Upwards of $2 million worth of fines have been handed out since the Abbott Government began its nationwide clampdown on dodgy child care services in July.
Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley said the Abbott Government’s new Child Care Compliance Taskforce had taken action against 24 services since July, ranging from suspensions and restrictions to the issuing of 256 fines totalling $1.74 million dollars.
Family Day Care (FDC) made up over 90 per cent of offenders, with action taken against 22 FDC co-ordination services representing a network of over 1500 individual home educators across New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT.
This included fines totalling over $100,000 or more for nine of these FDC co-ordination services, with one racking up combined penalties worth over $300,000.
Ms Ley was “deeply concerned” by the number of dodgy practices already uncovered, particularly in the Family Day Care sector, and said it was clear the Taskforce had hit the ground running.
“The results are troubling, there’s no two-ways about it. It’s always disappointing to uncover these sorts of dodgy practices, particularly when these services are meant to be focussed on the high- quality care and education of our children, not ripping off taxpayers,” Ms Ley said.
“The difference here is that we are committed to tackling the issue head on through our Compliance Taskforce, rather than just crossing our fingers and hoping it will go away like Labor.
“This is another strong sign to both families and taxpayers on the whole that the Abbott Government takes child care payment compliance very seriously.”
Ms Ley said the Taskforce had used its intelligence network to seek out non-compliant services through a combination of targeted investigations into suspicious claims, random checks, forensic data analysis and better education.
About half of the 22 non-compliant Family Day Care co-ordination services were fined for making excessive claims for payments on behalf of children in their care, often unbeknown to parents.
Thirteen of these FDC services also had their operations restricted or suspended after being found to have upwards of 500 more individual educators on their books than legally permitted between them – raising questions about the safety of care provided and the validity of payments claimed.
One Long Day Care centre in Queensland also had their service suspended after failing to notify the Department of Education its service approval was withdrawn by the state regulator, while a second in Western Australia was issued with a “please explain” about the service’s administration, which has since been rectified.
Ms Ley had a simple message for families – “check your child care statements”.
“The Government will continue to be vigilant in our quest to track down services doing the wrong thing and deter others from even considering it,” Ms Ley said.
“However, we encourage parents and services to report any suspect activities to the Department of Education on 1800 664 231 or at email@example.com.
“The Government’s mychild.gov.au website is also a good first port-of-call for families looking for information about services.”
Ms Ley said the Department would continue to monitor the above cases, which may face further sanctions including fines, suspension and cancellation if they do not comply with compliance actions taken against them. Recovery actions were also currently underway where applicable, she said.
The previous Labor government oversaw a 30 per cent cut in the number of compliance checks in office: “In 2012–13, the ANAO (Australian National Audit Office) identified that the department had changed its approach to undertaking compliance activities to more effectively utilise resources.
The change in approach involved a reduction in the number of child care service provider inspections. ” ANAO Audit Report No.13 2013–14 Audits of the Financial Statements of Australian Government Entities for the Period Ended 30 June 2013.