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Parents’ Choices of Child Care in Australia

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Full Reference
Boyd, W. (2014).  Parents’ choices of child care in Australia.  NZ Research in Early Childhood Education Journal. Special Issue: Early Childhood Policy, 17, 51 - 70.

 

Original Policy Paper

Parents’ Choices of Child Care in Australia

Wendy Boyd
Southern Cross University, Australia

 

Abstract

Little is known about how parents make decisions about care for their child, especially first-time mothers returning to paid work after the birth of their first child. This paper investigates first-time mothers’ intentions and decisions for care of their child as they return to paid work. This study tracked 124 Australian first-time mothers from third trimester of pregnancy until 12 months postpartum. The investigation analysed intentions and choices of care. The key findings indicate that the women preferred care in the home by a known person, yet were often unable to access this care. To choose a childcare setting where the staff were unknown to the mothers, they frequently relied on the reputation of the centre. However some parents did not feel supported when using childcare centres: they expressed concern over the staffing levels, the group sizes and the constant ill-health of their child. Policy on care for the child needs to consider parents’ preferences for care of the child, as all children are affected by parents’ decisions.

Key words: Childcare choice; quality; access; care preferences; participation; infant care.

 

Background

An increase in women’s participation in the workforce over the past 30 years has focused attention on childcare policy and provision in Australia, as evidenced by the commitment by the Council of Australian Governments (Communiqué, December 2009) to improved quality in childcare. Care for the child enables mothers to work and provides early educational experiences for children. Early care experiences influence children’s learning and development in the early years and may continue to influence outcomes throughout life (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000).

The family is the most important factor in children’s lives and development (Heckman, 2006), not just in the care the family provides but also the childcare1 choices made by the family (Waldfogel, 2006). Public policy advisers have identified that female workforce participation is one of three key opportunities for increasing Australian economic growth (Daley, McGannon, & Ginnivan, 2012). While women’s participation in the workforce has increased, only 67% of Australian women aged 15-64 years engage in paid work of which two-thirds work part-time. Prior to having children women are as likely as their male counterparts to engage in paid work but after having children are less likely to work and when they do work it is for less hours per week (Daley, McGannon, & Ginnivan, 2012). Paid parental leave and good quality child care are key areas to support women’s return to paid work (WFPR, 2013). In 2011 Australia launched its first paid parental leave scheme. This scheme is for 18 weeks of paid leave; considerably shorter than the recommended period for breast feeding until 26 weeks postpartum (National Health & Medical Research Council, 2013).

When a mother returns to paid work she needs to be able to access care for her child. The personal decisions a mother makes for paid work will be influenced by her care preferences and accessibility to that care. These decisions are made within the framework of Australia’s public policies regarding paid work and care for the child. Public policies for care of the child aim to provide good quality, accessible care that supports personal choices and are optimal for the mother, child and family (Boyd, 2011). The term ‘accessible’ means in this context that the care is available, affordable, in a suitable location, and offers appropriate hours. This is sometimes referred to as ‘the pragmatics of care’.

Affordability of childcare has been identified as one of three policy areas that reduce women’s workforce participation; the other two are high marginal tax rates and welfare (Daley, McGannon, & Ginnivan, 2012). But there are other barriers to maternal employment beyond economic considerations. Boyd, Walker and Thorpe (2013) in an analysis of women’s decisions about returning to paid work, found that the care must be available when the mother's maternity leave ends. Otherwise she has to take the care when it is offered and perhaps return to work earlier, or later, then intended. This is not ideal to support women’s workforce engagement.

Another barrier to maternal employment is that the care must be of acceptable quality so that the mother feels assured her child’s needs are being met.  Care that is of an acceptable quality to the tmother is a key factor in promoting or limiting workforce participation (Coffey, 2004). The quality of children’s care in early childhood centres has been linked to better outcomes for infants and toddlers (Harrison, 2008; O'Brien, Weaver, Burchinal, Clarke-Stewart & Vandell, 2013; Sims, Guilfoyle & Parry, 2005), and the quality of childcare services in Australia has been reported as an emotional barrier to maternal employment regarding concern for the child's health and wellbeing (Bourke, 2006; Harris, 2008).

