22 Apr 2006, Comments Off on Community childcare centres: a threatened species

Community childcare centres: a threatened species

Author: Helen

When you’re arguing about child care (see post on Steve Biddulph below) it is worthwhile pointing out that there’s child care, and there’s child care, and it’s not all the same.

When I went looking for a childcare centre for my little’uns, I was looking, specifically, for a community based childcare centre.

I was doing so for two reasons.

One was that community childcare centres were often joined to a kindergarten- in the one building or complex, that is – and that meant my kid could attend kindergarten. Kinder kids, as most of you know, start in late morning and finish soon after lunch – an impossible schedule for even the most flexible working parent.

The other was that the private childcare centres didn’t have the heritage and depth of commitment of the community centres. If I’m going to have my child cared for, I want it to be in a building which looks relatively permanent, which has actual grass (some private centres increasingly use astroturf). I want to use the service which has grown from second-wave feminists whose concern was to provide care for children and their parents. They didn’t grow from a need to make a profit for private businesses.

I don’t want my children’s needs to be offset against a shareholder’s needs.

Now the ABC “Learning” Corporations seems set to swallow up most of the child care “industry” (which is what it is becoming),and is now the world’s biggest child care company. Eddy Groves is the CEO, and he’s one of these Young Turks who sometimes come across as a bit sociopathic.

The notion of profit – suggest critics from not-for-profit child-care centres to Victoria’s Minister for Children, Sherryl Garbutt – sits uneasily with the notion of caring for babies and toddlers. Groves, who lifted his usual “zero media” policy for this interview, strikes back.

“That same line comes out all the time,” he complains. “OK, let’s go through some other essential services. Hospitals: private? Yes. Profit? Yes. Prisons? Yes . . . why is child care such a big thing, why is Eddy Groves such a big thing?”

Eddy, just quietly, you might want to stop referring to yourself in the third person, for a start. It makes you sound like someone with a Napoleon complex.

The problem with his statement above is that it reveals his complete and ideologically blinkered adherence to the neoliberal conventional wisdom. Yes, there is plenty of evidence coming out both here and overseas that there are big problems with private, profit-driven corporations running essential services and social services. (Wackenhut, anyone?) As far as Eddie’s concerned, it seems, there’s no argument. But those of us who use community childcare centres think there is.

Googling for privatised hospital systems, I came across this quotation:

Making profit a central motive can distort traditional relationships. To quote a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine (August 5, 1999), “Our main objection to investor-owned care is … that it embodies a new value system that severs the communal roots and Samaritan traditions of hospitals, makes doctors and nurses the instruments of investors, and views patients as commodities.”
Why The Mater’s Afraid Of The Political Wolf by David Henry, Sydney Morning Herald 18 January 2000

Substitute “children” for “patients” and “carers” for “doctors and nurses” and you pretty much have it. You can read some stories herefrom parents who have/had children at ABC Learning Centres. But the really damning evidence is that when staff from ABC and from community run childcare centres were asked whether they would send their own kids to the centre they worked in, while most of the community childcare workers were happy to do so, twenty-one percent of the ABC workers said they would not.

I meant to blog about our experiences, but this is getting too long. I haven’t touched on Family Day Care here, which is where a mum at home qualifies to run a council-sponsored service at home, with relatively few kids. This suits some people better than community day care centres. But if the community centres are all taken over by corporate chains, the councils will follow, and these mums will be answering to a suit who answers to investors, instead of to the council and the parents. (Out-of-hours school care has already gone down this route.)

The National Association of Community based Childrens’ services has a lobby kit here. If you have kids, you might think about bookmarking it for the next election.

Comments (0)

  • Thanks for this post.

  • tigtog says:

    Excellent article, Helen. I’m thankful mine are too old for this crap now. I’ve just got a different set of worries for them around school hours, and what on earth will they do for childcare in 20 years time?

  • suzoz says:

    I have a friend who manages a family daycare service in inner city Sydney and one problem they have is that mothers at home there, in the gentrified areas, don’t want to become family daycarers. Ie, there’s a shortage of carers. So the service is contracting as the areas become more affluent. I don’t think they have this problem further out.

  • It is a real puzzle for many parents, how to look after your kids before they go to school and in the hours that you cannot be there for your kids either before or after school. Before and after school care is a real financial challenge for schools. You must have it to survive as a school, but you may go bust offering the service. Our school, which has a very high school card population (over 50 percent), meaning family income is no more than about $30,000 introduced morning care after a few years break, because many parents would not consider the school if it did not have it. After school care is very succesful in the service that it offers, but it is a real financial problem. All the government programs pay significantly in arrears and with a large group of special needs kids, the school is basically offering free services for up to a year before it is reimbursed. I think that this is a real problem. Our governing council has been wrestling with this issue for quite some time. If it was purely a commercial decision, we would close the service. That in turn would likely lead to the viability of the school to be questioned as parents moved their kids to schools which offered the service.

  • Zoe says:

    They have it in affluent inner North Canberra, Susoz. When I rang about putting my son on the waiting list I was told that they weren’t even taking names.

    I have friends whose kids have had a marvellous family day carer, and others not so tops. And just last week I was telling the manager of my son’s community run daycare how much I valued that they were non-profit and community based. She said she found it surprising how many people would agonise over chosing a centre, and then not want to know anything about it once the kid had a place.

    A great post (as usual) Helen. Lobby kit bookmarked!

  • G Martin says:

    ABC Childcare is great for my kids and any business is only as good as what the staff is. I am also an educater. Good teacher/bad teacher/mediocre is all the same in any business. Good child bad child nasty child all the same in this business. It depends on how good the training is for the human resources in any centre. ABC can provide this far better than community centres.
    So what ABC centre covered up some child’s fall and borken arm, as told on 60 mins. How many schools cover up issues? Plenty.
    Community care was never a choice as the services could not be provided like ABC.
    Anyhow my ABC centre is even cheaper than the community centre nearby and ABC provides better hours. Community care doesn’t provide for long hour workers 8am to 5pm.
    Stop bashing a hard working ‘millionaire’ who saw a niche and took his chance and won. Isn’t this what Packer and Murdochs do every day?
    Don’t be bitter and twisted butlive life to the full.
    A poor post to generalise and sensationalise rather than be specific about what happens in your ‘named’ neighbourhood so that a true debate can be waged with data and facts.

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