Senate Submission

Senate Inquiry into the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Jobs for Families Child Care Package) Bill 2015

SUBMISSION

Contact Inc. and MCSA

Contact Incorporated (Contact Inc.) and the Mobile Children’s Services Association (MCSA) of NSW Inc. jointly submit this response to the Senate Inquiry into the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Jobs for Families Child Care Package) Bill 2015.

MCSA Mobile Children’s Services Association NSW Inc.

Email mobiles@mcsa.org.au freecall 1800 24 21 48

web www.mcsa.org.au facebook Like Us Contact Inc. Suite 204 Level 2,

64-76 Kippax Street SURRY HILLS NSW 2010 P: 02 9212 5588 · F: 02 9212 6877

admin@contactin.com.au

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Contents

About Us....................................................................................................................3

Contact Inc. .........................................................................................................3

Mobile Children’s Services Association of NSW...............................................3

Scope of Response .............................................................................................4

Background..............................................................................................................5

Mobile Children’s Services .................................................................................5

Universal Access ..................................................................................................5

Quality Early Education ......................................................................................5

Overview...................................................................................................................7

Summary...................................................................................................................8

Key Areas For Consideration................................................................................10

Child Care Subsidy ............................................................................................10

Sparse and Low Populations............................................................................12

Activity Test.........................................................................................................14

Mobile Play Sessions ..........................................................................................16

Communities Impacted by Changes.................................................................19

The Voice of Mobile Children’s Services Challenges Identified by Services.20

Inner Regional and Outer Regional................................................................20

Concluding Remarks.............................................................................................23

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About Us

Contact Inc.

Contact Inc. is a leading Australian not-for-profit charity organisation, who have been working with isolated children, families and communities since 1979. We have a strong history of successful assistance, lobbying and representation for these groups, and are well known for our depth of knowledge, responsiveness and understanding about isolated and rural and remote communities across Australia.

Contact Inc. has had a close connection with Mobile Children’s services throughout Australia during our thirty-seven year history, including supporting the evolution of the NSW and National Association of Mobile Services. We currently operate the Contact Children’s Mobile Service, based in Alice Springs, providing child and family services to Ti Tree and Utopia Homelands for Aboriginal and Non Aboriginal families. In recent years, Contact Inc. have been leaders in the use of adaptive and creative approaches to support rural and remote Early Childhood Education services, including the implementation of and meaningful engagement with the National Quality Framework, Early Years Learning Framework and My Time Our Place. Contact Inc. has had a role in training resourcing and representing Mobile Children’s services and in 2015, engaged in a Partnership agreement with Mobile Children’s Services Association of NSW, to resource, advocate and assist NSW Mobile services.

Contact Inc. is the provider for the RuralCONNECT programme for eligible remote children’s services in defined locations in New South Wales on behalf of the NSW Professional Support Coordination Unit, and Inclusion and Professional Support Program (IPSP). Contact Inc. is currently working extensively with BBF (Budget Based Funded) mobile services to support their engagement with the National Quality Framework and transition from Budget Based funding to the Child Care Subsidy (CCS).

Mobile Children’s Services Association of NSW

The Mobile Children’s Services Association (MCSA) is a not-for-profit organisation that supports, enhances and promotes quality mobile children’s services; it is designed to meet the needs of isolated children, their families and their communities. The variety of roles MCSA takes on in the education and care sectors places us in a unique position to provide this submission jointly with Contact Inc.

We are the peak organisation in New South Wales and represent over 100 mobile children’s services, including the16 Commonwealth-funded BBF mobile children’s services in the State. We also represent all NSW state-funded mobiles children’s services including mobile preschools, mobile child care, mobile play sessions and mobile toy libraries.

MCSA coordinates and delivers Mobile Meet – the only state wide professional-development conference dedicated to the mobile children’s services sector. This annual event welcomes BBF mobile children’s services

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from New South Wales and interstate, as well as all state-funded mobile services.

MCSA is currently contracted by the NSW State Government Department of Education to support the transition of mobile preschool services to new preschool funding arrangements under the Sector Development Program. The Sector Development Program supports the early childhood education and care sector and services in delivering on NSW Government policy priorities.

