Fighting threats to Council's childcare services

The COVID-19 crisis has made it clear to all Australians what families with young children know – childcare is an essential service.

The COVID-19 crisis has made it clear to all Australians what families with young children know – childcare is an essential service.

Independent experts have shown that childcare gives children the foundations they need to grow and develop in the future as they begin the journey into kindergarten, school days and their adult lives.

Currently more than 300 families use Council-run childcare services and another 570 families use Council-assisted community managed centres. Thousands of Port Phillip families have benefitted from these services over the years.

These centres are an essential part of the fabric of our community – supporting families, providing early education and care and enabling parents – especially women – to participate in the workforce.

In 2019, however, some City of Port Phillip councillors raised the question of whether our Council should be operating its own centres. Apparently with an eye to saving money, parents would be asked to take over the running of council centres. Another idea floated was that the centres could be privatised.

The uproar from parents and educators in the community was loud and clear and expressed strongly at a large public meeting – privatisation was totally rejected and Council continuing to operate its five centres was strongly endorsed.

Council’s own Children’s Services Reference Committee argued that we need both community-managed and Council-run centres. And it’s easy to see why.

Council centres are caring for more of the vulnerable children in Port Phillip compared to other providers.

Staff in Council run centres generally have better pay and conditions – they are a beacon for employees that are among the lowest paid in the country – ensuring our centres attract some of the best staff in Melbourne.

And Council and community managed centres have had an important stabilising influence in times of market stress, such as the ABC Learning collapse in 2008. Equally now, the sector faces great uncertainty with the withdrawal of JobKeeper support and the return of fees for parents from 13 July.

Leading advocates and thinkers like the Thrive by Five Foundation say that policy in this area needs to shift from childcare as a market commodity to early childhood learning as a bedrock for the growth and personal development of children and their families. It argues that the growth and development of our children is a task for families and the whole community and can’t be driven by private sector companies seeking profit gained from government subsidies and fees charged to parents.

Fortunately, it seems that more Port Phillip councillors are coming to the view that continuing to invest in direct service provision of childcare is in the public interest, though the matter is not yet settled.

Progressive Port Phillip supports our Council continuing to operate its own childcare centres and provide subsidies and premises for community managed centres. It’s a very successful service that has been provided in Port Phillip for decades.

More than ever we need to cement the idea, once and for all, that our local Council has an important and enduring role to play in the provision of early childhood education and care for our children, alongside its vital Maternal and Child Health Service and other support services for families.

Progressive Port Phillip – along with many families and other local groups such as Save Childcare in Port Phillip will be fighting to ensure the Council continues to deliver and invest in both Council and community based parent run centres.