The federal government recently announced a crackdown on so-called ‘child swapping’ in early childhood care that was reportedly costing taxpayers about $8 million a week.
This is not the first time the government has cracked down. Nor is it the first time people across the sector have reported incidents to the government.
If we are looking for one of the most cost-effective ways to bring about positive social change, we need look no further than early childhood education and care. The Nobel Prize-winning economics professor James Heckman has shown time and time again the economic and social benefits of investing in the formative years. Unfortunately, the bucket of funds available for early childhood care is woefully inadequate.
And so, you find people all across our sector – in long day care, family day care, preschool and in-home care, from privately owned groups and government-funded roles – all calling on the government to invest in making high-quality early childhood education accessible and affordable for all Australian children.
For those of us advocating our little hearts out, it is incredibly disheartening to learn of systemic rorting, taking what little money we have and lining individual pockets rather than making it available for the children and families who need it.
Everyone who is in receipt of government subsidies must be open, transparent and accountable. Anyone found to be rorting the system should pay a harsh penalty. Unfortunately, as a result of rorts that have happened in the past, the upcoming federal funding package has a range of hoops for providers to jump through in order to validate their need for funding, every single step of the way. This is an unnecessary knee-jerk reaction; there are some out there who do manipulate the system but the vast majority don’t. Better to make the fines for rorting significant and to prosecute without mercy those found to be doing the wrong thing.
The questions arising at the moment around carers being subsidised for looking after their own children start straying into the minefield of ‘double dipping’. I’m not across the details of each case, I don’t know which were genuine mistakes or misunderstandings. I know that there is a strong argument for carers being able to access subsidies for their own children, and I don’t necessarily disagree. However, it is important that when in receipt of government funding, you follow the rules as they are written. They may be unfair and unjust – there are plenty of instances of such for funding in our sector – but the answer is not to rort the system; the answer lies in advocacy, in arguing to make change rather than ignoring the rules. Advocacy work is tiring and results take a long time, but if you are passionate about something like funding models, then speak up, stand out and tell your story until people listen.
Redirecting $8 million a week to children who are vulnerable or disadvantaged is a good first step. Ensuring that no children fall through the cracks of the system is next.
Nesha O’Neil is treasurer of the Australian Childcare Alliance and the president of the ACA New South Wales team.Do you have an idea for a story?
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