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Wednesday, 8 December 1993
Page: 4130

Senator WEST (12.20 p.m.) —In the United States it is estimated that only 10 per cent of the child-care industry has availed itself of voluntary accreditation. That number is not great enough to be of any significance to parents here. Parents put their children into care—be it occasional care, long day care, or some other form of care—expecting good care. But how do parents assess whether it is good care? They cannot sit there all day and personally observe the care given.

  While parents can know whether a specific child-care centre is registered according to regulation with the various state institutions, they cannot know the sort of care that is given in the centre. Parents do not know what sort of love and affection is given nor, unless they stay there all day, the sort of teaching programs implemented. The government wants to give parents some means whereby they can assess what the child-care centres have to offer—hence our proposal for accreditation.

  I draw the attention of Senator Boswell to principle 17, of which he was very critical. This principle states that the program should incorporate learning experiences appropriate for each child as indicated by individual development records maintained by the staff. The developmental checklists include: the Australian development record for infants and young children; the Macquarie developmental checklist; the Denver developmental screening test; and the UK's National Children's Bureau developmental guide.

  Senator Boswell omitted to list those checklists, even though they can be found in the office of every paediatrician and every infant welfare early childhood development centre. These are the rules used by those working in early childhood development to assess children's progress and development. Those rules are the means by which a professional knows whether or not children are meeting their milestones—whether their fine motor and gross motor abilities are up to scratch, whether their communication abilities are what they should be, and whether their emotional, psychological and physical development is what it should be. Those rules are the absolute basis for the delivery of good child-care: the identification of problems, the implementation of programs to assist children in their development, and the assessment of the impact of such assistance.

  Two sets of carers are involved where a child spends a large part of its day away from the parents. It is important that a child-care centre can discuss with the parents whether the child's development is within the normal range. These are the essential tenets of child care and childhood development. Most parents have some idea of the range of normal behaviour and wish to be able to discuss that range, and where their child is in it, with the child-care workers. Unless the child-care workers have carefully observed the child and checked the developmental dates within these checklists, they will have no idea what the child is doing.

  Another principle is good communication between the children and the parents. These are the commonsense and elementary things necessary for the provision of adequate child care. As someone who has spent a considerable part of professional life working in the early childhood area, I have no problem with these principles. I might have some problem with the wording but I have no problem with the principles that state: staff interactions with children should be warm and friendly; staff should treat all children equally and try to accommodate their individual needs; staff should respect diversity of background; and staff should treat both sexes without bias. Those are the sorts of things that parents expect their children to receive.

  The health and nutrition principles state that staff should be alert to the health and welfare of each child; that staff should try to ensure that children are clothed appropriately for indoor and outdoor play and for sleep; and that staff should ensure that food and drinks meet children's daily nutritional requirements and are culturally appropriate. For example, it is commonsense that it is not appropriate to serve a Jewish child a meal that contains pork. That is the sort of thing that one would expect these centres to be sensitive to. Of course, in saying that I am not suggesting that people are not acting inappropriately at present.

  I have spoken with people who work in child-care centres. They have no problem with these principles because they say that the principles cover the basic treatment and care that should be provided by anybody. Therefore, as professionals they want to aspire to these standards. These principles also give them goals.

  The second part of the motion proposes that the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs inquire into and report on, by 1 February, the cost of implementation of the guidelines. A number of honourable senators have already effectively explained why the date 1 February is out of the question, and that brings me back to Senator Herron's remarks about occupational health and safety .

  The Standing Committee on Community Affairs already has the heaviest workload of any senate committee. It has had to deal with a number of reports and bills and is in the middle of a major reference. We are coming up to Christmas, the time of the year when people need a break to recharge their batteries. Although I cannot speak for the opposition members on the committee—they are probably quite happy—I can speak on behalf of the government and Australian Democrats members when I say that, for reasons of our occupational health and safety, there is no way that we could physically deal with this reference. Furthermore, for reasons of the occupational health and safety of the committee secretariat there is no way that those people should be expected to be involved in such a reference at a time when they should be getting some rest. After all, we should be looking after the occupational health and safety of the committee secretariat. I therefore have much pleasure in supporting the government position on this motion.