Chapter 10 Early childhood education and care

Key statistics at a glance

Type of early childhood education and care

  • In 2011, an estimated 51.9 per cent of children aged 12 years or less usually attended some type of child care.
  • Informal child care[1] was the most commonly used type of care followed by formal child care.[2] A small proportion of children used a combination of both.
    • A greater proportion of 3-5 year olds than other age groups usually went to formal child care.
    • Formal care for younger children was most likely to be long day care.
    • Grandparents provided the most informal care.
  • The use of child care was higher in one parent families than couple families and in the Sydney area than the rest of NSW.
  • In the three years to 2011 there has been an increase in the proportion of children usually attending some type of child care.
  • Preschool was attended by 69,500 children aged 3–6 years.
    • Most attended for 2 days or less.

Difficulties with early childhood education and care experienced by parents[3]

  • In 2011, over three-quarters of parents with 0-14 year olds experienced difficulties with child care.[4]
    • The most common difficulties were the cost of early education and care, finding it at short notice, or for a sick child.

Cost of formal child care

  • In 2011, the median cost of formal child care for 0–12 year olds was estimated at $50 per week.
    • The median cost is much higher for 0–5 year old children ($61 per week) than 6–12 year old children ($25 per week).

Introduction

The first five years of a child's life shapes all aspects of their future, including their health, learning and social development. A parents or carer’s decision to use early childhood education and care in this important stage in their child's life is based on multiple factors. Recent research suggests that these include socioeconomic factors such as income and education; contextual factors such as job history and entitlement to maternity leave; parental characteristics, beliefs and perceptions, and; child characteristics (Hand, 2005; Seo, 2003).

Parents or carers who decide to use early childhood education care must then decide on the type of care they want for their child or children - formal or informal care, a combination of both, or preschool. Formal care is regulated and supported by Australian government assistance, while informal care is not regulated and no government assistance is provided (ABS, 2005; SCRGSP, 2010). International research has found that parents who need to work but have a strong belief that children should be cared for in the home will tend to choose care from grandparents or other relatives while parents who emphasise education and a structured curriculum often choose centre-based care (Seo, 2003; Wheelock & Jones, 2002).

This chapter examines the type of early childhood education and care used in NSW including formal and informal child care and preschool and the difficulties parents experience with it. In addition information is provided on the cost of formal child care to parents, and the quality of child care. Information on the experiences that children have in care settings are not reported because of limitations in data availability. The data presented is drawn from existing collections and established, national measures are reported. Some additional information is presented to fill data gaps identified through the work of the NSW Commission for Children and Young People.

The information is provided as a resource for policy and research professionals working in both government and non-government settings who may or may not have detailed knowledge about child care. Since the purpose of reporting on this data is to help inform the development of policy and service delivery responses, a deficit approach is taken in preference to a strengths-based one. While deficit measures miss the positive aspects of children's lives, such reporting is intended to assist policy makers to target their efforts at addressing both equity and efficiency concerns.

Type of early childhood education and care

Early childhood education and care includes formal and informal child care and preschool.

Formal child care is provided by a person other than a child's parent or carers, outside of the child's home (e.g. centre-based long day care, family day care, before and after school care and occasional care). It is regulated and supported by government assistance. Informal care includes privately provided care either in the child's home or elsewhere, for example, by friends, relatives or nannies. It is not regulated and no government assistance is provided. Preschool is provided by the Department of Education and Communities, local government, community-based organisations and the private sector.

Three areas of early childhood education and care are reported here; participation in formal child care, participation in informal child care, and participation in preschool. Participation in early childhood education is a key national indicator.

Education and care services in Australia are regulated under the National Quality Framework (NQF). The NQF was developed under the Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) National Partnership Agreement on the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care, and came into effect on 1 January 2012.  

The National Quality Standard is an integral component of the National Quality Framework and sets a new national benchmark for the quality of education and care services. It incorporates the Early Years Learning Framework, which describes the principles, practice and outcomes essential to support and enhance young children’s learning from birth to five years of age, and in their transition to school. It has had a strong emphasis on play-based learning as the most appropriate stimulus for brain development.