Leaving a child in a setting where the care is considered unsuitable impacts upon the mother’s wellbeing and contribution in the workplace (Craig, 2007). Harris (2008) reports women can feel insecure and worry about engaging in paid work to earn an income at the cost of their child being in unsuitable care. When decisions align with beliefs optimal emotional security is supported, and in particular, when maternal beliefs are congruent with the mother’s employment status then mothers and children benefit (Pungello & Kurtz-Costes, 2000). Having a positive attitude to employment supports psychological well-being. The same applies in reverse: non-employed mothers, who believe maternal employment has negative consequences for children’s learning and development, also have better psychological well-being (Hock, Gnedza & McBride, 1986; Zimmerman & Katon, 2005).

Maternal employment has direct consequences for a child’s learning, development and well-being, not only at the time of early experiences but throughout life. The impact of the environment on children’s developing brain capacity has been shown to influence the hard wiring that occurs in the first years of life (Rutter, 2006). Different stages in the development of the brain are shaped and formed in response to different environmental experiences. Such sensitive periods in brain development, especially in infancy, have been identified to have implications for the provision of care of the child to ensure the best possible outcomes for children (Bennett, 2008).

Care environments for infants require high staffing levels, which are expensive, and, as a result, limit spaces for availability, thus contributing to a shortage of supply (Boyd, Walker & Thorpe, 2013). When it comes time for a mother in Australia to return to paid work and seek care for her child who has required her full time care, she frequently finds to her dismay that her child will be in the care of one adult with three other infants (Boyd et al., 2013). This may lead to reassessment of her decision and she may make trade-offs to stay at home with her child, or work reduced hours. Either way economic productivity is likely to be compromised.

 

Maternal employment and child care in Australia

Public investment in childcare in Australia was below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average in 2007 even though maternal employment rates had risen (OECD, 2007). The Australian Government began the implementation of the National Quality Framework (NQF) in 2010 to improve the quality of early childhood education and care through improved staff qualifications, higher levels of staffing, universal access to 15 hours of a preschool program for all pre-schoolers by 2014, and for the first time in Australia’s history, National Standards and Regulations.

Australia has a mixed market economy of care for the child for children aged six weeks to six years. Non-parental care is comprised of formal and informal care. Formal care sits within the policy of the National Quality Framework (Australian Children's Early Childhood Quality Authority [ACECQA], 2011). It is regulated and licensed, and includes centre-based childcare (sometimes referred to as long day care), family day care, and preschools/ kindergartens. There is a patchwork of private (for-profit) and community-based (not-for-profit) childcare services in Australia (ABS, 2010). Formal childcare settings are required to engage in continuing quality improvement.

The quality improvement and accreditation system for childcare began in 1993 (National Childcare Accreditation Council [NCAC], 2009). But by 2008 concerns remained about the quality of childcare in Australia. The Quality Trends Report published by NCAC in 2008 for childcare centres indicated that for the first six months of 2008, just 80% of services were accredited as being of suitable quality and 20% were not accredited. Such figures were cause for concern regarding the quality of care for children. These figures are pertinent to this paper as they form the background to the decision-making by the mothers in the research as the data was collected from May 2007 until December 2008.

Recent figures from the National Quality Framework (ACECQA, 2013) indicate continuing problems with the quality of care for children in Australian childcare centres.  In mid-2013 of the 19% of the childcare centres that had been assessed 56% were meeting or exceeding the current standards, indicating 44% of childcare centres were ‘working towards’, or not achieving, the National Quality Standard. The quality of formal care remains a concern in 2013.

Informal care is care provided by a relative, friend, nanny or some acquaintance of the parent and is not regulated, licensed or registered with the Australian Government. Most commonly informal care for infants in Australia is provided by relatives, with grandparents being the sole providers for 37% of infants (ABS, 2005; Harrison & Ungerer, 2005). Informal care is frequently cited as being parents’ preferred option for children less than 12 months old because it is more affordable and accessible than formal care (Harrison & Ungerer, 2005). Additionally parents prefer this type of care as the carer is familiar, trustworthy, and reliable, and it is in the home - a known and safe environment and the key attraction of this type of care is that it provides parents with emotional security (Boyd, Thorpe & Tayler, 2010). The mother is able to return to paid work assured her child is being cared for by someone she knows, and whose parenting values align with her own.  