Scope of Response

The Contact Inc. and MCSA response focuses on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Jobs for Families Child Care Package) Bill 2015 and its impact on federally funded mobile children’s services, noting also the flow on effect to state-funded mobile children’s services.

Whilst this submission highlights examples from a NSW focus, considerations and recommendations raised, reflect a broader context that in the main can be translated to the challenges that many Australian Government funded mobile children’s services will face.

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Background

Mobile Children’s Services

These services deliver quality early education and care through outreach educators to isolated communities where centre-based services are not viable or cannot be accessed by families.

Mobile’s employ skilled and qualified early childhood educators, who travel in a customised vehicle packed with equipment and resources, to deliver education and care in community halls, parks, and remote pastoral stations.

Each mobile service is a unique service type within the Commonwealth and State NSW Education portfolio. Mobile’s provide responsive universal access to early education for children and families regardless of isolating circumstances such as location, low population, and cultural and social surroundings.

The mobile children's services sector is made up of a variety of early-education models that directly respond to gaps in community, child and family education and care needs. Mobile services include preschool, long day care, occasional care, supported playgroups, play sessions, out of school hours care and toy libraries that are delivered through a 'mobile' or 'outreach' format. More information on the diverse mobile children’s services sector can be found http://www.mcsa.org.au/images/Mobile_Childrens_Services_Factsheet.pdf

Universal Access

Mobile children’s services play a crucial role for the families and children who access them. For the overwhelming majority of isolated children, it is their only access to early education and care.

From an Australian Government perspective, this point cannot be overstated – many of the children and families who use these services, would not have exposure to early education and care if they did not exist. In fact, remote mobile children’s services provide the only consistent opportunity for peer socialisation for a significant number of children as no other early childhood education and care services exist in most of the areas serviced.

Quality Early Education

All NSW BBF mobile children’s services that are associated with Contact Inc. and MCSA are committed to meeting the high standards within the national Quality Framework. These BBF mobile children’s services actively pursue improved quality standards and set best-practice standards within the mobiles sector.

BBF mobile children’s services have had Quality Improvement Plans in place for the past two years, and are meeting and exceeding the Early Childhood Qualification standards. Educators have been implementing, to a high standard, both the early Years Learning Framework and where applicable the My Time Our Place Learning Framework for the past three years.

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They provide high-quality education and care services to our most geographically isolated children in a professional and accessible way. They demonstrate strong inclusion strategies, and have high levels of community engagement and support.

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Overview

Contact Inc. and MCSA welcome the opportunity to comment on the proposed Jobs for Families Child Care Package and at the same time express concerns about the consequences this package will have on many Commonwealth-funded mobile children’s services.

If passed in its current form, this policy will render many Budget Based Funded (BBF) mobile children’s services unviable, with the likely result that the early education and care of isolated children will suffer.

We support the Government’s efforts to improve and open up the BBF program to opportunities for growth and refinement. However, streamlined funding must not result in depleted access to the early education made possible by mobile children’s services.

Contact Inc and MCSA have consulted with 14 BBF mobile children’s services in NSW. We have collected preliminary data to assist the Senate Inquiry understand the issues facing our sector.

From this consultation process, we understand there are 1688 children currently accessing 14 BBF mobile children’s services in NSW.1

1 Enrolment data provided by 14 services, venue data provided by 14 services (out of total 16 NSW BBF mobile children’s services)

Initial data collected indicates that if the reforms to mobile children’s services funding are passed in their current form, 968 children will potentially have reduced access to early childhood education in remote areas on NSW.

We will see:

231 children will potentially miss out on accessing mobile children’s services under the Child Care Subsidy, as a result of remodeling current service delivery

16 locations are likely to close due to the introduction of Child Care Subsidy, as a result of remodeling current service delivery

In addition:

6 mobile services running educationally based play sessions are at risk of being unable to transition to a long daycare model and the Child Care Subsidy

If these services close, 737 children in 75 isolated communities may miss out on an early education.

We believe this is not in line with universal access to quality early education and care policy agendas.

Our main concerns are around the Child Care Subsidy (CCS), the Activity Test, low populations and mobile play sessions.