The NSW Department of Education and Communities is responsible for administering the NQF within NSW. A new national body, the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the NQF.

In 2013, COAG endorsed a new National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education with a focus on improved participation by vulnerable and disadvantaged children. 

Sources: www.acecqa.gov.au, www.dec.nsw.gov.au

The ABS Childhood Education and Care (CEaCS) survey collects a range of information about child care arrangements and is the most reliable source of information on early childhood education and care arrangements in NSW. More information about this survey, including data limitations, is in Appendix 1: Key survey sources and data reports.

Child care

The 2011, CEaCS reports that an estimated 51.9 per cent (610,000 children) of all NSW children aged 0-12 years had a usual child care arrangement:

  • 12.6 per cent used formal child care only
  • 29.3 per cent used informal child care only
  • 10.1 per cent used a combination of both (Table A10.1) (XLSX 51.1KB).

Over half (55.3%) of children aged 0-2 years usually attended some type of child care, rising to almost two-thirds (65.0%) in the two years before school (3-5 year olds). A smaller proportion of school aged children usually attended some type of care: 48.1 per cent of 6-8 year olds and 41.9 per cent of 9-12 year olds (Table A10.1) (XLSX 51.1KB).

The type of child care children attended varied according to their age. Attendance at formal care was highest among two year olds (59.4%), with attendance rates declining steadily over older age groups. Informal care was highest among one year olds (46.9%), and remained above 40 per cent until age 11 years (Figure 10.1) (Table A10.3) (XLSX 51.1KB).

Formal child care was usually attended by:

  • 30.5 per cent of 0-2 year olds
  • 39.7 per cent of 3-5 year olds
  • 15.3 per cent of 6-8 year olds, and
  • 8.8 per cent of 9-12 year olds (Table A10.1) (XLSX 51.1KB).

Figure 10.1: Children aged 0–12 years usually attending some type of child care by type of child care arrangement and age, NSW, 2011

Note: Only includes children aged 0–12 years.

Source: ABS 2013 Customised report (2011 Childhood Education and Care. Cat no: 4402.0) (Table A10.3) (XLSX 51.1KB).

The most common type of formal child care used by 0-5 year olds was long day care and the most common type of formal care used by 6-12 year olds was before and after school care for (Table A10.2) (XLSX 51.1KB).

Informal child care was usually attended by:

  • 39.2 per cent of 0-2 year olds
  • 42.6 per cent of 3-5 year olds
  • 38.0 per cent of 6-8 year olds, and
  • 37.9 per cent of 9-12 year olds (Table A10.1) (XLSX 51.1KB).

Grandparents provided the greatest proportion of informal child care for 0-12 year olds (26.4%) (Table A10.1) (XLSX 51.1KB).

The NSW Parliamentary Joint Committee on Children and Young People's Inquiry into Children and Young People Aged 9-14 Years in NSW highlighted the importance and benefits of age-appropriate after school care and activities. The Inquiry took evidence that participation in after school care and vacation care amongst children in the middle years is low compared to that of younger children. The Committee also examined the impact on children not adequately catered for by after school care.

Source: http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/children

In 2011, the proportion of children aged 0-12 years who usually attended some type of child care was higher among children from one parent families compared with children from couple families (64.0% and 49.0%) (Table A10.4). While the use of formal child care was similar for both one parent and couple families, a greater proportion of one parent families used informal child care (54.0% and 36.0%) (Figure 10.2) (Table A10.4) (XLSX 51.1KB).

Figure 10.2: Children aged 0–12 year with a usual child care arrangement by family type and type of child care, NSW, 2011

Source: ABS 2013 Customised report (2011 Childhood Education and Care. Cat no: 4402.0) (Table A10.4) (XLSX 51.1KB).

