FEDERAL Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch has urged further consultation with the Family Day Care sector in a move to ensure that proposed changes do not have unintended consequences for educators and families.
Mr Entsch spoke in Parliament this week on a Private Members Motion put forward by the Member for Bendigo, Lisa Chesters MP, which called on the Government to restore full funding to Family Day Care services throughout Australia.
“I agree with the Member for Bendigo that Family Day Care forms a vital part of Australia's diverse childcare mix”,” Mr Entsch explained. “Over the past year, I’ve visited several family day care services. Without fail, the educators are dedicated and enthusiastic, their premises are well-set up and professional and the children benefit from personalised attention in a home environment.
“That is why it is disappointing that we are in the situation we are today, as a result of Labor totally dropping the ball.”
The Community Support Program, or CSP, is an operational payment paid direct to day care services. Its original intent was to help childcare services get established in areas where they might otherwise be unviable, such as disadvantaged, regional and remote communities.
“Labor, over a three-year period, allowed the CSP allocated budget to blow out by almost $200 million and took no action whatsoever to address it.
“Even worse, they ignored an audit which showed that family day care was receiving 71 per cent of the total CSP budget, despite only caring for about 10 per cent of children. How could they possibly think this was sustainable? Yet again, we are left to clean up Labor's mess.”
The government is changing eligibility criteria for family day care services for CSP funding from 1 July this year, with support being targeted to services in disadvantaged, regional and remote communities.
In Leichhardt, two regional FDC services in Weipa and Cooktown were to have been adversely affected as the guidelines did not take into account the fact that they are 650km apart on a predominantly unsealed road.
Mr Entsch hosted the then-Assistant Minister for Education, Sussan Ley MP, on a visit to both the affected services last year. As a result of directing the Department of Education to work with the providers, Weipa Family Day Care announced in November that it would not be closing its doors.
“This is great news for that community,” Mr Entsch said. “I understand that Cooktown is still working through the process and I’m hopeful that they will be able to resolve their financial challenges.”
Further changes to the FDC sector are aimed at reducing the overspend, much of which has unfortunately been driven by noncompliance by FDC services.
“Here, however, I would like to caution that we do not 'throw the baby out with the bathwater',” Mr Entsch said. “There is no doubt that there are many dedicated people working in family day care.”
He cited the example of one Bentley Park FDC educator, who due to her family’s situation needed to access occasional care for her two children so she can attend compulsory personal development training for a minimum of ten hours a year.
“Her situation illustrates how important it is to have some flexibility,” Mr Entsch said. “In a bid to crack down on what is known as 'child-swapping', the government is penalising those who genuinely, on occasion, need to get care for their own kids.
“I’m pleased that the introduction of these changes has been postponed, and I welcome further consultation with the FDC sector to avoid any unintended consequences for legitimate operators and families who depend on them.”
Mr Entsch has written to the new Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison MP, offering to host a round-table in Cairns with FDC educators who may be affected by the changes.
“We need a childcare system that is more affordable and targeted and will benefit all Australian families. Taxpayer resources must be spent in the best way to enable families to stay at work, get back to work and give their children the best possible start in life.”