MCSA and Contact Inc. wish to keenly continue working with the Australian Government to find the best solution and fit for isolated and rural and remote

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families accessing Commonwealth-funded mobile children’s services.

Summary

This section of the submission presents a summary of key areas for the Senate to consider in relation to the impacts of the Australian Government Jobs for Families Child Care Package reforms for mobile children’s services.

Child Care Subsidy

Initial modelling from data collected from BBF mobile children’s services in New South Wales shows the average hourly fee for mobile children’s services to be well in excess of the CCS hourly fee cap. This shortfall will subsequently be passed on to isolated families, making childcare unaffordable.

The CCS hourly fee cap for centre-based Long Day Care is $11.55, and this amount is set to apply to mobile children’s services. Data collected from services indicates that this benchmark fee is inadequate when considering the true cost of running a mobile children’s service.

Recommendation

We recommend that further research is undertaken to determine the hourly cost for a mobile to deliver Long Day Care, so as a funding mechanism that adequately reflects service delivery can be determined.

From this research, we support consideration for a ‘mobile loading’ to the Long Day Care Child Care Subsidy fee. Alternatively, a separate hourly fee cap for mobile children’s services, differentiated from the Long Day Care hourly fee cap, may be an area to explore in consultation with the sector.

Sparse and Low Populations

Adequate funding that takes into account the challenges and associated costs of providing early education to small, sparse and transient rural and remote populations is vital to ensure all children, regardless of isolation, receive the same opportunities in early education. Many locations with low populations will no longer be viable under CCS, resulting in early childhood education opportunities being lost where there are not enough children to support viability.

Recommendation

We recommend that funding must continue to support early childhood education in rural and remote communities, where low populations result in not enough children to support financial viability.

This could be achieved through a mobile specific rural and remote loading, developed in consultation with the sector.

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Activity Test

MCSA and Contact Inc. are concerned about the proposed Activity Test for families living in areas of limited employment opportunities and large distances to travel, such as in isolated and remote areas of Australia.

Families that fail to meet the activity test in rural and regional areas, will no longer have affordable access to early childhood education and care and the vital support mechanisms that surround it such as early intervention.

Recommendation

We recommend that the activity test take into account the real challenges of rural and remote Australia and the effects of reduced access to subsidised care will have on isolated children and families. We urge a greater understanding of how low and under employment and limited localised training opportunities in many areas, impact family’s ability to meet the Activity Test.

We recommend the activity test to continue to allow two days per week of subsidy for all children regardless of their parent’s Activity Test status. This will ensure that isolated children are able to access an adequate amount of early education despite the effects of limited or variable employment for parents.

Mobile Play Sessions

MCSA and Contact Inc. are concerned about the future of mobile play sessions where parents remain on site with their children. Mobile Play Sessions are often the only access parents and children have to early childhood education and care. These sessions provide vital socialisation and early intervention for very remote children and support parents in developing their skills around early childhood education when they return home. They are conducted by highly qualified early childhood educators who meet and exceed the National Quality Framework as their benchmark for best practice.

Of the 16 BBF mobile children’s services in this State, at least 5 services are unlikely to transition to a mobile long day care model due to a number of limiting factors including distances travelled by both parents and services, low and sparse populations and the nature of families work (e.g. farming).

Recommendation

We recommend that the Commonwealth Department of Education continue to fund mobile children’s services that deliver early education Play Sessions for children and families in isolated and remote areas.

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Key Areas For Consideration

Child Care Subsidy

The proposed changes will see BBF mobile children’s services transition to the mainstream per-child funding model – the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) – from 1 July 2017.

The CCS hourly fee cap for centre-based Long Day Care is $11.55, and this amount is set to apply to mobile children’s services. Data collected from services indicates that this benchmark fee is inadequate when considering the true cost of running a mobile children’s service.

BBF mobile children’s services have unique operating costs and extremely limited economies of scale due to the small populations they service. Despite these challenges, our sector fundamentally believes that isolated children deserve access to early education regardless of circumstance.

Modelling

Initial modelling from data collected from BBF mobile children’s services in New South Wales shows the average hourly fee for mobile children’s services, to be well in excess of the CCS hourly fee cap. This shortfall will subsequently be passed on to isolated families, making childcare unaffordable.

