Kid-farming for fun and profit

So. Childcare.

There was a great comment by Jo on Larvatus Prodeo about the economic history of community-based and for-profit childcare . It’s buried in a long thread, so I thought I’d pull it out here, as it deserves more readers. Scroll down.

We have used two community-based centres (one on-campus, one local community) and one for-profit centre (it changed hands halfway, so does that count as two?), and I have inspected other for-profit centres and been disgusted. I have read screeds of reports and reviews of the different types of childcare centres and the different measures of quality. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind as to which is better for the children and for society.

Centre-based childcare is a fact of life right now, and we need to make it better (at the same time as funding more maternity care, improving access to family daycare, and so on). Any ideas as to how we can get rid of the three-letter profiteer warehousers of this world? Does the Labor party have any interest in starting to reverse the changes the Liberal Party has wrought?

We want to live in a society, not an economy.

Jo writes:

For those that are interested in some background to this debate ( sorry mark for the length!!)

Firstly, it seems incredible that some men in 2007, still equate “childcare’ with teenage babysitters or or indeed, a market failure.

It was the McMahon Govt. who introduced legislation to support not-for-profit childcare centres with recurrent funding in 1972, originally overseen by the Dept of Labour. Due to the amount of women in the workforce back then.

It was Keating who extended subsidies to privately operated centres & it was from this time, that the first lot of “dodgy brothers’ moved in. That is – a centre could apply for funding without oversight of the actual kids attending. I remember talking to an auditor of the scheme back in 1997, who said the rorts were unbelievable, but in his opinion, could have been sorted with more inspections etc.

In 1996, after two reports into the sector ““ Howard chose to do away with direct subsidies and subsidise parent fees.

In answer to BBB’s question up the thread ““ many community based centres which had operated on recurrent funding much like schools, were totally unprepared for this fundamental change ““ at the time, in some areas, there was actually surplus places ““ the mini-baby boom was a few years around the corner (and the economy was still coming out of recession. ie high unemployment) ““ so many closed their doors ““ as did privately operated centres.

For those centres which didn’t close, the rest immediately increased their fees (!!) and started a longish period of transition. This change of funding model, also coincided with enormous changes in the practice of administration across all industries, including the formalisation of workplaces, as a result of the unfair dismissal laws and the farily recent introduction of National Standards in Childcare in “93 (?)

Before going into that ““ it would be good to put the “good stay at home mum” vs “neglectful working mum” argument to bed – for the record – there are tons of women who are “stay at home’ mums who use formal childcare (pre-preschool age) to have a break from their children. They are lucky enough to have the income not to work, if they choose, and pay for some “mummy time” away from the kids. Service Access regs. in relation to the CCB mean that working parents are supposed to have first access, but there is no oversight by Govt in relation to this, and people go in and out of the workforce etc.

It is also the case that not all young children attend Long Day Care five days a week ““ many attend 1 or 2 days a week and for short days (and all variations thereof). Some children are however, in long day care from opening to closing, five days a week, which is very stressful for the children, and their parents. Decent maternity/paternity leave and more friendly workplace policies would go along way to helping this situation.

Childcare is now an essential service ““ if childcare workers went on strike for a week ““ the disruption to the economy would be significant.

Back to BBB’s question:

““ fyi – community based means they are managed by boards of management of volunteers, other not-for-profit centres are run by churches and local councils etc.

The paid coordinators of most childcare centres & OOSH’s (out of school hours centres ““ which are the other biggest community based childcare providers) were nearly always senior childcare workers themselves, and most did not have any background in administration. Parent fees were almost always collected and receipted manually and in cash, and most accounts were on a “cash book’ system with the Hon. Treasurer putting together basic accounts etc.

Within a few short years these are sort of administration changes that all centres had to undertake:

Computers needed to be purchased.

Staff needed to be trained to use a computer, (as mentioned staff had very few administration skills beyond simple recording of cash receipts and writing of cheques etc ““ and many had never used computers in 1996 etc.)

Very user-unfriendly industry based fee and receipting software packages needed to be purchased – which the coordinator and other staff – needed to be trained on.

All parents needed to register with Centrelink and their CCB’s percentage need(ed) to input-ed and updated regularly into the fees package.

Returns to Centrelink needed to be reconciled monthly for the gap funding to be paid in arrears and reconciled against parent accounts (& with casual bookings on the day and absences etc – it’s a job.)

Accounting packages needed to be purchased and all other accounting digitalised and often a bookkeeper employed or contract bookkeeping.

Employment contracts needed to be written for the first time, as did job descriptions etc. (this was happening across the entire economy of course.)

Probation periods needed to be overseen and a formalised complaints system introduced. Other staff recruitment procedures had to be updated including introducing “Working with Children’ checks etc.

Updating of policies around food, OH&S, safety, anti-bias, service access, behaviour management and so on, needed to be developed and implemented by the Boards.

Quality Assurance and Accreditation processes also needed to be developed & managed.

With sometimes yearly turnover of volunteer Board of Management personnel, and dependent on the level of competence of the actual Board members, in conjunction with the paid Coordinators ““ many community centres were unable to successfully manage this transition, and many found it easier to “wind up” operations, in the face of a greatly increased level of “admin expertise expectation’ by both govt and the public.

