Labor’s much-touted child care flexibility trials continue to flop, with more than half of their target of 500 families yet to be met as the programme begins winding down.
Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley revealed today that just 244 families had signed up to the $5.5 million trial – just 48 per cent of Labor’s overall target – with key reasons for their poor performance including their “inflexibility”.
Ms Ley also confirmed close to a third of all trial sites had closed prematurely or where currently inactive after failing to attract enough families.
She said the revelations were another major blow to Labor’s child care legacy ahead of the Productivity Commission Inquiry handing down its draft report into making the current child care system more affordable, flexible and accessible next month.
“Flexible child care is a serious issue for families living busy modern lives and it’s disappointing Labor gave parents false hope with another rushed and expensive band-aid solution,” Ms Ley said.
“It’s such a shame Labor couldn’t put politics aside and support our calls for a broad-ranging Productivity Commission Inquiry into making child care more affordable, flexible and accessible when they were in government.
“Instead Labor just stood by while long day care fees for families increased an average of 50 per cent during their six years in office. It’s just not good enough.
“That’s why we tasked the Productivity Commission to undertake this child care Inquiry as one of our first priorities in Government.”
Ms Ley said it was clear from this trial that parents did not just want flexible hours, but also flexibility in how they accessed that care, including at short notice.
“Unfortunately we’ve heard some parents, such as those employed in the emergency services, couldn’t be involved in the trial because, while it may have offered extended hours, they had to lock in a place weeks ahead, despite their roster changing constantly.
“This means families were stuck with no care arrangements if they were called in for a last minute shift or, alternatively, they still had to pay for their place if their roster changed and they no longer needed it.”
Ms Ley said affordability was also an issue due to the high cost of out-of-hours care and many parents only wanting to pay for the care they used – not a full or half-day block.
Labor’s poor implementation of the programme, including starting trials mid-year when parents were already committed to places at other child care services, was also attributed as part of the problem, she said.
“Labor would’ve been better off investing this money towards restoring the $12.6 million in support they cut for flexible occasional child care services offering casual places.
“The Abbott Government recognises the importance of occasional care options, which is why we’ve restored this funding in our first Budget.”
Ms Ley said the Government intended to let the remaining trial sites run their course so as not to disrupt the children and families already using them, with a formal review of their performance to be undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
The remaining trial sites are scheduled to finish between June and September 2014.
The results of the trial will also be taken into account by the Productivity Commission Inquiry.