The CCS hourly fee cap for centre-based Long Day Care is $11.55, and this amount is set to apply to mobile children’s services. Data collected from services indicates that this benchmark fee is inadequate when considering the true cost of running a mobile children’s service.

Additional costs of running a mobile long day care service compared to a centre-based long day care service include: hire of multiple venues; extensive travel time; road closures which make service delivery impossible; base days where vehicles are repacked with resources and equipment; overnight accommodation; away from home allowances; and inability to deliver service due to extreme weather.

Multiple venues

Services operate from multiple venues and are required to pay multiple rents and utilities – services consulted, provide education and care at between 5 and 25 different venues. There are also costs associated with the need to make adjustments and enhancements at each venue (often community halls etc.) to comply with licensing requirements.

Travel and pack time

Mobile children’s services have stated travel and pack time is a unique cost compared to centre-based delivery. Some mobile children’s services travel up to of 300km to deliver early education in remote communities where there is no reasonable access to other services.

Travel and pack time restricts service operating hours. Base days are required to enable repacking of resources and equipment based on program delivery.

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Vehicle costs

Rural and remote mobile children’s services are required to purchase and maintain appropriate vehicles due to travelling long distances on poor road conditions. Services are required to replace vehicles relatively regularly for safety reasons and also to ensure an appropriate resale price.

Storage and transport tools in vehicles and at bases are required to assist in the movement of resources come at an additional costs for mobiles. This can include items such as shelving in trucks to maximise space and resources. Some mobile children’s services also have invested in hydraulic lifters for trucks for workplace, health and safety concerns for outreach educators.

Mobile children’s services are also extremely vulnerable to the cost of fuel, particularly those services which cover great distances funded under the BBF programme.

Staffing

Additional costs associated with long hours resulting from extensive travel time, results in over time, accommodation costs and Away From Home allowances.

One of the biggest challenges to running a mobile children’s service in outback Australia is staff recruitment and retention and associated costs. An example of this is Paroo Mobile Children’s Service based in Wanaaring (very remote Australia). Paroo is required to provide staff accommodation due to their remote location and to retain staff. Providing staff accommodation is an additional cost for mobile children’s service that their centre-based counterparts do not contend with.

Road Closures and Extreme Weather

Service delivery can be impacted by road closures due to rain and extreme weather (heat/snow). Road closures and heat, effected 20 days of service for Outback Mobile Children’s Service (based at Broken Hill) in 2015.

Recommendation

We recommend that further research is undertaken to determine the hourly cost for a mobile to deliver Long Day Care, so as a funding mechanism that adequately reflects service delivery can be determined.

From this research, we support consideration for a ‘mobile loading’ to the Long Day Care Child Care Subsidy fee. Alternatively, a separate hourly fee cap for mobile children’s services, differentiated from the Long Day Care hourly fee cap, may be an area to explore in consultation with the sector.

In any instance, it is vital that Government policy caters adequately for families in rural and remote Australia who utilise vital mobile services.

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Sparse and Low Populations

It is critical that policy makers understand the social isolation that many children and young families in rural and remote areas face as a result of variable child populations, sparse population density and large distances. These factors significantly impact on the ongoing viability of mobile children’s services.

Adequate funding that takes into account the challenges and associated costs of providing early education to small, sparse and transient rural and remote populations is vital to ensure all children, regardless of isolation, receive the same opportunities in early education.

BBF mobile children’s services are generally situated in sparsely populated rural and remote areas, which significantly impacts on the cost of running the service.

Families surveyed by the Outback Mobile Resource Unit travel from 40km up to 200km to access the service. Distance to available care directly relates to utilisation rates of families. Where families are required to travel over 40km, they expressed that it was not viable for them to travel to childcare and return to their home and/or business base to work. Cost of fuel and time makes this an unviable option on a regular basis.

Child populations can also be highly variable from year to year, potentially leading to inadequate funding where funding is child centred. When a family leaves the area, such as in drought or due to seasonable work, this can significantly affect the total local population and service numbers. This is also applicable when communities see a rise in population.