A further type of care associated with maternal employment is parental care. Some parents are able to work while caring for their child which has been reported to be without problems when the child is very young and sleeps during the day (Gray, Baxter & Alexander, 2008; Riley & Glass, 2002) but more difficult as the child grows older. Alternatively some parents may organise their work shifts so that one parent is always available for care while the other parent works.

Many families in Australia opt for multiple care arrangements, that is, two or more care arrangements per week (Bowes et al. 2003). For example a child may be in two different types of non-parental care over a week including a childcare centre and a grandparent. It is not clear from research why parents choose multiple care arrangements: is it for balancing employment with care hours, such as asking a relative to pick up a child from child care; is it because such arrangements are considered to be for the benefit of the child; or is it that parents use their most preferred type of care (for example the grandparent) for as many hours as possible and then select other care types to make up the required hours for their needs? Neuman (2005) suggests that multiple care arrangements are the result of an inadequately funded early education and care system so parents have to piecemeal their care arrangements.

Opinion is divided about the possible negative impact on the child as a result of multiple care arrangements (Bowes et al, 2003; Neuman, 2005) versus the benefits for the child (Gammage, 2003; Sims, 2009). It is likely that if the care provided is of good quality then the child will not be at any risk. The research literature consistently reports parents’ high levels of satisfaction with multiple care arrangements (Bowes et al., 2003; Qu & Wise, 2005).

At the time of data collection for this study, 2007-2008, women in Australia were making decisions about paid work and care for the child in an environment of negativity about childcare. There was a high degree of mistrust of childcare centres as quality ratings of services failing the Quality Improvement Accreditation System (NCAC, 2009) were running at 20%, and the large corporate childcare provider ABC Learning was near collapse at the beginning of 2008.

Making a decision about engaging in paid work and leaving one’s child in the care of another is not only a financial decision, but also an emotional decision. Decisions are regarded as a composite of preferences, which lead to intentions and choices of options. First-time mothers will weigh up the benefits and costs associated with each option (Boyd, 2011). This will then inform their choice. First-time expectant mothers represent a group who are invested in motherhood and have usually had direct experience of paid work, but do not have experience of care for the child. They therefore can provide an insight into society’s views about care for the child. This paper presents the women’s intentions and actual decisions for care of the child, to illustrate women’s knowledge about care prior to giving birth. 

Against this background this paper asked the following questions to investigate parents’ care choices as they return to paid work:

  1. What were the intentions of first-time mothers regarding care of the child, and what were the actual choices of care?
  2. To identify influences on choices of care this research asked participants at 12 months postpartum:
    1. What do you feel is important when selecting care for your child?
    2. Please describe your feelings about the care arrangements you have for your child.

 

Methodology

The participants

This prospective study tracked 124 Australian expectant first-time mothers from their third trimester of pregnancy to 12 months postpartum. The 124 participants were recruited using two methods. A direct approach was made to expectant mothers in hospital ante-natal classes in south-east Queensland (80 respondents) and in northern New South Wales (19 respondents), Australia. The second approach was a request for volunteers via the media of a Queensland university’s online news (25 respondents). Recruitment was from May, 2007 until November, 2007. The participants were re-surveyed at six months (n = 98) (January to July 2008) and 12 months postpartum (n = 93) (June to December 2008).

The participants’ age, marital and work status, and household income were typical of the Australian population at the antenatal point (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2007a). The age of the expectant first-time mothers ranged from 17 to 39 years with the average age 28.9 years (SD = 4.99). Half of the women held a university degree or higher, which is higher than the Australian average of 35% for the age group 25 to 40 years (ABS, 2007b). The average household income was from $60,000 to $80,000, typical of the Australian population at the time (ABS, 2007c). Entitlement to maternity leave is a theoretically important factor affecting women’s return to paid work following the birth of a child (OECD, 2006). Of the women who had been engaging in paid work, 66 (59%, n = 112) were entitled to 12 months unpaid maternity leave and 45 (40%) were entitled to paid maternity leave ranging from one to 26 weeks.

