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Tuesday, 10 October 1972
Page: 2288


Mr LYNCH (Flinders) (Minister for Labour and National Service) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill gives effect to the announcement by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) in his Budget Speech on 15th August last of the Government's intention to bring down legislation concerning child care centres. This Government initiative is a tangible expression of its very real and proper concern for the welfare of children. It is designed as a humanitarian measure with particular concern being directed to those in need.

The purpose of the legislation is to ensure the development of child day care facilities of good quality throughout the Commonwealth. Included in the concept good quality' are both the physical arrangements and the professional staffing, in the provision of which the overriding consideration will be the emotional, intellectual and physical development of children in child care centres.

This legislation expresses the Government's recognition of the rapidly increasing proportion of married women in the labour force and of the consequences of this phenomenon for the care of their children. Since 1961 the proportion of married women in the labour force has increased from 17 per cent to over 35 per cent. It is evident that, for a wide variety of reasons, an increasing number of married women are choosing to remain in or return to paid employment. They include mothers with young families. It is known that at the present time over 25 per cent of mothers with children under the age of 6 are in the labour force. Some of these mothers are engaged in paid employment in their own homes and care for their children at the same time. But there are over 150,000 preschool aged children whose mothers, or single fathers, work outside their homes.

Consistent with these developments the Government some time ago established a special section within my Department - the Women's Bureau - to examine problems relating to the employment of women. Its work has included an investigation relating to needs in child care, particularly the needs of working mothers. Its studies covered developments in the field of child day care in most other industrialised countries. Further research programmes instigated in my Department and elsewhere subsequently indicated the parameters of the problem of child day care. Most importantly, they revealed that child care facilities had not kept pace with the rapid growth in the female labour force during the 1960s, and that, as a consequence, existing child care facilities were inadequate, qualitatively and quantitively, for the growing numbers of children needing them. Not only were there too few centres but in many cases the provision was only for child minding and not for the quality of child care appropriate to the educational, emotional and developmental needs of the young children involved.

Having studied the nature of the problem, the Government established a committee of officers to report on the action required for its solution. The committee examined the dimensions of the problem, a range of possible remedial actions, and various approaches to financing. During this examination the committee had the benefit of consultations with State government departments and with representatives from a wide range of local government, professional and voluntary groups and organisations throughout Australia concerned wilh day care arrangements for children. These consultations revealed among other things, that child care which was beneficial to the child's overall development was prohibitively costly for the large body of parents, and secondly, that the childminding arrangements that most parents could afford fell far short of the quality that was required in the interests of child welfare. While many working mothers were able to make satisfactory arrangements for their children during working hours, a substantial number were not, partly because of a shortage of child care facilities and partly because of the cost. It became evident that only through Government action could the problems that had developed in relation to child care be met within an appropriate time scale.

In summary, the Government decided that action was urgently needed; action to ensure sufficient good quality child care facilities in the community for the proper care and development of pre-school aged children whose parents or guardians are unable, for a variety of reasons, to make other suitable arrangements. These facilities should be available at a cost that is not prohibitive to parents, especially to parents of children in special need. The latter include one-parent families, newlyarrived migrants, low-income groups generally and families where one of the parents is sick or incapacitated.

It is important to acknowledge that this initiative comprehends assistance at 3 levels - that of the child, of the family, and of the community. For that reason there will be no static approach to the concept of child care. The scheme is forwardlooking and includes provision to stimulate research into all factors relating to the needs of the community in relation to the care of children, and for experiments in various child day care methods. It is the Government's intention to ensure an ongoing evaluation of both the short-term and long-term effects of the measures which this Bill will make possible.

Before describing the scheme I want to emphasise 2 points of substance. First, it is the view of authorities concerned with child care - for example the Child Psychiatry Section of the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists - that alternate care, provided for young children while their mothers are working, which is inadequate and unsatisfactory, can contribute to emotional disturbance in the child's later years. Of particular concern is the situation where young children are left in the care of untrained and unsupervised child minders who do not have the facilities conducive to the social and emotional development of young children. Unfortunately, many young children are being taken care of in just such circumstances.