Services need to maintain viability so families moving to communities continue to have access to high quality early education and care. Access to high quality child care is also an important factor for families who are considering moving to rural and remote communities.

Mobiles that service highly vulnerable communities usually have between 2 and 9 children attend early childhood education and care sessions per day.

Mobile children’s services have excellent utilisation rates with a high percentage of available local children accessing the service. As such, there is extremely limited capacity to increase numbers (and therefore countering the limited economy of scale) where there are no more additional children to enroll in the areas. Such low levels of attendance will mean that mobile services will not be viable under these reforms and will no longer be able to provide education and care services in these areas.

Mobiles have for a long time provided solutions to rectify market failures and inefficiencies in rural and remote areas. With the support of the BBF programme the mobile model has overcome variable child populations, sparse population density and large distances.

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To the maximum extent possible, mobile children’s services mitigate these issues and are highly efficient services. Mobiles use existing infrastructure, such as school halls etc. and will often change the venues based on where the population has shifted to. It is a flexible model that responds to community demand and aims to keep costs down.

This mobile model has successfully mitigated the issues of low and sparse populations for a long period of time. Of the BBF mobiles consulted, this ranged from 15 years (e.g. Cowra Early Childhood Service) to 30 years (Tharawonga). Over the lifetime of a mobile service, they have demonstrated that they are able to adapt to changing populations, community needs, qualification, departmental and regulatory requirements. Mobiles fear that current reforms will impact upon their services to the extent that they will no longer be viable and longstanding early childhood education and care services will be lost in many communities.

Recommendation

We recommend that funding must continue to support early childhood education in rural and remote communities, where low populations result in not enough children to support financial viability.

This could be achieved through a mobile specific rural and remote loading, developed in consultation with the sector.

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Activity Test

MCSA and Contact Inc. are concerned about the proposed activity test for families living in areas of limited employment opportunities and large distances to travel, such as isolated and remote areas of Australia.

If the reforms are passed, this will be the first time that BBF mobile children’s services will be included in activity tested, child-based mainstream funding. Previously, parents were not subject to an activity test to access subsidised care. The Activity Test provides another layer of vulnerability to services, as it will potentially impact the number of children who attend the services. In areas of low populations this will have a significant effect on service viability.

The families that BBF mobiles work with are mostly based within a cross section of Australia’s rural and remote population including agriculture, mining, itinerant employees, farming, pastoralists and small business owners. It’s important for policy makers to understand the context in which parents seek early education in rural and remote areas.

Rural and remote areas often have reduced opportunities for work which results in unemployment and underemployment which leads to risk of not meeting the prescribed activity test. Even for families working in towns in service industries rely on the economic health of agricultural industries during good seasons. The effect of poor seasons translates to lower levels of employment and higher levels of underemployment in rural towns.2

2 A snapshot of poverty in rural and regional Australia 2013 – ACOSS and National Rural Health Alliance Inc. - http://ruralhealth.org.au/documents/publicseminars/2013_Sep/Joint-report.pdf

3 Australian Early Development Census 2012, http://www.aedc.gov.au/early-childhood/findings-from-the-aedc

We are concerned that the currently proposed activity test and safety net programs are overly complicated and does not take into account the challenges of employment in rural and remote areas.

This is set to negatively impact on children who would benefit most from early childhood education. The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) in 2012 indicated that children living in very remote Australia do not do as well in the five developmental domains as their city counterparts.

The AEDC (2012) is a population based measure of how young children in different communities are developing based on five domains - language and cognitive skills; communication skills and general knowledge; emotional maturity; social competence and physical health and wellbeing. The 2012 results showed that children in remote Australia were more developmentally vulnerable across the domains (44.5 per cent), compared to around one-fifth (21.1 per cent) of children from major cities.3

There will be isolated families, due to their casual, irregular or seasonal work, whose children could miss out on vital early education.

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Recommendation

We recommend that the activity test take into account the real challenges of rural and remote Australia and the effects of reduced access to subsidised care will have on isolated children and families. We urge a greater understanding of how low and under employment and minimal localised training opportunities in many areas, impact families’ ability to meet the Activity Test.

