Six years of childcare? The total cost came as a shock
Care for those crucial years comes with a hefty price tag.
Later this year our family will say goodbye to six years of childcare.
Six years of wonderful educators who have done everything for our two children three days a week nearly every week of the year.
For not much more money than someone who stacks supermarket shelves, these people have read to our children, taught them their letters and numbers, wiped their noses and bottoms, kissed their grazed knees, cuddled them when they are sad, praised their achievements, indulged their passions, taken them on excursions and loved them.
They have been their guides through the most important years of their lives, the crucial 0 to 5 years, which any child development expert will tell you is critical for raising happy kids who are ready, willing and able to flourish at school and beyond.
Any success our children attain in life will have its foundation in the high quality care and education they received before they started big school.
But the years of childcare have come with a hefty price tag – $60,000 or about $10,000 a year for the past six years.
That’s a conservative estimate and after the 50 per cent childcare rebate (which is a misnomer because, as any parent knows, unless your child attends childcare only two days a week the rebate no longer covers half the cost of care).
I do not begrudge the cost in any way.
It allowed my husband and I to continue working in jobs we both enjoy.
Our children were fortunate enough to attend a not-for-profit centre where staff were paid above award wages (which isn’t saying much) and treated as professionals.
We also owned property before we had children, so we did not have to plot my fertility against rising house prices on a chart that could never tell us the right answer to the question of when to start a family.
In short, we’re very fortunate.
And yet when the final figure came up on the calculator’s LED screen we both winced.
Had anyone told us that’s how much childcare would cost before we had children I’m not sure what we would have done.
Like most people we were blissfully ignorant and made it work as we went along.
Our experience is far from unique.
About 1.7 million children aged 12 and under attend some kind of childcare.
The industry has exploded over the past three decades as the traditional family model of mum looking after the kids while dad went to work went out the door, just like video players, hypercolour T shirts, manageable commuting times and affordable house prices.
Successive governments have struggled to keep up with this fundamental social change.
John Howard introduced the initial version of the system we have today.
The Rudd/Gillard governments increased funding and beefed up quality standards for centres and staff.
Since the Coalition came to office in 2013 nothing has changed other than prices – which keep going up – and waiting lists you need to join as soon as you’re pregnant if you are to have even a faint hope of finding a childcare place some time around the time you need to go back to work.
The changes the Turnbull government desperately wants to get through the Senate are not child focused either.
They’re parent focused and go a long way to making the system more affordable (although not more accessible) for families.
They’re about reaping the taxation benefits of getting more parents to do more (taxable) work.
They could be about what’s best for children and how critical it is that they receive good quality education from a very young age, particularly for childcare from disadvantaged backgrounds.
But they’re not.
They’re about alleviating the cost burden on families. That and the political burden of parents.