When the Sydney area is compared with the rest of NSW, the proportion of 0-12 year olds usually attending some type of child care was slightly higher in Sydney (52.1% and 51.4%). While there was little difference in the use of informal child care between the two geographic areas, a greater proportion of children living in the Sydney area used formal child care (23.7% and 20.7%) (Table A10.6) (XLSX 51.1KB).

The proportion of children aged 0-12 years who had a usual child care arrangement has increased over the period 2008-2011 from 41.7 per cent to 51.9 per cent (Table 10.5) (XLSX 51.1KB). Most of this increase could be attributed to the use of informal care (28.1% to 39.3%).

Preschool

CEaCS reports that an estimated 69,500 children aged 3-6 years in NSW attended preschool in the week prior to being surveyed in 2011.

In the week prior to being surveyed:

  • 33.2 per cent attend preschool for 10-14 hours
  • 30.7 per cent attended preschool for 15 hours or more
  • 19.3 per cent attended preschool for less than 10 hours (Table A10.7) (XLSX 51.1KB).

Of the 3-6 years who had attended preschool in 2011 in the week prior to the survey 59.6 per cent attended for less than three days.

Difficulties with early education and care experienced by parents

While much is known about the impact of accessible, affordable and high quality early childhood education and care on the workforce participation of parents and child well-being, little is known about problems parents might experience in obtaining appropriate early education and care for their children (McNamara, et al, 2005).

The Household Income and Labour Dynamics of Australia (HILDA) survey provides a good source of data on the difficulties experienced by parents with child care.[5] More information, including data limitations, is in Appendix 1: Key survey sources and data reports.

As part of the HILDA household questionnaire, parents with children under 15 years of age that had used or thought about using child care to undertake paid work, were asked to rate the difficulties they had experienced in childcare in the 12 months before the interview. The difficulties covered were: finding good quality child care; finding child care at short notice; finding the right person to take care of their child; getting care for the hours they needed; finding care for a sick child; finding care during the holidays; the cost of child care; juggling multiple child care arrangements; finding care for a difficult or special needs child; finding a place at the child care centre of their choice; finding a child care centre in the right location; and finding care their children were happy with.

In the 2011 survey, 78.4 per cent of parents with children aged 0-14 years said they had difficulties with child care (Table A10.8) (XLSX 51.1KB).

The most common difficulties experienced were cost (56.5%), finding care at short notice (48.7%) and finding care for a sick child (42.5%). Other common difficulties included:

  • Getting care for the hours needed (35.8%)
  • Finding the right person to take care of children (35.7%)
  • Finding good quality childcare (33.9%)
  • Juggling multiple care arrangements (23.5%) (Figure 10.3) (Table A10.8) (XLSX 51.1KB).

Figure 10.3: Parents experiencing difficulties with child care by the difficulty experienced, NSW, 2011

Notes: Child care is defined to include family day care, long day care, other center based care including preschools; outside of school hours or vacation care; care provided in the child’s home or at the providers home for payment; or care provided by a friend, neighbour or relative for free or payment in kind. Estimates based on 238 respondents. Parents were asked to pick a number between 0 (no problem at all) and 10 (very much a problem) to indicate how much of a difficulty the child care issues were for them in the last 12 months. Difficulty score of 5+ included. Statistics are for households with children under 15 who use or considered using child care. The data is based on all children under 15 years in the household. Some households will be in multiple categories, e.g. a household with a 4 year old and 7 year old will be in both the 0–5 and 6–8 categories.

Source: NSW Commission for Children and Young People calculations based on HILDA 2013, Wave 11 data (Table A10.8) (XLSX 51.1KB).

In 2011 a greater proportion of parents living in Sydney (82.9%) experienced difficulties with child care than parents in other major urban areas such as Wollongong and Newcastle (73.0%) (Table A10.10) (XLSX 51.1KB).

The proportion of parents who experienced difficulties with child care has fluctuated between 68.7-78.4 per cent over the period 2001-2011 (Table A10.11) (XLSX 51.1KB).

