Can the Productivity Commission review commissioned by the Abbott government recognise the possible failure of the market-model funding of many early childhood services?
This rather broad term now covers services that offer mixes of education and non-family care for children below school age. The core services are roughly divided into those offering long daycare and activities for children and those offering preschool education to meet children's developmental needs.
This is a crude divide based on history and funding. It is not driven by the realities that all services for small children, when parents are not there, should deliver both social learning/developmental activities and safe, enjoyable alternative care.
What should be done
The public inquiry is receiving initial submissions until February 3. These are my recommendations:
- Reintroduce contractual funding links between the federal government and service providers that cover what services are to be offered, fees, hours etc.
- Recognise that services do more than care for children to enhance women's workforce participation, or prepare them for school, so ensure diverse funding.
- Engage parents and communities in the design and provision of a range of services to families and children that are flexible and affordable.
- Create links between early childhood services, other community services and parents to recreate the community networks children and their families need.
These recommendations are drawn from my long-term involvement in this area as a user, advocate, adviser, bureaucrat and researcher. I have been engaged in its political processes since 1972 when the Commonwealth became seriously involved in funding these services.