In so many ways 2020 was a spanner in the works, but COVID-19 has at least served up the opportunity to see universal free childcare in action.
In April 2020, the government temporarily waived all childcare fees. The move allowed parents to remain in their jobs at a time when workplaces and schools were shutting down, and it kept childcare centres from crumbling under falling enrolments. As we now turn our attention to the future, it’s time to re-examine the benefits of free childcare for all Australians and consider updating our system to reflect an evolving world.
The Benefits of Childcare
Common wisdom always claimed the best place for children is at home with their parents. Research performed all across the world has uncovered a different story. In fact, many research teams have discovered high quality childcare has major benefits, both to children and to communities.
- Early childhood development. Approximately 90% of brain development happens in the first five years of life. While many parents do a fantastic job of stimulating and teaching their children at home, kids who have access to childcare often experience improved academic performance during schooling.
- Socialisation. Regular childcare allows kids to spend time with peers and adults other than their parents. Interactions like this teach kids how to make friends, work together and problem solve as a group, helping them to develop more rounded personalities.
- Providing a routine. Kids thrive on a reliable routine. Childcare centres provide structured learning and play that keep our young ones occupied, happy and safe in a way that encourages them to explore the world around them.
- Parents can return to the workplace. Australian households spend 31% of their income on childcare. The cost forces many parents – especially women and mums – to stay home with their kids. Free childcare could let them back into the workplace and generate the equivalent of 30,000 additional working days per week, contributing billions of dollars extra to our economy each year.
Universal Childcare After COVID-19
The early learning benefits of childcare are abundantly clear, and economic modelling shows growth that more than compensates for the additional government spending. More importantly, we’re taking part in a changing world, and government policy needs to be updated to reflect our new and looming situations.
Our working lives won’t simply go back to normal all at once, and helping Australians move past the struggle of 2020 means supporting them in getting back into the jobs they love. Free childcare would be a major step in that direction, serving not only as an investment in our children, but as an investment in our economy for years to come.
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