We recommend that the activity test to allow two days per week of subsidy for all children regardless of their parent’s work hours. This will ensure that isolated children are able to access an adequate amount of early education despite the effects of limited or variable employment for parents.

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Mobile Play Sessions

MCSA and Contact Inc. are concerned about the future of mobile play sessions where parents remain on site with their children.

These sessions provide vital socialisation for very remote children and support parents in developing their skills around early childhood education when they return home. They are conducted by highly qualified early childhood educators who meet and exceed the standards within the National Quality Framework as their benchmark for best practice. With the closing of the BBF programme and subsequent transition to the CCS, these sessions provided by mobile children’s services will be ineligible for the CCS.

Contact Inc. has worked with mobile play session services in New South Wales towards a refashioned business model that encompasses mobile long day care. Of the 16 BBF mobile children’s services in this State, at least 6 services are unlikely to transition to a mobile long day care model due to a number of limiting factors including distances travelled by both parents and services, low and sparse populations and the nature of families work (e.g. farming).

The primary barrier for any BBF mobile play session move to a pure mobile Long Day Care model relates to the remote contexts in which these BBF Mobile services operate, the extensive distances parents must travel to attend the sessions, coupled with the reality of personal work and family demands including in many instances families teaching their school aged children through distance education.

Play session focused mobile children’s services are universally recognised by rural, remote and isolated families as a valued and important child and family service in their region(s). An analysis of these services by Contact Inc. indicates that these educationally based services are providing significant added value to the community they service including overcoming family isolation and early intervention through referring children and families to a range of services and programs to address identified needs.

“OMRU Play Sessions are life-saving.” – Parent, November 2015

Play sessions, in addition to being early education services, are also vital for early intervention services. As noted in the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth review for prevention and early intervention:

“Effective prevention and early intervention is possibly the most promising strategy for changing the trajectories of children. There is clear evidence that children’s life chances are influenced by their families and communities and that they are able to be changed for the better. Improving the wellbeing of children, young people and families at population-level requires flexible and responsive systems that are equipped to deliver preventive interventions and respond effectively early to emerging issues and challenges. There is a strong and growing evidence-base that supports the effectiveness of many prevention and early intervention programs and approaches, and

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“Mustering runs for 5 weeks, twice a year, which requires that I cook three meals per day for 10 adults. I don't have time to take my children into childcare and return to work. Flexible on-farm care is our only practical option.” - Parent

Recommendation

We recommend that the Commonwealth Department of Education continue to fund mobile children’s services that deliver early education mobile play sessions for children and families in isolated and remote areas.

We urge the Government to take into account the unique needs of rural and remote families and the enormous value these mobile play sessions provide to the development of children.

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Communities Impacted by Changes

Inner Regional Australia

Deniliquin Mobile Children’s Services (Deniliquin, NSW)

Outer Regional Australia

Bland Shire Mobile Resource Unit (West Wyalong, NSW)

Cowra Early Childhood Mobile Service (Cowra, NSW)

Community Years Early Childhood (Albury Wodonga, Vic/NSW)

Crookwell Mobile Long Day Care (Crookwell, NSW)

Galloping Gumnut Mobile Playvan (Lithgow, NSW)

Gubi Gabun Childrens Mobile Service (Armidale, NSW)

Puggles Mobile Resource Van (Tumbarumba, NSW)

Tharawonga Mobile Resource Unit (North Star, NSW)

Remote Australia

Bogan Bush Mobile Resource Unit (Nyngan, NSW)

Lachlan Mobile Childcare Service (Condobolin, NSW)

Outback Mobile Resource Unit (Broken Hill, NSW)

Very Remote Australia

Bourke and District Children’s Services (Bourke, NSW)

Brewarrina Mobile Resource Van (Brewarrina, NSW)

Goonimoo Mobile Children’s Service (Walgett, NSW)

Paroo Contact Children’s Mobile (Wanaaring, NSW)

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The Voice of Mobile Children’s Services Challenges Identified by Services

While there is an array of common challenges for all BBF mobile children’s services in rural and remote areas, there are distinctions according to the level of isolation based on the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA).

The challenges identified by services are in response to the proposed ‘mainstreaming’ of funding for mobile children’s services.