Cost of formal child care

It is important that child care services are affordable for all families. Previous research has shown that if child care costs are high parents will reduce the number of hours their children spend in care and/or the hours they work (Leppert, 2000).

The Australian Government provides the Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Rebate to help parents with the cost of approved child care. The Child Care Rebate is for 50 per cent of all approved child care costs up to a maximum of $7,500 per child per year. The Child Care Benefit is means tested; the Child Care Rebate is not.

Source: http://www.mychild.gov.au/childcarerebate/

The ABS Childhood Education and Care (CEaCS) survey collects a range of information about child care arrangements and is the most reliable source of information on the cost of formal child care in NSW. More information, including data limitations, is in Appendix 1: Key survey sources and data report.

In 2011, CEaCS reports that the median cost of formal child care for children aged 0–12 years was $50 per week. However, the median cost is much higher for 0–5 year old children ($61 per week) compared with 6–12 year old children ($25 per week)[6] (Table A10.12) (XLSX 51.1KB). This likely reflects the higher number of hours of care generally used by the younger age group and the generally higher cost structures for services provided to this group of children including higher staff to child ratios.

Quality of child care services

This section will be updated when new data is available.

A major component of the National Quality Framework is the National Quality Standard, which introduces a nationally consistent quality assessment and rating process for early childhood education and care services.

The NQF identifies two main influences on quality of care: staff qualifications, and staff to child ratios. It stipulates new minimum requirements in these areas, which will be phased in between 2012 and 2020. 

Services are rated on seven quality areas: educational program and practice, children’s health and safety, physical environment, staff arrangements (including staff to child ratios), relationships with children, collaboration with families and communities, and service management. 

The NSW Department of Education and Communities is responsible for undertaking assessments in NSW. 

Sources: www.acecqa.gov.au, www.dec.nsw.gov.au

References

ABS. (2005). Australian Social Trends, Family Functioning: Informal Child Care Provided by Grandparents. Cat No. 4102.0. Canberra.

ABS. (2011).Childhood Education and Care Survey. Cat No 4402.0 and Canberra.

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Office of Early Childhood Education and Child Care (DEEWR). (2010a). State of Child Care in Australia.

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Office of Early Childhood Education and Child Care (DEEWR). (2010b). National Quality Framework.

Hand, K. (2005). Mothers' views on using formal child care. Family Matters, 70, 10-17.

Leppert, S. (2000). Child care at the crossroads: impact of federal government funding cuts on community based child care. Paper presented at the Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference: Family futures - issues in research and policy.

McNamara, J. Cassells, R. & Lloyd, R. (2005). Persistence of problems with child care: evidence from the HILDA survey, National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling. University of Canberra.

SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision). (2010). Report on Government Services 2010, Productivity Commission, Canberra.

Seo, S. (2003). Early child care choices: a theoretical model and research implications. Early Childhood Development and Care, 173, 637-650.

[1]Informal care includes privately provided care either in the child's home or elsewhere, for example, by friends, relatives or nannies. It is not regulated and no government assistance is provided.
[2]Formal child care is provided by a person other than a child's parent or carer, outside of the child's home (e.g. centre-based long day care, family day care, outside school hours care and occasional care). It is regulated and supported by Australian government assistance.
[3]Acknowledgements: This chapter uses unit record data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. The HILDA Project was initiated and funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHSCIA). The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (Melbourne Institute) manages the project. The views and findings reported in this paper however are those of the author and should not be attributed to either FaHSCIA or the Melbourne Institute.
[4]Child care is defined to include family day care, long day care, other center based care including preschools; outside of school hours or vacation care; care provided in the child’s home or at the providers home for payment; or care provided by a friend, neighbour or relative for free or payment in kind.
[5]Child care is defined to include family day care, long day care, other center based care including preschools; outside of school hours or vacation care; care provided in the child’s home or at the providers home for payment; or care provided by a friend, neighbour or relative for free or payment in kind.
[6]The cost reported is the net cost of care to parents after the Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Rebate have been deducted.