Measures

Questionnaires were completed by participants over three time-points of data collection antenatal, six and 12 months postpartum. The data presented in this paper is only from the antenatal and 12 months postpartum questionnaires. The questionnaire included demographic data; had a battery of questions that asked about paid work and care of the child; and utilised, as far as possible, existing standard measures of the key constructs, or questions from prior studies. Where existing measures were not available new items were developed, and this was the case for investigating choice of care for the child.

Limitations

There were limitations to this study: the small sample size, the over-representation of the sample being highly educated, and the fact that the research design was set within the economic, social and political context of 2007-2008.

 

Results          

Intentions and choices for paid work and care for the child

Of the 124 women surveyed in their third trimester (antenatal time point) 97 women (78%) intended to return to paid work by 12 months postpartum. At 12 months postpartum 64 women (69%, n = 93) were working. At 12 months postpartum 16 women (18%) were not working who had said they would, and 7 (8%) were working who had said they would not return to paid work. The two most commonly recorded reasons for not returning to paid work, when they had intended to do so were first that the women did not want to leave their child, and second the women were not able to find suitable care. The main reason for returning to paid work earlier than intended was financial need. Figures 1 illustrates changes in intentions for paid work antenatally and at 12 months.

 

2014 NZRECE Boyd Figure 1

Figure 1. Intentions and actual engagement in paid work at 12 months postpartum

* This is the number of participants who completed the questionnaire correctly, and differs to the number who actually engaged in paid work n = 93 at 12 months postpartum.

 

The women’s timing regarding return to paid work was more gradual then they had indicated antenatally. Figure 2 shows the intended and the actual rates of return to paid work up to 12 months postpartum. Tests of mean for intended and actual return to work indicated that means of the timing to return to paid work were not significantly different t(58) = 1.10,  p > .05. This is important as the timing of return to paid work influences the timing of the need for care for the child.

2014 NZRECE Boyd Figure 2 Figure 2. Intentions and actual timing of return to paid work from birth to 12 months postpartum

 

Participants were asked their intended care type and actual care usage. At the antenatal data collection point the majority of participants (n = 72, 58%) intended to use parental and relative care followed by childcare, friend care and then family day care (see Figure 3). At 12 months postpartum the most commonly used care was provided by parents and relatives, followed by childcare, family day care and friends.

2014 NZRECE Boyd Figure 3

Figure 3. Intended (n = 121) and actual care usage (%) for 12 months postpartum (n = 93).

 

As indicated in Figure 3 the women were using care provided by a parent, a relative, a friend, family day care and centre-based care, and no one was using care provided by a nanny. The results indicate that the women in this study used parental care, or care provided by relatives, more than other types of care at 12 months postpartum. Childcare was used less frequently then intended. As multiple care arrangements were utilised Figure 3 represents the total of care arrangements (i.e. one parent may be represented more than once).

More than 70% of participants intended to use multiple care arrangements antenatally to fulfil their hours of required care but at 12 months postpartum this figure was just 39% (n = 29). There were nine care combinations at 12 months, with the most common combination of care provided by a relative and parental care. Figure 4 illustrates the multiple care arrangements at 12 months. The most frequently used single type of care was childcare. All multiple care arrangements involved either the parents and/or relatives. Parental care with one other type of care accounted for 19% (n = 12) of the care selection, parental care with two types of care accounted for 8% (n = 5). One eighth (n = 8) of the sample were using two types of non-parental care only.