The Government's initiative is to remedy this situation. Second, the Government's initiative springs from its concern for the welfare of children of working mothers. The increase of working mothers in the labour force is a phenomenon of modern industrial society. I do not make a value judgment upon it. It is also a fact that at present 25 per cent of mothers with children under 6 years of age are in the labour force. That a substantial number of such mothers cannot make satisfactory arrangements for the care of their preschool aged children is yet another fact. The purpose of the scheme is to meet this existing problem - to help the children of working and other parents insofar as they are deprived of proper child care either because good quality facilities are not available or because the cost is presently too high. The scheme is not intended either to encourage or discourage mothers from entering paid employment.

The Scheme

In summary, the Bill provides for assistance to non-profit organisations, including local governing bodies, to establish and operate centres which provide day care for children of working and sick parents and which give priority of admission to children in special need. For this purpose children in special need are defined in clause 20 of the Bill. The proposed scheme has 4 main elements, as follows: (i) capital grants; (ii) recurrent grants in respect of qualified staff; (iii) recurrent grants with respect to children in special need; and (iv) grants for research and evaluation of matters relating to child care.

Capital Grants

In summary, unmatched capital grants will be provided and made payable direct to eligible organisations for: (i) the purchase, erection, extension or alteration of buildings, including necessary fixtures, and land cost, for use as a child care centre; and (ii) the purchase and installation of equipment for use in child care centres. Capital grants will cover up to the full cost of a new centre including land, buildings, fixtures and all necessary equipment. There is no requirement for eligible organisations to match funds provided in the capital grants, and in this respect the scheme is exceptional. The Government regards unmatched grants as the most effective method of ensuring that sufficient new child care centres will be built where they are needed most, particularly in areas of greatest social need.

Provision in the Budget of funds for capital grants in this financial year should enable a substantial expansion of the number of child care places in the community. It is hoped to establish some 50 new centres catering for some 3,000 child care places in the first full year of the scheme. This would provide an increase of about 20 per cent in the number of child care places available in Australia, lt is a significant first step, and the Government intends that at least this rate of growth will be sustained in subsequent years. Capital grants other than towards equipment operate on and from 16lh August; that is, the date following the announcement of the scheme by my colleague the Treasurer (Mr Snedden). Grants for equipment will be operative as from the date the Act receives royal assent.

Organisations Eligible for Capital Grant

The Bill defines organisations eligible for capital grant as including local governing bodies, trusts established for charitable or benevolent purposes, and other organisations that are corporations in the legal sense and are carried on otherwise than for the purpose of profit or gain, as approved by the Minister. However, non-profit organisations and associations that are not bodies corporate will be eligible to apply for capital grants in respect of equipment. For its application for an unmatched capital grant to succeed, a claimant organisation will be required to demonstrate that it is capable of efficiently managing a child care centre, and that it can bear the responsibility of ensuring the centre's financial viability.

Applications for grants will be considered on their merits. Honourable members will appreciate, however, that claimant organisations will have to demonstrate that they have the organisational structure and capacity to endure, and to use unmatched capital grants effectively. In the case of small, jess structured organisations, evidence of this capacity may include the existence of a larger body willing to act as guarantor, or the possession of sufficient assets to ensure the continued operation of the centre. In all cases, the acceptance of a capital grant will automatically involve responsibility for running the child care centre in accordance with the required conditions which I shall deal with later. Local governing authorities and organisations backed by such authority will be particularly well placed to meet these conditions.

Recurrent Grants in Respect of Staff

There is provision for recurrent grants to eligible organisations to encourage the employment of certain types of qualified staff in specified numbers in child care centres. The Government regards these grants as particularly significant because they should improve the quality of the care provided without causing the cost of the service to the parents to increase. Broadly speaking, these recurrent grants will be determined on the following basis. They will be based on a prescribed proportion of the salaries payable to qualified preschool teachers and nurses employed in centres - the 2 categories of professionally qualified staff regarded as necessary in centres providing good quality care. This prescribed proportion of salaries will be half.

Where there are 15 or more children 3 years of age or over enrolled full-time, the grant will be in respect of one pre-school teacher. After the first 20 children 3 years of age or over, the grant will be in respect of one qualified nurse for every 20 children or part thereof. There is provision for grants in respect of additional pre-school teachers in child care centres accommodating more than a prescribed number of children. The number will be prescribed by regulation. Younger children under 3 years of age have other and more demanding needs. The basis of the recurrent grant in respect of staff is therefore different. The grant will be available for a qualified nurse employed in a centre for every 10 such children or part thereof for which the centre has enrolments.

