ACT News

Childcare in the ACT is expensive and underqualified, says new report

Canberrans paid the highest costs in the country for long-day childcare last year while the staff caring for children were the least qualified.

According to the latest findings from the Productivity Commission's Report on Government Services 2016, Canberra families paid an average of $493 a week for long-day care in 2015, compared with a national average of $400.

Queensland families paid an average of just $363 while the second-most expensive rate was in NSW at $425 a week – still $3536 a year cheaper than the ACT.

Childcare costs have been escalating nationally, with the median weekly cost for 50 hours of government-approved long-day care increasing in real terms to $400 in 2015 from $381 in 2014 and $310 in 2010.

While ACT families paid more than 20 per cent above the average costs, the report found that the ACT had the lowest proportion of qualified staff.

Just 50.6 per cent of primary contact staff employed by approved childcare providers had the relevant national qualifications at or above Certificate III in 2015.

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This is substantially lower than the national average of 74.1 per cent of staff reaching minimum standard, including 79.8 per cent of Victorian staff, 76.5 per cent of Queensland staff and 75.4 per cent of Tasmania staff.

Moreover, less than half of all ACT childcare centres actually met the National Quality Standard at June 20 2015 – at 46.9 per cent. This compared with a national average of 66.5 per cent.

The ACT also had the highest rate of hospital attendances for children 0-4 as a result of injuries occurring in formal care at 5.2 per cent, compared with a national average of 2.6 per cent. The next highest rate was 3.1 per cent in Queensland.

The Productivity Commission urged that the hospital data be interpreted with caution.

"Hospital separations for external causes of injury is defined as the number of hospital separations for children aged 0-4 years resulting from an external cause of injury occurring in 'school' as a proportion of total hospital separations for children aged 0-4 years resulting from an external cause of injury."

For children aged 0-4 years, 'school' incorporates a range of formal early childcare and education settings including kindergarten, preschool and centre-based childcare services.

The measure is assessed by government has an indicator of state and territory performance towards achieving the objective of providing the care, educational and developmental needs of children in a safe and nurturing environment.

The largest proportion of serious injuries were reported as occurring at home, at 34 per cent nationally, with falls being the most common reasons for hospital admittance.

Total government expenditure on childcare in the ACT meanwhile, was among the highest in the country, with recurrent expenditure on early childhood education and care coming in at $2851 for every Canberra child compared with $2188 nationally. The highest spending was in the Northern Territory at $2862 a child.

Total out-of-pocket expenses were highest in the ACT too, with parents having to pay the highest proportion of their disposable weekly income for childcare – at 13.8 per cent – for 50 hours of care. This compares with a national average of 10.4 per cent for families with a gross annual income of $75,000.

In some good news for the ACT, the territory continued to have the highest school participation rates in the country as well as the best retention rates.

The proportion of all children aged between 6-15 enrolled in school in 2014 was 110.7 per cent in the ACT, reflecting its status as an education city which drew enrolments from interstate. Victoria had the next highest participation rate at 101.2 per cent, while the Northern Territory had the lowest rate at 95.3 per cent.

When it came to apparent retention rates for years 11-12, the ACT was also well ahead of the rest of the country, retaining 107.6 per cent of its college students compared with a national average of 78.6.

The ACT also performed well above average with Indigenous year 12 retention rates – at 85.3 per cent compared with 56.8 per cent.

ACT Education Minister Shane Rattenbury welcomed the ACT's Indigenous retention rates while acknowledging the high costs of childcare.

"As has been a point of discussion in previous years, the ACT had the highest median weekly cost of long-day care services in 2014-15, at $493 per week, and the third highest for family day care, at $398. It is important to note that the cost of childcare services is set by service providers," Mr Rattenbury said.

"It is however, positive to note the recent high level of growth experienced in the ACT, with an additional 14 long day care services and nine family day care services opening between July 2014 and June 2015.  It is anticipated that additional services could lead to downward trends in costs."