2014 NZRECE Boyd Figure 4Figure 4.  Care use at 12 months (n = 64)

 

The intended use of care assessed at the antenatal data collection point, changed in three ways compared to the actual decisions for care. First 20% (n = 18) women who had intended to engage in paid work decided not to engage in paid work by 12 months postpartum and thus did not utilise care for employment reasons. Second, there was an increase in the use of single care type compared to intended care. Third, the high rate of intended multiple care arrangements of 70% reduced to approximately 40% at both six and 12 months postpartum per week. For many of the participants the decision-making process for care changed because their intentions for paid work changed.

Influences on care decisions

To identify influences on choices of care this research asked participants at 12 months postpartum:

  • What do you feel is important when selecting care for your child now that your child is 12 months old?
  • Please describe your feelings about the care arrangements you have for your child.

The responses were analysed following an iterative process of reading and re-reading all of the responses and categorising these into key themes linking to the quality and accessibility of care. Five key themes emerged relating to accessing quality care:

  1. The characteristics of the caregiver: competent, experienced, flexible, caring nature, trustworthy, familiar and reliable.
  2. The physical care environment: clean, safe, staffing levels, group size, familiar.
  3. The child’s experiences: stimulating, fun.  
  4. Accessing care: availability, affordability, suitable location and flexible hours.
  5. The caregiver aligns her values with the mother's child-rearing values.

The following 14 responses (22%, n = 64) have been chosen as being representative of these five themes identified by the participants when choosing care for their child. The results are divided up into care in the home, and care in a childcare setting. The reason for this distinction is that the environments are very different, not only physically, but also in that there are multiple groups of children in childcare, which differs from the care by a relative, friend or family day carer. It needs to be remembered though that family day care, while provided in a home, is regarded as formal care in Australia as it is regulated, and assessed for quality.

Care in the home

Care in the home was provided by a parent, relative, friend and/or a family day carer. The five emergent themes were evident in participants’ responses whose children were being cared for in a home.

Participant 2 was using 16 hours of care provided by a relative, and eight hours of family day care. She identified that low care-giver to child ratios, and the relationship between her child and the caregiver as important. She said:

a) That the carer is well known to my child. One-on-one contact. That my carer loves my child.

b) I am very happy with my care arrangements

Participant 14 was using 30 hours of family day care, and four hours of care provided by a relative. The sharing of similar parenting values was important to her as she stated:

a) We have a fantastic day care mum - couldn’t be happier. Very similar parenting style to me, which I think will make a big difference as she grows older and tries to assert more independence!

b) Stimulating environment; other children to play/interact with.

Participant 51 who was using 18 hours of care provided by a relative, and nine hours of parental care identified that the child's experiences and a caregiver who was familiar with the child were important to her as she said:

a) I think it’s important to have someone who is very close minding him, and I also wish they would take him out to socialise more with other kids. People who follow his routine and look after him with personal care and full attention so he doesn't miss out.

b) I am overall very happy, when I go to work I don't worry at all about his safety or personal stress levels, he always appears happy when I leave and when I return and he seems to thoroughly enjoy his days with others.

Participant 58 was using 8.5 hours of relative care and was satisfied with this care.

a) I prefer XXXX to be with family rather than in group care situation at this age

b) She is in a perfect situation as it is low stress (for us both).All her needs are met and she is building strong bonds with her family.

Participant 91 was using nine hours of care provided by a friend, and nine hours family day care. The quality of the environment was important to her as she expressed concern with her family day care:

a) There is a TV on in the afternoon which I don’t like. I also worry that the other 2 children are 2 years older and perhaps my child doesn’t feel included.

b) I now think that it is important that  individual attention is provided and that they are stimulated in play.

Parental care only, defined as care by mother or father, was used by nine women at 12 months postpartum, two working and caring for the child concurrently. The following participant’s responses were chosen to illustrate the reasons for choosing parental care. Participant 25 was working ten hours per week and thought parental only care had not been harmful to her child as she monitored and assessed the situation as she said:

a) I don’t think that looking after my child at home will be detrimental to her social skills. I think with a small amount of effort a mother can give her child all the benefits of play and exposure to other children.

b) I want to continue to care for my child. I will consider one day of child care when she is 18 months. The number of carers per child will be the most important as I can see the importance of personal attention and continual feedback and encouragement.

