Feds rank and rate childcare sector

By Paul Hemsley and Julian Bajkowski

The Federal government has increased pressure on the states, local government and private operators to boost the quality of childcare by launching a comparison website modeled on the highly controversial ‘MySchool’ portal that allows parents to rank facilities.

Known as ‘MyChild’ the portal will be available later in 2013 and was officially launched by Federal Minister for Early Childhood and Child Care, Kate Ellis, as a resource for parents to assess the ratings of local child care centres as part of the new National Quality Framework (NQF).

The NQF is an initiative that all Australian governments agreed to in 2009, and aims to lift the quality of early childhood education through a national legislative framework, a national quality standard, an assessment and rating system and a regulatory authority in each state and territory.

The NQF will be implemented gradually until 2020 to give services enough time to adjust to the new requirements.

The federal government also created Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) through the NQF, which is a national body responsible for overseeing the new system.

The federal intervention in the early childhood sector followed the collapse of publicly listed company ABC Learning in 2008, which was headed by flamboyant young entrepreneur Eddy Groves.

Following the collapse, the government and public sector child providers were forced to take over the functions of many ABC Learning facilities in order to prevent a nationwide collapse in childcare capacity.

Questions over the standard of educational quality of care at ABC Learning’s facilities was persistent problem for the company, with many child care experts cautioning that it was just not possible to deliver quality in early childhood learning on the notoriously low wages that carers were paid.

A key element of the debate over allowing highly aggressive, aggregation driven business models like ABC Learning to dominate the childcare market was how standards of care should be developed and enforced across different states, with a national standard finally agreed upon.

The MyChild website will now individually assess each child care centre across Australia by publishing their “progress towards meeting the new national standards”.

As a result, parents will be able to see information about “educator to child ratios” and “higher educator qualifications”.

Ms Ellis said the government is lifting the standard of child care across Australia because parents “deserve peace of mind” that their children get “quality care to the highest standard” at child care centres.

“We recognise the first years of a child’s life is crucial to their development – that’s why governments of all political persuasions signed up to the reforms to lift the standard of child care across Australia,” Ms Ellis said.

She said the “crucial” development of a child’s first years is also why the Australian government increased the Child Care Rebate from 30 per cent [as it was under the Coalition] to 50 per cent and to a cap of $7,500.

“In its first year, the NQF is already providing children with better care, more highly qualified educators, and more one-on-one time with their educator,” Ms Ellis said.

She said more than 1.3 million Australian children are now receiving better quality child care in centres across Australia.

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