My name is Louise and with my partner Dan we have three children, currently 8, 6 and 1.5 years old. We live in inner Melbourne and both Dan and I have been fortunate to earn good salaries with secure work. However, even with both of these incomes, the amount we have spent on childcare to enable me to return to work (predominantly 4 days a week with some full time work in the mix) has been a major strain on our financial situation.
Since our eldest son Luke commenced care in 2015, I estimate we have spent over $200,000 after rebates are taken into account to pay for care for our three kids. We still have four years to go so that will be a further $100,000 spent by the time our youngest Jack finishes. The cost of childcare, along with the cost of out of school care, is a constant source of stress for us. This is particularly magnified at the moment in the context of the significant increases of cost of living and interest rate rises.
We try to use outside of school hours care infrequently because of the cost.
I received both the government paid parental leave payment and paid maternity leave at my former job. In my current role I received maternity leave from my employer, but was not eligible for the government paid parental leave. My husband received no paternity leave from his employer, and was only able to take minimal time off work after the birth of each of our children.
Balancing my current full time role, along with the logistics of family life (and the many, many activities my elder children do!) is a constant juggle for both me and my husband. We are lucky to have family support nearby, in particular my parents who spent one day a week with my elder children before they started school. Having this support network has enabled me to work the hours I need to during the week.
I am fortunate that my work is flexible and accommodating, and I can often work in the evenings which enables me to pick the kids up from school and take them to their extracurricular activities. I do not know how people who either don’t have family support or have inflexible work can manage the juggle!
We are also extremely fortunate to live in an area where there are community run early learning centres, which, despite the local Council’s attempts to sell these centres off, continue to offer fantastic care and education to local children. Over our time at our centre, we have formed lifelong friendships with the educators and families.
Our centre is an anomaly in that we have had very little staff turnover during our time. The daily rate has not increased dramatically and remains one of the lowest rates in the local area. We are incredibly grateful and fortunate to have such a wonderful centre in our local area that has helped us foster connections with our local community in a way I don’t believe would have been possible in some of the larger, more profit focused centres.
I am involved in the Committee of Management at the centre, and relish this role as it helps me stay involved in the centre and determine the direction the centre is taking. However, through this role I have also had insight into just how difficult it is to run an early learning centre in the current environment. Finding staff, including occasional casual staff to cover illnesses, has been particularly problematic. As the President of the Committee, and having dealt with politicians at all levels of government, I have also been shocked and dismayed at just how little some people value early learning education.
These centres are more than just babysitting. The value these services provide are not easily quantifiable but can be seen in the skills, learning and friendships my children have developed while at our centre. They have been set up for a smooth transition to school and more formal education environments.
On top of that, being able to access early learning services in our local area has helped me get back into the workforce and contribute both to our household’s financial position but more broadly to the overall economy. It is ironic that many of the politicians who see little value in early childhood education are generally also obsessed with the strength of the economy.
I hope that the prominence of early childhood education continues into the future, and that it is easier for future parents to access affordable quality early childhood education services.