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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2005  
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Contents >> Family and community >> Informal care provided by grandparents

Family Functioning: Informal Child Care Provided by Grandparents

In 2002, almost one in five children aged 0-11 years (19%) had been looked after by grandparents in the survey week, and grandparents provided 31% of the total hours of care provided in that week.

Most parents use some form of child care for their children, most commonly while they are at work but also for other reasons. Care may be formal, regulated care(such as long day care or after school care), or informal care (such as care by family or friends). These different types of care can complement one another. For example, parents might choose one type of care for regular work commitments and another type for more irregular care needs. The mix of care used can depend on a range of factors including the affordability and availability of formal care or the availability of suitable informal carers. In 2002, of the 1.4 million 0-11 year olds who had been in child care in the week prior to interview, almost three-quarters (74%) had been in informal care and less than half (43%) had been in formal care.

Grandparents are the largest providers of informal care. While grandparents may enjoy this caring role, it has the potential to affect aspects of their lives such as their income, health, or access to free time, particularly if they provide large amounts of care. (See also Australian Social Trends 2005 Grandparents raising their grandchildren).

Child care

Data about informal grandparent care are from the ABS 2002 Child Care Survey, which collected data about children aged 0-11 years.

Formal care
is regulated child care away from the child’s home. It includes before and/or after school care, long day care, family day care and occasional care. In this article, preschool attendance is excluded, and therefore data will differ from that published in Child Care, Australia, 2002 (ABS cat. no. 4402.0).

Informal care
is non-regulated care arranged by a child’s parent/guardian, either in the child’s home or elsewhere. It comprises care by (step) brothers or sisters, grandparents, other relatives (including a parent living elsewhere), or by unrelated people, e.g. friends, nannies, baby-sitters. It may be paid or unpaid. In this article, grandparent care refers to informal care provided by the child’s grandparents.


USE OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHILD CARE

In 2002, almost one in five Australian children aged 0-11 years (19%) had been in the care of grandparents in the week prior to interview (592,000 children). This was equivalent to the proportion who had been in formal child care in the survey week (19% - 597,000 children).

In all, grandparents provided around one-third (31%) of the total hours of child care provided in the survey week. A further 37% was provided by formal care (24% by long day care); and 32% by other informal care (mainly by the child's non-resident parent - 15%). Most children who had been in grandparent care (98%) had been looked after at no cost to parents.


CHILDREN AGED 0-11 YEARS WHO HAD USED CHILD CARE(a): TYPE OF CARE USED

1999
2002
Type of child care used
‘000
%
‘000
%
As a proportion
of all children

Informal care
1,162.1
78.0
1,019.2
73.6
32.9
Care by grandparent
662.7
44.5
591.6
42.7
19.1
Care by brother or sister
74.2
5.0
70.5
5.1
2.3
Care by other relative
222.2
14.9
208.9
15.1
6.7
Care by other person
294.0
19.7
227.2
16.4
7.3
Formal care
538.3
36.1
597.1
43.1
19.3
Before and/or after school care
154.1
10.3
171.0
12.4
5.5
Long day care centre
242.0
16.2
297.0
21.5
9.6
Total who used child care(b)
1,490.0
100.0
1,384.1
100.0
44.6
Did not use child care
1,633.0
1,716.0
55.4
Total children aged 0-11 years
3,122.9
3,100.0
100.0

(a) In the week prior to interview. Excludes preschool attendance.
(b) Components do not add to totals as more than one type of child care may have been used.

Source: ABS 1999 and 2002 Child Care Surveys.

Children who had used child care(a): days used - 2002

Graph: Children who had used child care(a): days used - 2002
(a) Children aged 0–11 years who used care in the week prior to interview.
Excludes preschool attendance.
Components do not add to 100% as more than one type of child care may have been used.

Source: ABS 2002 Child Care Survey.

Of all individual types of formal or informal child care, grandparent care was the type of care used by the greatest number of children in the week prior to interview. However, the primary type of care used varied depending on the number of hours the child had been in care in the survey week. Where less than 20 hours of care had been used, grandparent care was the care used by the greatest number of children: 495,700 children compared with 188,400 who had been in long day care (the next most commonly used type of care). When considering larger amounts of care (i.e. 20 hours or more), long day care was used for the greatest number children (108,600). But grandparent care was the second most commonly used type of child care (96,000 children) for this number of hours.