Knowing the caregiver in a familiar environment were important factors for these women for their child’s care. All women who were using care provided by a relative in the home were satisfied with the care, and were able to go to work happy that their child was in suitable care. It was only in the family day care situation of participant 91 who had concerns about her child being excluded, and the quality of environment that parents expressed dissatisfaction with care in the home.

Childcare

Childcare was the third most frequently used type of care at 12 months postpartum after care by a parent and care provided by a relative. The following seven participants’ responses were using childcare only, and were representative of the 15 women (23%) using childcare at 12 months postpartum.

Participant 1 was using 21 hours of childcare, and four hours of care provided by a relative. The experiences of her child were most important as she said:

a) I am delighted with the child care. They look after her very well and give a lot of opportunities to develop and interact with other children. My child is very happy in day care.

b) The feel of the centre and the carers in the centre.

Participant 9 was using childcare for 16 hours per week. She explained how she had re-assessed her concerns when beginning childcare and how much easier it was for her now that her child was enjoying the experience of the care. As she said:

a) It was hard to leave him with strangers initially but he really enjoys child care so the decision is easy now.

b) Safe and stimulating environment.

Participant 19 was organising childcare for her child. The pragmatics of cost, location, and the reputation were important to her as were the carers’ qualities. But she was uneasy about beginning her child at childcare as she said:

a) Quality of carers, quality of facilities and programme; cost; proximity to home.

b) The centre she is booked in for has a good reputation so I am hopeful it will be positive. Scared though.

Participant 22 was using 16 hours of childcare per week and expressed concern about the quality of the childcare environment. She had chosen childcare because she could not access her preferred care, as she could not access family, or her preferred childcare centre, and had to use a less preferred childcare centre. She felt guilty about leaving her child as she was concerned her child would not get adequate attention. She said:

a) I feel guilty about leaving my child at day care. I wish we had family close by as I would prefer that. The day care we have is good, but it was a last resort when we couldn’t get into any places of our choice.

b) Finding a place where my child will not be feeling left out by carers when more needy demanding children require a lot of attention.

Participant 31 said when her child was in childcare for 30 hours per week, though happy with the caregivers, she was concerned about her daughter always getting ill:

a) They are good (caregivers). But she always has a cold and had to get grommets as she got ear infections from the colds she got but what else can I do?

b) Environment, carers and the reputation of the centre.

Participant 42 appreciated the 16 hours of childcare as it gave her a break away from her child:

a) Friendly happy environment and ensuring that XXXX comes home happy, fed, and clean.

b) I like to go to work and have a break from looking after XXXX. He is very demanding.

Some of the women were delighted with the care offered by childcare, while in the case of participant 31, whose child was continually ill, she accepted care as she felt she had no other choice. Some judged the care by how happy their child was, others felt that child care was a ‘last resort’ as they had not been able to access their preferred care, and needed to work. Overall the parents reviewed the quality of care according to their child’s safety and security; their child’s response, both physically and emotionally, to the care; and how the care aligned with their values.

 

Discussion

Multiple factors influenced the care decisions made by the women in this study. The desire for income and the fulfilment from paid work meant that the women devised a range of care solutions to manage the complex influences that arose as a result of engaging in paid work and choosing care for their child. These influences included their preferences for and access to available care, and their assessment of their child’s experiences in care.

Some mothers delayed their return to paid work as they did not want to leave their child, indicating the strong attachment formed between the mother and the child. Other women returned to paid work earlier then intended for financial reasons. This outcome has implications for introducing a paid parental leave scheme of at least six months as the mother can stay at home with the child without loss of income. Paid parental leave of six months also supports breastfeeding until six months postpartum as recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council (2013). At the time of data collection there was no national paid parental leave scheme. Australia's first paid parental leave scheme was introduced in 2011 and is of 18 weeks duration, unlikely to be of suitable length to ensure secure return to paid work (Boyd, et al., 2013) and optimum breastfeeding time for the child's development. The women changed their intentions of care as they made plans to return to paid work.  This has implications for Government policy as parents need to be able to plan for their return to paid work. The reduction of multiple care arrangements when the women chose their care suggests that the participants rationalised their choices to a single type of care to reduce complicated care arrangements, and to opt for care that was available. One type of care is more likely to provide continuity of care for the child with just the one caregiver, compared to multiple care arrangements.

