Could our politicians learn a thing or two from 1940s America?

Could our politicians learn a thing or two from 1940s America?

When American mothers wrapped their hair in red bandannas, hiked up their overalls and went to work on assembly lines during the Second World War their children were cared for in day-care centres.

According to Deborah Brennan in her book The Politics of Australian Childcare, between 1941 and 1945 more than 1.5 million American children attended these centres. It cost the U.S. government over $50 million. The Atlantic reports U.S. families only paid around seven dollars a day, in today's money.

Brennan notes that, in comparison, Australia's childcare scheme at the time was lacklustre. (Sound familiar?) During wartime, our government program provided for the care of a mere 750 pre-schoolers and 100 school-age children.

When the fighting ended and husbands and fathers returned, women still wanted to work but their childcare options evaporated.

David Campbell, in his book Writing Security says:  "When women in New York fought for the retention of day-care programs that had been established during the war to allow them to work for the war effort, the New York World Telegram alleged that 'the entire program of child care was conceived by leftists operating out of communist work cell'. The campaign for day-care centres, the newspaper declared, had 'all the trappings of a Red drive, including leaflets, letters, telegrams, petitions, protest demonstrations, mass meetings and hat passing'."

Similarly, Brennan states that when the Victorian Association of Créches wanted to meet with the Premier to discuss childcare places, he refused because there was a communist in their ranks.

Those damn women and their communist kindergartens committees.

But this begs the question as to why the Australian government still hasn't got childcare right today?

Have they retained a post-cold war paranoia that suspects Australian mothers are a bunch of reds in (as opposed to under) the bed?

More than 70 years after World War Two ended, Australia is still operating with a historical hangover when it comes to childcare.

Parents are desperate for improvements to the current system. It is unaffordable and impractical.

The problems are varied and many: some can't get their children into centres; some can't afford it; and some have used up their rebate allowance (easy to do with more than one child in care) and now face paying full fees for the rest of the financial year. 

Then there are the Australian women who are, or who may become, pregnant with no idea what is going to happen to the government's paid parental leave scheme.

This election needs to be one where the parties make some strong, worthwhile commitments to families and the childcare system.

Do we really need to be wearing overalls and working in munitions factories for this to happen?


ReneeM.jpeg Renee Mickelburgh is an independent media and communications consultant for non-government  organisations. She's researching how narrative and storytelling can open up new political  perspectives and reframe debates. She is very impatient.