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Family Services: Child care
Trends in child care
In 1996, 48% of children aged less than 12 years used some form of formal and/or informal child care. This proportion, while changing only slightly since 1993 (49%), has continued the reduction in the use of child care since the peak in 1990 (52%) (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Child Care).
Between 1984 and 1996, the proportion of children under 12 years of age receiving formal child care increased from 12% to 20%. The greatest increase was among 0-2 year olds (from 8% to 22%). At the same time, the proportion of 3-4 year olds receiving formal care increased from 41% to 59% (and doubled, excluding pre-school/kindergarten, from 12% to 24%) while the proportion of 5-11 year olds receiving formal care rose from 6% to 8%.
The use of informal child care arrangements rose from 30% of children under 12 years in 1984 to 42% in 1990, then fell to 36% in 1996. This decline was evident for all age groups. However, while these trends indicated a shift from informal to formal care, Australian families still use the former more frequently.
FORMAL AND INFORMAL CHILD CARE
Source: Child Care, Australia, 1984 (cat. no. 4402.0) and Child Care, Australia, 1996 (cat. no. 4402.0).
Type of care
The type of child care used largely depends on the age of the child, particularly in the case of formal care. In 1996, the most commonly used formal care was pre-school (32%), followed by long day care (28%), out of school hours care programs (18%), and family day care (15%).
The main providers of informal care were relatives other than brothers or sisters. This accounted for nearly two thirds of children receiving informal care.
Younger children are much more likely to receive formal care than school-age children. In 1996, the use of formal care by very young children was low (8% of children under one year), but increased rapidly from age one (22%) up to the age of four (62%). Pre-school attendance of 3-4 year old children was a major contributor to this increase. At age five, when most children start school, the proportions of children using formal care dropped sharply (12% of children aged five) and continued to decrease as children grew older (6% of children aged 9-11).
In 1996, 11% of 0-2 year olds and 17% of 3-4 year olds received care in long day care centres which cater for children from birth to school age. Family day care offered in private homes by registered carers was used by 6% of 0-2 year olds and 5% of 3-4 year olds. Of 3-4 year olds, 36% attended pre-schools which had fixed attendance times and catered for children in the year prior to starting primary school. Only 8% of 5-11 year olds received formal care; most (6%) attended out of school hours care programs.
In 1996, children below school age were more likely to use informal care than older children. Of children aged under 5 years, 40% used informal care compared with 34% of 5-11 year olds.
Informal care was generally provided by family members. Around 8% of 5-11 year olds were cared for by their brothers or sisters. Other family members, such as grandparents, uncles and aunts, cared for 31% of 0-2 year olds, 29% of 3-4 year olds and 19% of 5-11 year olds.
TYPE OF CARE BY AGE OF CHILD, 1996
Source: Child Care, Australia, 1996 (cat. no. 4402.0).
Main reasons for using child care
The use of child care is influenced both by the needs of parents (such as work, leisure and shopping) and by their perceptions of benefits to the child of receiving non-parental care such as play groups, pre-school, and care by grandparents.
An important reason for using child care, both formal and informal, is to provide care for children while parents are at work. Much of the overall increase in the past decade is related to the increased participation of women in the labour force. Between 1986 and 1996, the labour force participation rate of women with children under 15 years increased from 49% to 59%.
Children who attended out of school hours care programs, family day care or long day care, did so primarily because of the work-related reasons of their parents (87%, 74% and 60% respectively of all reasons given). Child care for work-related reasons also included care while parents were looking for work or studying/training for work. In contrast, 81% of those children who attended pre-school did so mainly because parents felt it was beneficial for the child.
Needing time for personal activities (such as shopping, entertainment, social or sporting activities) was the reason given for 41% of children placed in informal child care and 13% receiving formal care.
MAIN REASON FOR USING CHILD CARE, 1996
Source: Child Care, Australia, 1996 (cat. no. 4402.0).
Commonwealth expenditure on child care
In 1995-96 the Commonwealth Government spent $991 million on child care services. Childcare Assistance, which is paid to care providers as a means of reducing child care costs for low- and middle-income families, accounted for $657 million. Operational subsidies to reduce running costs for child care services, made up $132 million. A further $121 million was paid to parents as the Childcare Cash Rebate (CCR).1 The CCR is a non-means tested payment to families for work-related child care costs exceeding $16.50 per week.
Care providers receive Childcare Assistance and operational subsidies on a per-child basis, subject to government eligibility criteria. In 1995-96 a major part (56%) of Childcare Assistance was paid to commercial, employer and non-profit day care centres. Community long day centres and family day care schemes received 20% and 22% respectively of total Childcare Assistance, and 34% and 40% respectively of operational subsidies.
The CCR, which subsidises work-related child care costs, was claimed for 278,600 children using formal and/or informal care. This represented a take-up rate of 56% of those eligible. The proportion of children for whom the CCR was claimed varied depending on the type of care. The take-up rate was over 65% for children using out of school hours care, long day care and family day care. In comparison, the rebate was claimed for only 34% of eligible children attending pre-school, and 38% of those eligible using occasional care.
WEEKLY COST OF FORMAL CHILD CARE, 1996
The cost to parents of child care
While Childcare Assistance and the CCR make child care more affordable for parents, the actual amount families pay is dependent on their income level, the number of children in care, the type of care used, the hours in care and the fees charged.
Of those children who used informal care, 86% did so at no cost, and for half of all children using formal care (51%), the cost amounted to less than $20 per week. However, some parents paid considerably more than that. For 31% of children who attended long day care, and 24% who attended family day care, the cost was $60 or more per week.
As family income increased, the proportion of children who used care also increased, consistent with the proportion of families with both parents working. For children in families with a weekly family income of less than $400, 43% used some form of care, compared with 75% of children in families with a weekly family income over $2,000.
Unmet demand for formal care
In 1996, for most children (over 90%), no additional formal child care was needed. This was the case for families not currently using any form of care, as well as for those using either formal or informal care. Around 8% of children under 12 years of age were reported as requiring, but not receiving, additional formal care in 1996, a fall from 16% in 1993.
In 1996, the main type of additional care required was out of school hours care (32% of children requiring extra care) and occasional care (31%). This varied between age groups.
Demand for extra care was higher in the 0-4 age group with 11% of children (143,000) requiring additional formal care. Of these, 40% required occasional care and 25% required long day care.
In the 5-11 years age group, 118,800 children (7%) required additional care. Of these, 69% required out of school hours care, and 21% required care on an irregular basis.
For children requiring care, the main reasons given for not using care were that none existed in their area or parents did not know of any in their area (24% of children), or there were no places in existing centres (17%). For 16% of children, the parents said the care was too expensive.
Care for sick children
Child care is linked to work commitments of parents, particularly mothers. However, the responsibility of looking after a sick child may conflict with a parent's paid work obligations.
When a child falls sick and needs time off school or to be away from child care, alternative arrangements must be made to care for the child.
For families where both parents are employed or for an employed lone parent, this may involve a parent taking time off work. In 1996, of the families with children where both parents worked, 56% had children who had been sick and needed to be away from school or child care in the previous six months.
For almost half (49%) of these, one or other parent took time off - more often the mother (41% compared with 21% of fathers). A similar proportion of employed lone parents with a sick child took time off (50%).
In 55% of cases where other arrangements were used, the children were cared for by a relative, and in 14% of cases the parent worked at home.
1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1997, Australia's Welfare 1997, Services and Assistance, AIHW, Canberra.