That there was very little help from the Federal Govt. to help manage this transition isn’t very surprising, as this Govt was not interested in supporting community-based organisations, when corporate childcare operators whose main focus is ENTIRELY administratively based, and centralised, were stepping in and taking over these “apparently failing community centres’.

The intimate involvement of Liberal Party players like Peacock, Kroger, Atkinson, Anthony in the big emerging corporate childcare providers, speaks volumes.

There was even a small pool of money earmarked for “consultants” provided in the 1996 legislation which was supposed to help in this transition.

But while all these administration changes were being introduced ““ the actual business of childcare ““ the programming, playing, feeding, resting, and providing a nurturing, caring, safe place carried on exactly as before.

And non-profit centres, whose focus has always been on providing the best quality care, were then, and still are preferred by parents – who immediately, and instinctively recognise the differences between a centre run for profit, in contrast to those whose entire mission is to provide quality care.

There is no doubt that many small private owner-operated centres also provide(d) high levels of care, but for the record – private childcare operators resisted the introduction of National Standards in the early 90’s ““ these were the standards which took “childcare’ out of “amateur child-minding’ into professional qualified staffing & staff ratios, parent involvement, programming, safety, etc.

Long Day Care, OOSHs, and Family Day Care are regulated by State Governments, I used to remember the NSW Regs. off the top off my head, but will go and refresh in relation to ratios/qualified staff.

btw. Long Day Care Centres must provide a “pre-school’ program for 4 year olds & up.

On a personal note – from long experience on Boards of Management of community based centres and Out of School Hours (OOSH) centres – the greatest satisfaction besides implementing all the above changes, was and still is, using the surpluses from a well managed centre to pay for extra staff, paying higher wages across the board, spending more on food & resources and on capital works.

Categories: culture wars, economics, gender & feminism, Politics, relationships, work and family

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12 replies

  1. Thanks for reposting this. I haven’t kept up all the way through this thread, so I missed this.

    We want to live in a society, not an economy.

    Damn right. The minor parties seem to understand, but when will the major political parties properly acknowledge this?

  2. We are extremely lucky with our local childcare which is run by a large three letter corporation. It was originally a private centre which was sold on, but the staff have essentially stayed the same, so we still have lovely staff who love the kids. Some places aren’t so lucky.

  3. We want to live in a society, not an economy.
    We live in a society and an economy: ‘society’ and ‘economy’ are not mutually exclusive concepts.

  4. We live in a society and an economy: ‘society’ and “economy’ are not mutually exclusive concepts.

    Well, that changes everything. I eagerly await your next generously-dispensed fragment of genius logic.

  5. ’society’ and “economy’ are not mutually exclusive concepts.

    TimT, this is true. However, most people, if pressed, would say that society is more important than the economy in the long run. The problem is that politics has become all about spinning the economy, and hardly ever about addressing society.
    The balance is wrong.

  6. TimT, this is true. However, most people, if pressed, would say that society is more important than the economy in the long run.
    They would be wrong about that, too – it’s drawing a false distinction. An economy just is a fact of the world. Whenever we make exchanges they fall into the category of ‘economic’, and people will always make exchanges.
    I’m being pedantic about it just because I think it’s the habit of speaking in simple but misleading slogans and catchphrases that leads to sloppy thinking. But it’s a minor point and I’ll stop now!

  7. I’m being pedantic about it just because I think it’s the habit of speaking in simple but misleading slogans and catchphrases that leads to sloppy thinking.

    Catchphrases are necessarily short, and don’t contain every nuance and explanatory note and disclaimer. We don’t speak in semantic/logical notation, we speak in language. I’m pretty sure everyone who has read that line understands what it means and what is intended by it, so I don’t think we have a failure to communicate here.
    Tim, there’s a lot more to this post than that one-line summary. Do you find anything else in it sloppy, or persuasive, or …?

  8. it is fundamentally unclear what that sentence means because at its most basic level it is grammatically and logically wrong.

    It is neither. But thanks for coming. I’m glad you got something from the rest of the post.

  9. On the LP thread one got the distinct impression that at least one person thought that society exists to make the economy run and as a corollary that society can be legitimately viewed through the lens of economic theory without reference to any other viewpoints. I put that down (partly) to enthusiastic engagement with his chosen field of study and(probably)extreme youth.
    I am quite comfortable with your statement, Lauredhel and don’t see why TimT needs to point out the bleedingly obvious.

  10. It’s worth pointing out, Su, because the endless use of political cliches about society and the economy (of which I can think of several offhand) are examples of the ease with which poor thinking, poor logic, and poor communication can have a bad influence on public discourse, and therefore, on public policy.
    I’m sorry if I came over as petty and rude.

  11. I was commenting on the sentence itself, not the post as a whole. And no, it is fundamentally unclear what that sentence means because at its most basic level it is grammatically and logically wrong.

    The rest of the post is Interesting and Informative. Thank you.

  12. I think a large part of the vocabulary problem surrounds the way that a society’s economy, which technically refers to any market mechanisms for the exchange of goods and services, has come to be used in political debate solely in terms of profit-making and wealth creation as measures of a “heathy economy” i.e. the corporate capitalist economy. Where’s the balance? What about gifting and bartering economies, which have always existed and are experiencing rather a resurgence using the internet? What about all the economic mechanisms which emphrasise reciprocity?

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