Child care services provide care and development activities for children generally aged 12 years or younger. These services enable parents to participate in employment, education and training, community activities and personal activities. They may also be used for family support reasons. As a condition of government funding and regulation, child care services must promote and enhance children’s emotional, intellectual, social and physical development. Dedicated preschool services offer educational and developmental programs for children in the year or two before full-time school.
The Australian Government Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS) funds most child care services through the Child Care Support Program (FaCS 2004). All state and territory governments fund dedicated preschool services; they also provide some funding for other child care services, either solely or in conjunction with the Australian Government. The Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) provides supplementary funding for Indigenous children enrolled in state and territory funded preschools under the Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Programme (IESIP).
The Australian Government supports mainstream child care services such as long day care centres, family day care services and outside hours care services, as well as culturally specific services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. These include:
Although not specifically for Indigenous children, the Australian Government also funds mobile children’s services which visit remote areas and provide occasional care, school holiday care, playgroups, story telling, games and toy library services for children, and information and support for parents.
- Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Services (MACS), which provide flexible services to meet Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s social and developmental needs. MACS offer care for children under school age and for school age children, including long day care, playgroups, before and after school care and school holiday care, and cultural programs
- Aboriginal Playgroups and Enrichment Programs. Aboriginal playgroups provide opportunities for children under school age and their parents to socialise and interact with one another. Enrichment programs provide supervised care, organised activities, homework centres and nutrition services for school age children.
States and territories also fund culturally specific child care and preschool services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. For instance, the Queensland Department of Families, through the Remote Area Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care Program, provides funding for the operation of a range of children’s services to meet the cultural and community needs in remote area communities. These include long day care centres, children’s activity programs and playgroups.
Nationally, comprehensive and comparable data on children using child care and preschool services are not available. The development phase of a Children’s Services National Minimum Data Set is nearing completion. The final report of the development phase and the data specifications are expected to be available in late 2005.
Since most child care services are supported by FaCS, the department's Census of Child Care Services is currently the most comprehensive source of data on Indigenous children attending child care services in Australia.
In 2004, there were a total of 651,044 children using Australian Government supported child care services, of whom 11,971 (or 1.8%) were Indigenous. Non-Indigenous children were supported by these government services at more than twice the rate of Indigenous children, with usage rates of around 19% and 8% respectively. Within each service type, Indigenous-specific services such as Aboriginal Playgroups and Enrichment Services and MACS, had the highest proportions of Indigenous children (88% and 79% respectively), with the proportion of Indigenous children being considerably lower in services dedicated to all children. In 2004, approximately 10% of children using Mobile and Toy Library Services were Indigenous and 6% of children using Multifunctional Children's Services were Indigenous. Indigenous children represented less than 2% of all children using the remaining service types.
Of all Indigenous children in Australian Government supported child care services, 51% were in long day care centres, 16% were in before/after school care and 9% were in family day care compared with 59%, 25% and 14% of other children respectively (table 11.1).
11.1 Children in Australian Government supported child care, by Indigenous status and service type - May 2004
|Long day care centres ||% |
|Family day care ||% |
|Occasional care ||% |
|Multifunctional Aboriginal Children's Services ||% |
|Multifunctional Children's Services ||% |
|Before/after school care (Outside of School Hours Care) services ||% |
|Vacation care ||% |
|Mobile and Toy Library Services ||% |
|Aboriginal Playgroups and Enrichment Services ||% |
|In-home care services ||% |
|Total ||% |
|Total ||no. |
|- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells) |
|(a) Includes children for whom Indigenous status was not stated. |
|FaCS, 2004 Australian Government Census of Child Care Services |
Some data are also available on the number of Indigenous children enrolled in state and territory funded and non-government funded preschool services from the annual census conducted for DEST. In 2003, there were 4,697 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children enrolled in state/territory funded preschools in all jurisdictions, excluding Queensland and Victoria (children attending state and territory funded preschools in Queensland and Victoria were excluded from the data collection in 2003), and there were a further 4,354 Indigenous children enrolled in non-government funded preschools in all states and territories.