UNSAFE AND NON-COMPLIANT: PROFITS ABOVE SAFETY IN EARLY LEARNING
Today the United Workers Union (UWU) has released a report outlining the failure of for-profit childcare providers to keep Australian children safe.
The report draws from previously unseen data obtained through freedom of information requests all over Australia. This data reveals what many in the sector have believed for a long time: that for-profit providers deliver poorer safety and lower quality early learning compared to the not-for-profit sector.
- Non-compliance, which represents breaches of a range of minimum safety standards, is far more common among for-profit providers than any other type of service. From just over 12,000 enforcement actions taken nationally against early education providers since 2015, an overwhelming 74% involved for-profit centres, despite the for-profit segment making up only half of the sector.
- For-profits are also the worst-performing type of service when it comes to ensuring quality education and care for Australian children. For-profit providers have the highest number of centres that don’t meet the national standard, with more than one in six (over 1200) centres failing to meet the National Quality Standard.
- For-profit long day care centres are twice as likely to be rated as not meeting the national quality standards than not-for-profit centres.
- The three biggest for-profit LDC providers in the country are G8, Affinity and Busy Bees. The poorer quality ratings of these three players epitomise the crisis in the sector. Collectively they had seven times the number of centres rated ‘Working towards NQS’, by percentage, when compared with the three largest not-for-profit providers Goodstart, C&K and KU.
- Information about a centre’s track record on safety, compliance issues and enforcement actions are almost impossible for parents and the public to find.
Quotes attributable to Helen Gibbons, Director Early Education, United Workers Union
“Parents in Australia pay some of the highest out-of-pocket costs in the OECD, and have fair expectations of a safe environment for their children. These results should be alarming for parents accessing for-profit services across the country.
“Parents should expect to be informed about the safety track record of their children’s centre. That’s just not happening right now.
“For-profits have a demonstrated history of poorer safety and lower quality outcomes than the not-for-profit sector but many parents have no idea and no way to easily access this information.
“That’s why UWU is calling for greater transparency around safety and quality for every centre, not only to help parents make choices about where they send their children, but to motivate providers to prioritise safety and quality over profits.”
Quotes attributable to Natasha, Sydney parent
“I have two children, 10 and 7yo. I work full time and I’ve experienced the full range of service types. When you are in the middle of returning to work and trying to juggle family life and find a spot for your child, you don’t always have the capacity and experience to find all the information.
“One centre we attended had a great reputation as a not-for-profit service. The educators really wanted to educate and care for my children. But the centre was then bought out by a private for-profit provider, and in my opinion is now only about profit.
“While the for-profit providers can seem shiny and new, with photos of celebrity chefs on the walls, this doesn’t mean better outcomes.
“It’s been a rollercoaster but eventually I chose to enrol my children at a local not-for-profit provider for more social connection and play based learning, which is what mattered to us as a family. This has been the best place for my children.
“At my child’s not-for-profit centre, the facilities are more well-loved and less shiny, but the educators are more experienced. They have better working conditions and are passionate about what they do. They have longer tenure because turnover isn’t as high.
“Looking back, my experience means I would look for different things when choosing a centre because I know more.”
Quotes attributable to Samira, Queensland educator
“I’ve worked in privately owned for-profit centres and not-for-profit centres, and the for-profit centres are far worse for children and educators. There is a lot of cost-cutting and a focus on saving money at the expense of educators’ wellbeing and standards.
“The for-profit centre I worked for was regularly understaffed, with educators left to supervise large numbers of children of different ages on their own. Instead of backfilling staffing changes, educators were sent home early to cut costs.
“I was once left with 25 children on my own. You can imagine the risks this put children in. Many children had special needs and weren’t provided with support. Educators were left to deal with extreme behaviours with no resources to support them, under extreme stress. We also had to do paperwork and cleaning while supervising children because no extra time was allocated.
“Sometimes my director would leave a young student educator with me and told me ‘you have help’. When I raised concerns I was told it was ‘fine’. It was far from fine.
“There were many incidents we felt were unsafe. The centre often hired those new to the sector like me who were less familiar with regulations and their rights, and promoted a culture where you should be grateful to be employed.
“At the for-profit centre, our pay was the lowest you can get and we weren’t recognised for our qualifications. Staff meetings weren’t paid, there was no support for professional development or keeping practice up to date, and any education that was mandatory by regulation was paid for out of our own pocket. It was exploitative. Turnover was really high and this impacted on the children.
“It was all about image over reality.”
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