The number of children in this context refers to children enrolled for 8 hours during the day in a centre. The Bill includes provision for the calculation of the grant to be made in such a way as to take into account the varying hours that different children might attend centres. The Bill defines a qualified pre-school teacher as a person who has such qualifications as are recognised by the Australian Pre-School Association as being sufficient for a preschool teacher. Thus, under the scheme opportunities will exist for children aged between 3 and 5 years in child care centres to receive pre-school education. The Bill describes in some detail how these grants will be paid to eligible organisations. Arrangements to calculate them are such as to avoid undue fluctuations in the receipt of income by organisations, for example, during school holidays when enrolments in centres might be low.

There are 3 points I wish to make explicit with respect to staffing. Firstly, setting of standards for the employment of qualified persons in child care centres is a function of State or local governments. Secondly, the recurrent grant which I have just described in respect of staffing is intended as an incentive towards the employment of qualified staff. Thirdly, in addition to these staff, in respect of whom grants will be payable, other staff may need to be employed in centres to meet such staffing standards as are laid down under State legislation or local government by-law.

Recurrent Grants with Respect to Children in Special Need

The Bill provides for special recurrent grants to enable centres to offer reduced fees in respect of enrolled children from low income and other families in financial need. There have been suggestions from time to time thai attendance at child care centres should be free. The Government does not accept this view, except for the most necessitous cases. The fees normally charged to parents of children not in financial need will bc of the order presently being charged in the community. For these fees, however, children will enjoy in government-assisted centres a quality of care superior to that otherwise available because of the nature of the facilities and the qualified staff provided. Reduced fees will be charged to parents in financial need, varying with their circumstances. To enable this reduction of fees, eligible organisations will receive special recurrent grants.

The method of determining the amount of these special recurrent grants to organisations is administratively simple and straight forward. The basis of the method will be that an organisation operating a centre will receive payments with respect to children in special need. For this purpose, 'children in special need' is defined in the Bill - Clause 12 - as children of one parent families, of families in the first 3 years of settlement in Australia, of families where one of the parents is sick or incapacitated, and of families eligible to receive assistance under the subsidised health benefits scheme. The level of the grant paid to organisations operating centres in respect of each child in special need may be up to some $8 per week per child under 3, and some $6 per week per child 3 years of age and over. The maximum rate per hour of attendance per child that may be paid to an organisation will be prescribed by regulation. The actual amounts paid in respect of different centres will vary according to the relative capacity of the respective client parents to pay.

The circumstances of families placing children in child care centres cannot be predicted in advance. Family circumstances, particularly in the more needy section of the community, are subject to considerable fluctuations. For this reason the level of fees charged a family at each point in time must be left to the judgment of supervisors of centres. Supervisors will be expected to take a humane approach in making reduced fees available to parents when and where they judge it to be necessary. This type of flexibility towards the reduction of fees is in line with the current practice in those few existing centres that are presently able to offer reduced fees to certain parents. In administering the scheme my Department will provide guidelines to organisations running centres that should assist them in determining the cases and occasions that warrant reduction in fees.

In a scheme of this nature, that relates to the development and care of children, every opportunity must be made to ensure that organisations assisted can operate their child care centres with compassion and with the capacity to assist the most needy cases as they arise from time to time. At the same time, it will be the responsibility of organisations operating centres to balance their own financial budgets, taking into account the recurrent grants that will be made available - both in respect of staffing and with respect to children in special need - the fees they can collect, and their other sources of income, if any, against their outgoings for salaries, maintenance of equipment and buildings and other current expenditure.

Eligibility for the Recurrent Grants

At present in Australia there are some 80 child care centres operated on a nonprofit basis. It is expected that non-profit organisations operating these centres will be eligible for both types of recurrent grants in respect of those centres immediately the scheme commences, if they comply with the conditions required under the scheme. Such organisations need not be corporations in the legal sense to be eligible for the recurrent grants. In respect of these grants the scheme will come into operation when the Child Care Act receives royal assent.

Funds for Capital and Recurrent Grants

Funds for capital and recurrent grants amounting to 4.8m have been provided for this financial year in the Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1972-73. It is estimated that the total amount for capital and recurrent grants during the first full year of the scheme will be of the order of $6.5m. Over the first full 3 years, it is envisaged that at least $23 m will be expended on these grants.

Conditions Relating to Grants

The Bill provides that before grants are made, the Minister may require the grantee to enter into an agreement and give security for the carrying out of that agreement. The Bill provides 2 mandatory conditions in any such agreement relating to capital or recurrent grants. They are:

(i)   to accept applications for enrolment of children in special need in priority to applications relating to other children;

(ii)   to provide child care on such days and during such hours as the Minister determines.

