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SNAICC backs consumer watchdog's calls for major childcare reforms

Dechlan Brennan -

The nation's peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children has welcomed recommendations by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to reform the current childcare system, arguing the current system enacts barriers for Indigenous children.

SNAICC – National Voice for our Children, said they were particularly pleased with recommendations by the ACCC in their Childcare inquiry's final report to remove the Activity Test, an assessment of the combined hours of work, training, study, recognised voluntary work or other recognised activity undertaken by a family; and change the "market-driven approach to early education and care (ECEC)."

SNAICC chief executive, Arnette/Luritja woman Catherine Liddle, said the findings from the year long inquiry showed a "one-size-fits-all approach to ECEC" didn't benefit or meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.

"The ACCC inquiry is the latest in a significant body of evidence backing SNAICC's position that current ECEC systems put up particular barriers to affordability and access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families," Ms Liddle said.

"It should be no surprise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are less likely to be enrolled in ECEC services, which has an impact on efforts to improve life outcomes."

The ACCC's Interim Report on childcare services found only 58 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were enrolled in childcare in 2022, compared to 70 per cent of all Australian children.

The final report stated: "While affordability has recently improved, a 'one size fits all' policy approach is not meeting all needs. When applied across the childcare sector, this current approach will continue to leave some households without adequate, affordable, and accessible childcare options."

It also found "low expectations of profitability are impacting supply of childcare services in some areas, particularly in regional and remote communities, where there are fewer services."

This was compared to areas of advantage - including major cities - where profit margins were deemed to be higher, and more services were added.

"The availability and quality of educators and staff has a significant impact on the quality, reputation and profitability of a service. Stable staff tenure and continuity also contributes to service viability," the report stated.

Overall, the report makes eight recommendations and 31 findings with ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb stating: "We have concluded that market forces alone are not meeting the needs of all children and households."

Ms Liddle said removing these barriers through system reform, as well as growing Aboriginal Community Controlled (ACCO) services, would only help to improve the outcomes for Indigenous families and their children.

"SNAICC's Stronger ACCOs, Stronger Families report released last year showed how a new funding model that valued culture, and resourced ACCOs could reduce the number of children going into child protection," she said.

"ACCO services not only provide quality and culturally strong ECEC, they assist families and kin to access support services if and when necessary. They can make all the difference to setting children up for a successful transition to formal education and close the gaps across a range of social and economic outcomes."

One of the report's recommendations noted the Australian Government should "consider maintaining and expanding supply-side support options for ACCOs that provide childcare and additional support services for First Nations children, parents and guardians."

Ms Liddle said it was heartening the ACCC recognised the importance of ACCOs and was calling on the government to fund them.

"We know that childcare deserts exist more acutely in regional and remote areas, and the challenges of recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce are exacerbated," Ms Liddle said.

"While recent Federal Government reform is helping, much more needs to be done."

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