A policy proposal to incorporate some forms of co-operative care into Federal and state models, providing options for parent and community-based service.
Policy Status: New
Minister for Social Services
The Hon. Dan Tehan
Brief description of the policy proposed:
The policy proposes the incorporation of some forms of co-operative care into Federal and state quality guidelines and funding models, providing options for supporting parent/community-based services.
The objective of this reform is to offer quality care through collaborative mixes of parental volunteer/professional. This model will be not-for-profit, co-operative structures that combine volunteer, unpaid parental time with the necessary skills base to ensure quality standards are met.
Costs of childcare services would be reduced by volunteer carer time contributions but will continue to require paid expertise in addition to operational costs and programs. Adjustments in quality standards, staff ratios and skills will be needed to accommodate the new parental volunteer/professional composition of care.
Why are these changes needed?
It builds on a body of research that favours sharing responsibilities and communal engagements while maintaining adequate staff skills, subsidised fees so community learning and cultural education can be part of early childhood outcomes.
Who benefits from the policy?
It would improve access for many non-employed groups.
Local informal childcare groups have existed for decades and some have grown into formal care services. However, the embrace of market driven models of care, via market-based funding and commercialisation have included licensing requirements and funding arrangements that discourage or lockout smaller, locally run, communal co-operatives.
Co-operatives are designed for communities who want to be engaged in their children’s early education and care, but not full time and not in lieu of educators’ and early childhood teachers’ expertise.
With COAG agreement it should be possible to develop a community co-operative based service model that demands less scrutiny and supervision because of the close involvement of parents. If standards are maintained and children’s services are able to maintain some level of staff that are qualified to plan, program and share skills, children and parents can benefit from deeper engagement in the children’s care experiences.
The co-operative model of childcare is not likely to be applied widely, nor is it the aim of this proposal to advocate for a single model of childcare above others. Rather, co-operative care is designed to add flexibility, serve the diverse needs of families and complement the broader children’s services portfolio.
Co-operative childcare may overlap and improve Play Groups which informally offer an ad hoc version. Families in rural areas and First Nation’s communities where there is limited paid work and a collaborative model of shared care, alongside the expertise is preferred, may welcome this proposal.
Who may lose from the policy proposal?
The proposal may garner some opposition from commercial childcare operations that perceive the co-operative care model as a pathway to compete at lower costs and less formal regulation.
These objections can be resolved by allowing more flexibility into the system without compromising safety or quality. The broader childcare regulatory standards should be able to accommodate deeper family engagement without diluting the quality of services.
The budgetary impact will be negligible as the co-operative model may extend services but reduce costs due to voluntary carers replacing some full paid staff. The complexities of licensing, regulations and quality control will demand at least 12 months of attention from COAG and the related government departments.
Author: Roelof Smilde, updated by Eva Cox 4/9/18
Keywords: co-operative childcare, community services, local services