2014. Of course, the ACT had already commenced introduction of the new requirements so the transition was easier than for other jurisdictions.

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