Canberra families still aren't getting bang for their buck on childcare, with spiralling out-of-pocket fees and the sector struggling to retain qualified staff.
While more ACT childcare workers have formal accreditation, the sector still has the lowest level of qualified staff in the country, new figures from the Productivity Commission have shown.
Although the rate of primary contact staff with relevant accreditation above a Certificate III rose to 61.8 per cent in 2016, it was still far below the Australian average of 79.7 per cent.
Furthermore the ACT still had about double the unqualified staff of most other states and territories.
About 38 per cent of frontline workers in Canberra childcare centres had no formal accreditation, well above the national rate of around 20 per cent.
This is despite childcare at long day care centres costing $525 a week on average, $100 more than the Australian average.
Family day care was cheaper at $459 a week but again far higher than the rest of the national (the median price across Australia was $383).
For low-income families with one child in 50 hours of care a week, childcare fees claimed 55 per cent of their disposable income before subsidies. After subsidies that figure dropped to 16.7 per cent.
At the other end of the spectrum, high income earners saw ACT childcare claim 17.7 per cent of their disposable weekly income, 8.8 per cent after subsidies.
Early Childhood Australia chief executive Samantha Page said out-of-pocket expenses for families were highest in Canberra and that ACT government funding for the sector has remained "static" at $44 million.
"What we're hearing is more and more families are reaching the cap on their childcare rebate and so their out-of-pocket expenses are higher and that's problematic for families and it highlights why we need to urgently reform the childcare subsidies," Ms Page said.
"That's a federal government responsibility rather than an ACT government responsibility but in terms of the role of the ACT government that really is around regulating for quality and supporting sector development so we can improve that quality. Where the ACT government has done some good work is the past is in the area of workforce development."
There have been subsidies help upskill childcare workers and more than three-quarters of staff had undertaken relevant in-service training in the past 12 months.
However Woden Early Childhood Centre centre director Reesha Stefek said it was difficult to retain trained staff under the current award, as their pay plateaus after three years.
"I interviewed someone the other day with a certificate and they're working in Woolworths and getting paid more than they would have with us under the award," Ms Stefek said.
"People go into teaching because the wages are much better, the conditions are much, much better and long day care can't compete with that. If we tried to compete with that the fees would be astronomical."
About 44 per cent of staff employed in long day care centres in the ACT had fewer than four years of experience.
Only 19 per cent had a tenure of 10 years of more, the lowest percentage of all states and territories.
There was some good news for the ACT in the early childhood care and education sector.
The ACT had the highest proportion of four-year-old children enrolled in a preschool program the year before they started school in Australia.
The territory also markedly improved its enrolment of Indigenous children in preschool in the year before they began primary school, and led the nation on this front.
The majority (57.2 per cent) of ACT centres were found to be meeting or exceeding national quality standards. Only one centre in 2016 was found to need significant improvements.
Ms Page said Canberra had the highest proportion of services exceeding the national quality standards but also a high proportion of services working to meet the standards.
"That suggests a greater diversity or disparity if you like in the quality of services," she said.
"Other states have the majority of services in the middle meeting quality standards."
The percentage of tertiary-educated teachers working in Canberra preschools was also one of the highest in Australia.
ACT education and early childhood development minister Yvette Berry said the territory government would prepare a strategy over the next year for the sector that would focus on accessibility and equity.
"The government is aware that child care in the ACT is relatively expensive with a lower skilled and experienced workforce. It is a complex situation that will take time to address because of the numerous factors that influence child care provision," Ms Berry said.