Make childcare fair and women will return to work
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According to the Pregnancy and Employment Transitions Survey, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week, 27% of women who returned to work following the birth of a child relied on grandparents as their main form of childcare. Another 26% of women relied on a partner or the child's father and, coming in at third place, 23% of women chose long day care centres as their primary form of childcare.
This data supports what many mums returning to work have been telling me: long day care centres are not the preferred form of childcare for very young children. The reason include the high costs, unsuitable operating hours, lack of vacancies on certain days, the location being too inconvenient, and the belief that children aged under two are not ready for long day care centres.
The ABS report also reveals that more than 31%t of mothers returned to work within two years of childbirth. Most did so in order to keep their job (26%), for financial reasons (15%) or to maintain their self-esteem (15%). This reflects the anecdotal evidence about cost of living and concerns about job security weighing heavily on mothers' decisions to return to work.
Objective reports such as Pregnancy and Employment Transitions – not outdated notions about motherhood and childcare – should influence how the federal government and the Opposition formulate their childcare policies leading up to the election next year.
Families are currently being financially discriminated against depending on the mode of childcare they use. The Child Care Rebate does not extend to grandparents or other forms of in-home care, such as nannies. When it comes to children aged under two, many Australian families prefer in-home carers to long form or family daycare, for the reasons already listed, yet they are ineligible for assistance to meet the cost of this care. These families are overwhelmingly modest income-earners, including shift workers such as nurses. There is no logical basis for forcing these families to pay more for childcare.
It's time for policy-makers to accept the reality that women are returning to work well before their children are of school age, and that the traditional childcare system of long day care is not the preferred option for most of these women.
To encourage greater workplace productivity, we know we must incentivise more women to return to the workforce after childbirth. Ending financial discrimination based on their chosen mode of childcare is a good place to start.The ABS report, Pregnancy and Employment Transitions, is available to view here