The balance between the use of formal and informal care has changed over time. Use of informal care decreased slightly between 1999 and 2002 (from 78% to 74% of children who had used care in the week prior to interview), as did use of grandparent care (from 45% to 43%). This shift was accompanied by an increase in the use of formal child care (from 36% to 43%) (see Australian Social Trends 2004, Formal child care).


DAYS AND HOURS CARE WAS USED

Grandparent child care tended to be used on only one or two days per week, with fewer children cared for by grandparents for three or more days. Most children who had been in grandparent care in the survey week (51%) had been in that care on only one day that week. Around half this proportion had been in grandparent care on two days (26%), and the proportion decreased further for three days (9%), and down to 2% for six days or more. Use of other informal care (i.e. care by siblings, other relatives, or unrelated people such as babysitters) followed a similar pattern.

Formal care was also used by a sizeable proportion of children for 1 day (32%), 2 days (28%), and 3 or 4 days (32%). It was used for 3 or 4 day periods much more than grandparent care (15%) or other informal care (20%). There was minimal use of formal child care for periods of six days or more, as this type of care is generally unavailable on weekends.


Of children who had been in grandparent care in the survey week, most (37%) had been in grandparent care for less than 5 hours. The proportion then decreased steadily for longer amounts of care (e.g. 27% had been in care for 5-9 hours and 5% for 35 hours or more).

The pattern of use of other informal care was very similar, although the proportion increased slightly for care of 35 hours or more (to 12% of children who had been in this type of care), which reflected larger amounts of care provided by the child's non-resident parent. Compared with other types of care, formal care was used less for under five hours of care (23% of children who had been in formal care), and more for 10-19 hours of care (28%).

Children who had used child care(a): hours used - 2002
Graph: Children who had used child care(a): hours used - 2002
a) Children aged 0–11 years who used care in the week prior to interview.
Excludes preschool attendance.
Components do not add to 100% as more than one type of child care may have been used.

Source: ABS 2002 Child Care Survey.


Children aged 0-11 years who used child care(a): age of child - 2002
Graph: Children aged 0-11 years who used child care(a): age of child - 2002
(a) Excludes preschool attendance.
Components do not add to 100% as more than one type of child care may have been used.

Source: ABS 2002 Child Care Survey.


AGE OF CHILDREN IN GRANDPARENT CARE

Grandparent care tended to be used more for very young children than other care types. However, while there was a high use of grandparent care for 0-2 year olds (52% of 0-2 year olds who had been in care had been in grandparent care), use of grandparent care remained fairly high across other child age groups (39% of 3-5 year olds, 42% of 6-8 year olds, and 37% of 9-11 year olds).

By comparison, there was a jump in the use of formal care as children moved past infancy (60% of 3-5 year olds who used care had been in formal child care compared with 48% of 0-2 year olds). Use of formal care dropped back among school aged children (32% of 6-8 year olds and 22% of 9-11 year olds).

There was a different age pattern in regard to other types of informal care. The proportion of children in the care of a sibling, non-resident parent, babysitter or other informal carer increased as the age group of the child increased. One in four (25%) 0-2 year olds used other informal care, increasing to just over half (54%) of 9-11 year olds.



REASONS FOR USING INFORMAL CARE

One of the main reasons parents use child care is to participate in the workforce. In 2002, of the 591,600 children who had been in grandparent care in the week prior to interview, just over one-half (51%) had been in informal care because their parents were either working, looking for work, or attending work related training or study. A further 38% had been in informal care so their parents could socialise, shop, have a break, or attend to other personal or family matters.


FAMILY TYPE AND EMPLOYMENT

...overall use of child care

Overall, one-parent families make more use of child care than couple families. In 2002, 54% of children in one-parent families had been in some type of child care in the week prior to interview, compared with 42% of children in couple families.

