Flexible childcare to match our '24/7' economy:The Federal nanny trials
The 'new' nanny trial has been hailed as a solution for flexible child care by the Federal government. But is it a solution and for whom? What do children, families and nannies need to make this 'solution' work well? Our guest today, Elizabeth Adamson (@eama221) from the Social Policy Research Centre, explores these issues as she takes us through details of the nanny trial.
Elizabeth Adamson is a Research Associate at the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. She recently completed her PhD, which compared how governments support in-home child care in three English-speaking countries: Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Disclaimer: This piece represents the views of the author.
The Government’s budget announcement last month about the Childcare Package – also referred to as the ‘Jobs for Families’ package – consisted of three main components: i) a restructuring of the current subsidies, which streamlined the current Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate into a single, Childcare Subsidy; ii) a Safety Net Package, with various elements to assist marginalised communities, low-income families, and children with a disability to access child care and; iii) the Nanny Trial to be introduced for 2 years commencing in January 2016. The Trial (formally called the Home-Based Carer Pilot Programme) will cost the Government $246 million to fund in-home child care for up to 10,000 children and 4,000 child care workers over these two years.
Similar to the Government’s mainstream Child Care Subsidy, the aim of the Nanny Trial is to provide flexible childcare that will facilitate parental employment for families with barriers to mainstream services (non-standard employment, locational barriers, children with special needs). It is important to note that the ‘new’ Nanny Trial is not all that new – the current In Home Care program was established in 2001 and provides a flexible service to similar groups of families targeted under the Nanny Trial.
The cost – winners and losers
Families must have a family income of less than $250,000 to be eligible for the Trial. This is a seemingly high threshold for a program aimed at “low- to middle-income families” (Morrison, Media Release, 28 April 2015). The likely justification for this threshold is that this would be a reasonable income for a family with two parents working non-standard hours (such as a firefighter and a nurse).
Families earning at the high end of the threshold would, however, receive a lower level of subsidy than if they were using Long Day Care (LDC) and Family Day Care (FDC). The lower rate for the Nanny Trial ($7.00/hour, compared with $11.55 for LDC and $10.70 for FDC) has benefits and weaknesses. A benefit is that there is little financial incentive for an eligible family with one or two children to seek Home Childcare if they are able to use FDC and LDC. The downside is that for a family, perhaps a single parent, with only one or two children who cannot logistically use LDC or FDC because of their employment schedule or because of other reasons (living remotely, or other family circumstances), the cost of accessing Home Childcare will likely be prohibitive.
The same means-tested rate will apply, so that families earning less than $60,000 will be eligible to receive 85% of $7.00/hour per child, tapered down to 50% of $7.00/hour per child for families earning over $165,000 per year. Very rough calculations show that for an hourly fee of $22/hour for 10 hours/day ($220/day), a low-income family with three children could receive as much as $178.50 in Child Care Subsidy (85% of $7/hour for 3 children), while a higher income family with one child would only receive approximately $35 for a full day of care (50% of $7/hour for 1 child).
Sector concerns and other considerations
There are various concerns from the sector and other critics, the most common being that carers are not required to have Certificate III qualifications required under the NQF. Nannies must be 18 years or older, hold a Working with Children Check and a first aid certificate, and be connected to an approved service provider. While there are valid arguments to ensure all care workers have a Certificate III (and which I support), the latter feature of the service model – the connection between the carer and service providers – also deserves attention.
Australian and international experience shows that carers/nannies that are employed directly by a service provider are more likely to be well paid, well trained and have appropriate working conditions and protections. In contrast, an employment agency model does little to protect workers. It is important that, as the details of the Trial are developed, that the model is employer-based, rather than agency-based.
Targeted, affordable and regulated in-home care can provide a valuable service for families. This is evident in the In Home Care program, which has operated in Australia for 15 years to deliver services to vulnerable children and families and those living in remote areas, among others. It is important that the Trial builds on these strengths, including the position of the child and family – not only parental employment.
An evaluation of the Trial in 2017-2018 will be integral to ensuring that the Trial is delivering on its aims – to provide flexible care – and, more importantly, is reaching the children and families that will benefit the most.
Posted by @corr_lara