The intention of the first of these conditions is to ensure that preference in admission is given to those in greatest need of child day care. The intention of the second is to ensure that centres receiving grants will be open on normal working days and for sufficient hours to cater for the needs of parents or guardians working full time. In effect this will exclude from capita] or recurrent grants organisations which operate centres for limited hours and for limited periods of the year. Organisations will need to operate centres for at least 8 hours a day throughout the working year.

Additional conditions may be included in agreements relating to capital and recurrent grants, such as the following:

(i)   Organisations in receipt of grant will have to comply with all regulations, standards and conditions required by States and local authorities; and with any other standards required by the Minister;

(ii)   Centres will need to provide programmes of pre-school education for children as appropriate;

(iii)   Appropriately qualified staff as approved from time to time by the Minister, or where particular categories of staff are unavailable, approved alternatives will have to be employed;

(iv)   Persons in charge of centres will be required to seek the co-operation of family counselling and other local social welfare agencies including those operated by local governing authorities, especially in cases of family disruption and where parents or guardians are seeking to place very young children in centres;

(v)   The centre will have to be operated financially on a break-even basis over a reasonable period; operating surpluses will not be allowed to be used in financing other activities conducted by the eligible organisation; eligible organisations in receipt of grants will be required to keep certain financial and other records and make these available for inspection on request;

(vi)   Eligible organisations seeking unmatched capital grants will need to provide a guarantor where required by the Minister, to ensure the continued financial viability of the centre in respect of which the grant is made;

(vii)   Organisations Li receipt of grants will be required to operate the child care centres concerned for the benefit of the community in which they are located and generally to the satisfaction of the Minister.

It will, of course, be obvious to honourable members that organisations seeking capital grants will have to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Minister that a need for the new or additional child day care facilities exists.

Standards Advisory Committee

The Bill provides for a child care standards committee to be established to advise the Minister on the range of facilities that will be covered by the unmatched capital grants to organisations, on the standard of these facilities and on the service provided in child care centres in receipt of grant. In considering appropriate facilities and their standard the committee will, of course, have regard to the standards for child care centres required by State legislation. In addition, this committee will advise the Minister on the comparative merits of individual applications for capital or recurrent grants and, where appropriate, be available to advise organisations who wish to make applications for grants. The committee may also be asked to advise on other matters referred to it in connection with the child care scheme.

The child care standards committee wil! be assisted by committees in each State. These State committees will act as contact points with organisations seeking capital or recurrent grants. Their members will carry on a liaison with applicant organisations following receipt of initial applications and, where appropriate, during the design and construction stages ot new centres, in making appointments to these committees, it is my intention to seek the best advice possible. I hope that it will be possible to include officers of relevant State government departments who can advise on the facilities that should be provided, on the best approach to the development of children in centres, and as to the geographical areas that are in greatest need of additional child care facilities.

Research Grants

The Government intends to ensure that developments in its provision for child care continue to have regard to the wide variety of views that are known to exist in the community on the subject. One practical application of this proposition will be studies to review how the scheme provided for in this legislation is meeting the needs of the child, the family and the community, and to identify inadequacies, if any. Evaluation of the new scheme will be continuous. The second expression of the Government's concern about future developments is the provision for research to explore the very large field of child care, particularly as it relates to day care, and related areas such as after-school and holi-day care for school-aged children.

The Bill provides for funds lo bs allocated for research and evaluation. The amount will be $200,000 for the remainder of this financial year, and it is anticipated that at least Sim could be spent over the next 3 years. Some of the funds will be used to make grants to suitable research bodies, and some for the employment of experts on contract to examine on -going activities. The scope for research is very wide. The Government is uncommitted as to the eventual directions in which its assistance towards child day care nay develop. Because of this the Government wishes to see the examination of the subject continued. One area that will inevitably attract investigation is alternative forms of child day care such as family day care centres. Also worthy of study is the motivation for mothers of young children to continue to care for their own children in their own homes rather than to enter paid employment. For example, in this regard what is the persuasive influence of appropriate family counselling on mothers of young children?