This difference was mainly driven by the high use of child care by one-parent families in which the lone parent was employed. Three-quarters of children in these families (74%) had been in some type of child care in the survey week. This was much higher than the proportion of children in couple families with both parents employed who had been in child care (57%).


One-parent families where the parent was not employed also used child care more than couple families where one or more parent was not employed. Of children in one-parent families where the parent was not employed, 41% had been in child care, compared with 28% of children in couple families with one employed parent and 22% of children in couple families with no employed parent.

Children aged 0-11 years: whether child care used(a) - 2002
Graph: Children aged 0-11 years: whether child care used(a) - 2002


CHILDREN AGED 0-11 YEARS: USE OF CHILD CARE(a) BY TYPE OF CARE AND LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF PARENT(S) - 2002

Used grandparent
care
Used other
informal care
Used formal
care
Total number
of children
%
%
%
'000

Couple families
19.2
11.7
18.3
2 506.1
Both parents employed
27.0
15.2
25.4
1 263.7
One parent employed
11.6
8.2
10.7
1 025.2
No parent employed
8.7
5.0
10.1
185.1
One-parent families
18.8
22.5
23.5
593.9
Parent employed
23.7
33.3
35.4
238.6
Parent not employed
15.5
15.1
15.5
355.3

(a) In the week prior to interview. Excludes preschool attendance. Components do not add to 100% as more than one type of child care may have been used.

Source: ABS 2002 Child Care Survey.

...use of grandparent care

The proportion of children in one-parent families that had been in grandparent care in the week prior to interview (19%) was the same as the proportion of children in couple families that had been in grandparent care (19%). However, in one-parent families, a higher proportion of children than this had been in informal care other than grandparent care (23%) or in formal care (24%). By comparison, in couple families, about the same proportion had been in formal care (18%) as had been in grandparent care, and a lower proportion had been in informal care other than grandparent care (12%).

While lone parents who were not employed tended to make the same use of grandparent care as they did of other types of child care, lone parents who were employed used grandparent care less than other types of care. Of children in these families, 35% had been in formal care, 33% in other informal care, and 24% in grandparent care.

There is a range of possible reasons one-parent families use formal child care and other informal care more than they use grandparent care. Lone parents may have less access to the grandparents associated with the child's non-resident parent. Lone parents who are employed may also have a greater need for long periods of care, more usually met through formal care. As one-parent families tend to have lower incomes than other family types, (endnote 1) they may also receive greater subsidisation of formal care. (endnote 2)

Children who used care(a): weekly parental income - 2002

Graph: Children who used care(a): weekly parental income - 2002



INCOME

Overall, the use of child care tends to be similar for all children, regardless of their parent's income. In 2002, around 45% of children in each weekly income range had been in child care in the week prior to interview. This relative uniformity was also evident when comparing use of grandparent care across income ranges. However, there was some difference in the use of grandparent care by parents in the lowest weekly income range when compared with its use by parents in the highest weekly income range.

Of children whose parents' weekly income was less than $400, a higher proportion had been in grandparent care in the week prior to interview (43%), than had been in formal child care (39%). On the other hand, of children whose parents’ weekly income was at the highest end of the scale ($2,000 or more), a higher proportion had been in formal care (47%) than had been in grandparent care (39%).


Child Care Benefit

The Child Care Benefit, introduced in July 2000, assists parents in paying for approved and registered child care regardless of income. All families are entitled to receive some assistance, with a maximum rate paid to those on low income. This benefit may encourage parents to access formal care services because of the reimbursement offered, often paid directly to the child care service providers.2

Cost of child care

The cost of formal child care to the service recipient varies according to hours of use and type of service used. In 2002, the median weekly cost of formal care (excluding preschool) ranged from $9 for care of less than five hours to $105 for care of 45 hours or more a week. Long day care and family day care had the highest median weekly costs to the service recipient, $38 and $21 per week respectively. (See Australian Social Trends, 2004, Formal child care).

Most children who had been in grandparent care (98%) were looked after at no cost to parents.


ENDNOTES

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Household Income and Income Distribution, Australia, 2002-2003 ABS cat. no. 6523.0

2 For further information on Child Care Benefit, refer to The Family Assistance Office.


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