A report released today by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) supports concerns held by many in the early childhood sector that Government policy puts too much emphasis on simply getting under-5s into care without ensuring that issues fundamental to providing quality education are addressed.
However, putting a baby or young child who is living in poverty into care during the day, even when it is of the highest quality, may not be the only or the best solution to alleviate child poverty, says Dr Sarah Alexander.
“Children’s basic needs are for love and security, food, shelter, warmth, and good health and at the end of the day attendance at an early childhood facility will only benefit the child in so far as it makes a difference to the home environment and parents’ ability to meet their children’s needs,” Dr Alexander says.
Child Poverty Action Group said in its report that “it is essential that the push to increase participation in early childhood services is matched by a focus on high quality, culturally responsive services."
"Disadvantaged children are the most vulnerable to potential harm so it's vital that policies to increase participation are matched with a focus on making sure all children have access to high quality, culturally responsive services."
Dr Alexander says other options for policy consideration could include for example, giving parents a financial choice to be full-time parents or utilise a formal facility, greater support for mothers to continue breastfeeding to mitigate the health risks to children of being in large-group care, and closing the large gaps in funding rates that favour full-day over part-day services and private ECE services over centres provided by community groups and parents such as Playcentres.
Dr Alexander says that CPAG has highlighted some of the key issues existing in early childhood education, including the affordability of ECE for low-income families, discrimination against the children of beneficiary parents by the Government in making childcare effectively compulsory only for this group, and regulations that do not set high enough standards for employing staff that are qualified and registered teachers, limiting group size, and ensuring optimal staffing ratios for toddlers and babies.
A survey of 360 people released by Dr Alexander last month revealed a strong desire by those working in the sector for the Government to take immediate action on:
- Improving the current ratio of one teacher for every five under-2s, to 1:4
- Restoring funding for services employing 100% registered teachers
- Limiting the number of children in groups/classes within a service’s licence
- A review of community-based ECE services with discussion as to how these services could be better supported
- Lifting the minimum requirement for the percentage of qualified teachers in teacher-led services from 50% to 80%
Also there is concern that the teaching qualifications of those providing ECE as home-based educators are not recognised.
Dr Alexander says counting only the qualifications of co-ordinators who oversee the work of home-based educators has led to a misunderstanding that all home-based educators are unqualified and that all are providing care inferior to that provided within centre-based settings.