Another area that will need development is the form by which the evaluation of child care arrangements may proceed. It may be possible to involve, say, professionally qualified social workers or sociologists experienced in the child care field to work in and around the Government assisted child care centres. These people could report to the Minister from time to time on the overall impact of the present scheme. Additionally, they might make themselves available as opportunities arise as advisers on problem cases and situations to organisations running centres.

Another important avenue for research relates to the training of staff for child care centres. There is a view, for example, that new forms of training are required to meet the needs of children in child care centres. The research would need to concern itself with whether such courses might range from professional to short part-time training arrangements applicable to child care personnel. Obviously these research possibilities and others that might emerge during the course of debate cannot all be undertaken simultaneously; thus the question of priorities arises.

There is provision in this Bill, therefore, for advisory committees to advise the Minister on various matters. 1 have in mind that one such advisory committee would be established to advise on the allocation of grants for research and evaluation. lt is proposed that this committee be called the 'Child Care Research Committee'. The functions the Government envisages for this committee are to make recommendations regarding applications for grant; to evaluate the direction of the Government's child care scheme when requested and to advise accordingly; to recommend measures for the training of child care personnel; to recommend areas for research and experimentation into important aspects of child care; and to advise on the application of research findings.

Conclusion

In conclusion I recall some of the principal factors to which the Government has had regard in developing the scheme provided for in this Bill. Children of pre school age should not be deprived of proper care and the opportunity for the fullest possible development because their parents are not looking after them at home during the day. The community's attitudes to the working mother and working wife have changed dramatically in the last decade or so; there is certainly no question about this. It was confirmed again and again during the consultations which the committee of officers undertook during its examination of the child care problem and to which I have already referred. The attitude of the working mother is that her presence in the community is a fact and that assistance with the care of her children is a pressing need. The Government, in bringing down this legislation, is meeting this need. It will be clear, however, from observations I have already made that the Government is not necessarily committed to any one method for achieving this purpose. Its intention is to ensure that the development of its assistance for child day care is kept under close review.

Continuing evaluation of the centra is essential. It is not the Government's intention to help additional child care centres into existence and then forget about them. The evaluation will reveal what is happening in the centres and what their impact is on the community, on the families involved and on the chilren themselves.

Child care centres will be community oriented. This is implicit in the references I have made to their impact on the community. It is basic, therefore, that the physical conditions in the centres facilitate and encourage the participation and involvement of parents in the care and development of their children at the centres. (Extension of time granted). One responsibility of the Child Care Standards Committee will be to examine designs for centres to ensure that they incorporate physical features which parents placing their children in a centre can use as a community service. More precisely, parents will be encouraged to see the centre as a place to which they can come to discuss the development of their children with other parents, with the staff in the centre and with qualified professional people.

The Government envisages that if a beginning can be made to turn this legislation into reality quickly, we can look forward to an increase of at least 20 per cent per annum over the next 3 years in the number of places for pre-school children that will be available in child care centres. This is worth achieving while research into related developments is being evaluated, lt is very important for honourable members to appreciate that significant though the increase in physical accommodation is, of much greater importance is the provision for improving the quality of child care that will be available to the community in future years. I draw the attention of honourable members to the recurrent grants that encourage - indeed, demand - the employment of qualified staff in centres including staff capable of providing preschool education. The Government is not unmindful of the shortage of such teachers and elsewhere is providing for the support of colleges concerned with their training. Thus, simultaneously, the supply of trained pre-school teachers is being increased and opportunities are being created for their employment.

The Government welcomes the opportunity to develop this legislation at this time. Under it a scheme is being provided for child care centres of good quality. Parents who use them will have the satisfaction of knowing this. The quality of child care is important not only to parents who, for one reason or another, choose to work, but also to all parents because in today's mobile society, with families living apart from grandparents and other relatives, there are many who have nowhere to turn when they are ill or in need of assistance with their children during the day. Child care centres have to be seen in their proper perspective; they are supportive of the family unit and in extreme cases are the alternative to placing children in residential institutions. I commend the Bill to the House.


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I want to move that the debate be adjourned. But before I take my seat I would like to ask the Minister whether he will make available to members on both sides of the Parliament the copy of the interdepartmental committee's working papers and reports on this matter so that we will know what we are talking about and so that the Parliament can have the advantage which at the moment only the Minister seems to enjoy.


Mr Lynch - It is not the normal practice of this Parliament to do this. The honourable gentleman is very much aware of this fact. In precise terms, the answer to his question is, no.

Debate (on motion by Mr Clyde Cameron) adjourned.







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