Home | Opinion | Nanny trial offers flexibility, despite quality concerns
Elizabeth Adamson, research associate at UNSW

Nanny trial offers flexibility, despite quality concerns

In-home childcare – commonly known as care by nannies – received considerable attention in the lead up to the government’s budget announcement last month. The Coalition will introduce a two-year pilot program, called the Home-Based Carer Pilot Programme (Nannies Trial), to commence in July 2016. The trial will cost the government $246 million to fund in-home childcare for up to 10,000 children workers over these two years. The aim is to offer more flexible services for children and families unable to use mainstream services.

The trial is targeted towards families unable to use mainstream services, such as long day care (LDC) or (FDC) because: both parents work non-standard hours; the child or family has special needs; or the family lives in a regional or remote area where non-standard hours are needed (such as help during seasonal periods), or there are no mainstream services within a reasonable distance to their home. Families must have an income of less than $250,000 to be eligible.

Families will access home-based carers through approved service providers, including LDC and FDC schemes and other services already providing the current, targeted, In Home Care program. The approved service providers will receive the Child Care Subsidy directly and the families will pay a reduced fee to the service provider – not directly to the carer.

Financial support for families will be provided through the announced Child Care Subsidy, which combines the current Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate. The benchmark fee for families using a home-based carer under the trial will be less per child than for LDC and FDC. The benchmark fee for the trial is $7.00 an hour, compared with $11.55 for LDC and $10.70 for FDC. The same means-tested rate will apply; families earning less than $60,000 will be eligible to receive 85 per cent of $7.00/hour per child, tapered down to 50 per cent of $7.00/hour per child for families earning more than $165,000 a year. For an hourly fee of $22/hour a day, over 10 hours, a low-income family with three children could receive as much as $178.50 in Child Care Subsidy (85 per cent of $7/hour for 3 children). A higher income family with one child would receive about $35 for a full day of care (50 per cent of $7/hour for 1 child).

Various concerns have come from the sector and other critics. One common concern is the potentially low quality of care for children because the carers would not be required to have Certificate III qualifications under the National Quality Framework. Nannies must be 18 years or older, hold a Working with Children Check and a first aid certificate, and be connected to an approved service provider. A second concern is the potential for exploitation of carers. This is a critical issue often overlooked in early childhood education and care studies (which tend to focus more on the quality implications for children). It requires further attention and detail as the trial is rolled out.

Carers or nannies who are employed directly by a service provider are more likely to be well paid, well trained and have appropriate working conditions and protections. In contrast, an employment agency model does little to protect workers. It is important that, as the details of the trial are developed, the model is employer-based rather than agency-based.

Despite critiques about the lack of qualifications required, affordable and regulated in-home care can provide a valuable service for families. This is evident in the In Home Care program, which has operated in Australia for 15 years to deliver services to vulnerable children and families and those living in remote areas, amongst others. It is important that the Trial builds on its strengths. An evaluation of the trial in 2017–18 will be integral to ensuring that the trial is delivering on its aims – to provide flexible care – and, more importantly, is reaching the families that will benefit the most. If it is able to achieve these goals, then it can offer a complementary service to families unable to use LDC and FDC, or which might benefit by using a mix of mainstream and in-home services.

Elizabeth Adamson is a research associate at the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. She recently completed her PhD, which compared how governments support in-home childcare in Australia, the UK and Canada.

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