Why parents chose multiple care arrangements remained unclear. The single care type most often used was childcare, followed by relatives and then parents. An explanation for this behaviour is a parent may select their most preferred care option, such as a grandparent first, and use that care for as many hours the grandparent is available, and then select another type of care for the hours needed, such as childcare. Alternatively childcare may be selected initially, and then a relative may be called upon to pick the child up, and care for the child until the mother finishes work thus care giving at the beginning and/or end of the day. Neuman (2005) suggests it is the result of an inadequately funded early education and care system. If parents were satisfied with one type of care then it would be likely they would use that care for as much as possible. Do parents cobble together whatever care they can to maximise the child’s time with relatives, or do they choose the large blocks of time such as childcare first and then add other care to make up the required hours? This raises the question whether governments should play any part in supporting care by relatives for young children?

The data indicate that the environment of the care setting was important. The home environment was favoured; however stimulation and learning opportunities were also identified as important. The National Quality Standards (ACECQA, 2011) identified the environment as being an important indicator of quality care. For some parents in this study a childcare setting was viewed as being more appropriate for when a child is older, and the child can manage the group setting. Many parents mentioned the intense attention a young child requires, which the child would be expected to get from a family or friends. But the lack of a trusting relationship between a caregiver and child in a childcare setting would not ensure this attention. Also there may be other children who are more successful at getting the caregiver’s attention. This has implications for the staffing levels in childcare centres. Are ratios of one staff member to four infants adequate to offer reassuring care to the parents?

The caregiver’s characteristics were mentioned frequently. It was important that the caregiver would be trusting, and preferably known. Thus relatives and friends were preferred choices. Care in the family home provided emotional security because the environment was familiar, and for care provided by a relative or friend assurance that the child would be getting sensitive attention congruent to the mother’s own ideals for parenting. The home was also important to the mothers using family day care.

Choosing childcare meant having a caregiver who was unknown. Many parents mentioned that they would seek a childcare centre with a good reputation. Thus parents would seek access to a centre that was recommended by friends, trusting their friends’ advice. This may help to compensate for not knowing the caregiver, and support developing the trust of the caregiver. Participants acknowledged that when using childcare the caregiver was a stranger initially and then the trusting relationship developed over the period of care. This has implications for caregivers (also called staff) in childcare centres - the development of a trusting relationship with the parent and child should be made as quickly as possible so that parents feel emotionally secure about their child’s care. This enhances women’s engagement in the workforce, and ultimately the child’s wellbeing. The National Quality Standard (AECEQA, 2011) has one of the seven quality areas devoted entirely to partnerships with parents. With the introduction of the requirement for qualified staff in all childcare centres from 2014 it is essential that the staff’s training include developing the relational skills of working with families so that families trust the staff members, and are thus able to leave their child knowing they are being well cared for.   

Childcare was suitable for pragmatic reasons: it provided longer and more flexible hours while the women engaged in paid work. Childcare was viewed in many ways. Some women were dissatisfied with this type of care owing to the child’s on-going illness. Some women judged childcare as satisfactory using their child’s satisfaction as a measure of the care’s quality. Policies that support women’s work are central to supporting Australia’s economic prosperity. Once paid parental leave has expired and care for the child is required policies need to ensure that families can access suitable care, for the time they require it. Whether this care is in the home or in a childcare centre the care needs to be of such quality that parents are assured their child’s health and wellbeing is supported.

 

Endnotes

[1] 'Childcare' in this paper means centre-based child care, also known as 'long day care' in Australia. This is one type of care included within 'care for the child'.

References

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About the Author

Wendy Boyd is a lecturer and researcher at Southern Cross University, Lismore Australia. Her research interests are in the field of quality education and care provision for children in early childhood settings, sustainability in early childhood and pre-service teachers’ attitudes to working in early childhood setting.

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