Inner Regional and Outer Regional

• Services have reviewed their business structure to attend locations where they can capture the highest number of children. Distance makes it unfeasible for families to travel to other locations, which puts children at risk of missing out on early childhood education and care if their area does not have enough children to support a viable service. It is often the case that there are no other Early Childcare options in the area for the children to attend.

• Small numbers of children (less than 10 per day) at each venue makes the per head cost of the day very high.

• Social Plans in the areas serviced indicate no population growth and there is little employment growth in these areas to increase population, which limits the potential number of children needed to create a viable service.

• Charging considerably higher fees to cover the cost of low numbers and high mobile service delivery costs may make childcare unaffordable for families.

• The cost of travel to and from childcare may also be a limiting factor. Parents have indicated that it is feasible to travel up to 120km round trip for their children to attend care. Based on Australian Taxation Office (ATO) rates, the cost of this type of travel is $88.80 per day plus time. This, together with higher childcare costs, would put childcare out of the reach of most families.

• Many venues (often community halls) would need to be significantly upgraded to enable licensed childcare to take place.

• In many cases, travel, set-up and pack-up time is four hours per day. Add six hours of care, and staff would be required to undertake a 10-hour day. As such, there would be concerns around Workplace Health and Safety and Award issues, and the longer days might impact recruitment and retention of staff.

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• A family’s ability to meet the Activity Test may prove impossible in remote regional towns where employment opportunities are very poor.

• For non-licensed services, when the parental engagement experienced in play sessions is lost, so is an opportunity for parents to gain strategies that best assist their children’s education and learning.

Remote and Very Remote Services

• In remote areas it is not practical for families to travel up to a total of 400km round trip, often on mostly unsealed roads, so their children can attend Long Day Care while they travel to work, and then back again for pick-up.

• Long Day Care hours will not suit many parents working in agriculture, as the needs of livestock and land management cannot be neatly timed to fit in with travel to and from care, etc.

• The remote areas we service have very small populations and no forecasted growth. so that the number of children who could potentially attend long day care is less than eight per day. This makes the financial viability of a long day care impossible.

• To support viability, the new business model will focus on towns where there are higher numbers of children. This in turn will mean that a significant number of children who live in the most remote parts of the State will miss out on vital early childhood education and care, due to their low population of children, which will increase the impact of isolation during key formative years

• Many venues would need to undertake significant upgrades for licensed childcare to take place.

• Managing the high cost of time when services are travelling up to 400km per day. Absorbing this cost into the total daily cost of childcare will make it unaffordable for families.

• The very real costs to service providers associated with road closures and extreme weather would need to be considered in remote settings. For example, such adverse events affected 20 days in 2015 for Outback Mobile (Broken Hill).

• The Workplace Health and Safety issues associated with very long days and few days per month at base are significant.

• How will the revised services manage families with school-age children and younger siblings? These children otherwise participate in School of the Air and attend with younger siblings for social interaction.

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• In the current educationally based play sessions, the Governess also provides classes for school-age children, shares their academic progress with parents and discusses matters associated with curriculum. This interaction would no longer be possible under a Long Day Care model.

• Geographically isolated parents strongly value the combination of emotional support and educational sessions provided by qualified educators, and see this as filling a vital gap in their children’s education and wellbeing. How do services continue to fill this gap under Long Day Care?

• The current system provides for care sessions for School of the Air, gymkhanas, field days and other. This will no longer be possible under CCS and will leave a big hole in community needs.

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Concluding Remarks

Viable communities are communities that can educate and care for the children within their community. Families will not view rural and remote communities as an option or as a place to settle to grow and raise a family if there is limited access to quality education and care.

Viable and vibrant rural and remote communities need children and families and all children need high quality education and care no matter where they live in Australia.

MCSA Mobile Children’s Services Association NSW Inc.

Email mobiles@mcsa.org.au freecall 1800 24 21 48

web www.mcsa.org.au facebook Like Us Contact Inc. Suite 204 Level 2,

64-76 Kippax Street SURRY HILLS NSW 2010 P: 02 9212 5588 · F: 02 9212 6877 admin@contactinc.com.au

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