22 February 2015

Childcare Inquiry

The Government has released the Productivity Commission report on the Commission's Inquiry into Child Care and Early Childhood Learning.

The report notes that
 The market for child care and early childhood learning services is large, diverse and growing, and it touches the lives of practically every family in Australia. Almost all children in Australia participate in some form of child care or early learning service at some point in the years before starting school. In 2012, around 19,400 child care and early learning services enrolled over 1.3 million children in at least one child care or preschool programme (comprising around 15,100 approved child care services and 4,300 preschools). The Australian Government is the largest funder of the sector, with outlays exceeding $5 billion a year and growing. It is important that this expenditure achieves the best possible impact in terms of benefits to families and children as well as the wider economy. The child care and early learning system can be improved because:
  • families are struggling to find quality child care and early learning that is flexible and affordable enough to meet their needs and to participate in the workforce 
  • a small but significant number of children start school with learning and developmental delays 
  • there are shortfalls in reaching and properly supporting the needs of children with disabilities and vulnerable children, regional and rural families and parents who are moving from income support into study and employment 
  • services need to operate in a system that has clear and sustainable business arrangements, including regulation, planning and funding 
  • there is a need to ensure that public expenditure on child care and early childhood learning is both efficient and effective in addressing the needs of families and children.
The Inquiry objectives were
to examine and identify future options for a child care and early childhood learning system that: • supports workforce participation, particularly for women • addresses children's learning and development needs, including the transition to schooling • is more flexible to suit the needs of families, including families with non-standard work hours, disadvantaged children, and regional families • is based on appropriate and fiscally sustainable funding arrangements that better support flexible, affordable and accessible quality child care and early childhood learning.
The Commission was to  make recommendations about -
1. The contribution that access to affordable, high quality child care can make to: (a) increased participation in the workforce, particularly for women (b) optimising children's learning and development.
2. The current and future need for child care in Australia, including consideration of the following: (a) hours parents work or study, or wish to work or study (b) the particular needs of rural, regional and remote parents, as well as shift workers (c) accessibility of affordable care (d) types of child care available including but not limited to: long day care, family day care, in home care including nannies and au pairs, mobile care, occasional care, and outside school hours care (e) the role and potential for employer provided child care (f) usual hours of operation of each type of care (g) the out of pocket cost of child care to families (h) rebates and subsidies available for each type of care (i) the capacity of the existing child care system to ensure children are transitioning from child care to school with a satisfactory level of school preparedness (j) opportunities to improve connections and transitions across early childhood services (including between child care and preschool/kindergarten services) (k) the needs of vulnerable or at risk children (l) interactions with relevant Australian Government policies and programmes.
3. Whether there are any specific models of care that should be considered for trial or implementation in Australia, with consideration given to international models, such as the home based care model in New Zealand and models that specifically target vulnerable or at risk children and their families.
4. Options for enhancing the choices available to Australian families as to how they receive child care support, so that this can occur in the manner most suitable to their individual family circumstances. Mechanisms to be considered include subsidies, rebates and tax deductions, to improve the accessibility, flexibility and affordability of child care for families facing diverse individual circumstances.
5. The benefits and other impacts of regulatory changes in child care over the past decade, including the implementation of the National Quality Framework (NQF) in States and Territories, with specific consideration given to compliance costs, taking into account the Government's planned work with States and Territories to streamline the NQF.
6. In making any recommendations for future Australian Government policy settings, the Commission will consider options within current funding parameters.
The report offers the following 'key points' -
  • Formal and informal Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services play a vital role in the development of Australian children and their preparation for school, and in enabling parents to work. Many families use a mix of formal ECEC and informal, non-parental care. The number of formal ECEC services has expanded substantially over the past decade. Over the same period, Australian Government funding has almost tripled to around $7 billion per year, and now covers two thirds of total ECEC costs. Despite this, many parents report difficulties in finding ECEC at a location, price, quality and hours that they want. 
  • Current ECEC arrangements are complex and costly to administer and difficult for parents and providers to navigate. There are over 20 Australian Government assistance programs, some poorly targeted. Assessing service quality is cumbersome and time consuming. 
  • The benefits from participation in preschool for children’s development and transition to school are largely undisputed. There also appear to be benefits from early identification of, and intervention for, children with development vulnerabilities. 
  • The National Quality Framework must be retained, modified and extended to all Government funded ECEC services. To better meet the needs and budgets of families, the range of services approved for assistance should include approved nannies and the cap on occasional care places should be removed. All primary schools should take responsibility for outside school hours care for their students, where demand exists for a viable service. 
  • The Commission’s recommended reforms will achieve, at minimal additional cost, an ECEC system that is simpler, more accessible and flexible, with greater early learning opportunities for children with additional needs. The reforms would also alleviate future fiscal pressures, establish a system that is easier to adapt to future changes in ECEC, and tax and welfare arrangements. Assistance should focus on three priority areas: 
    • mainstream support through a single child-based subsidy that is: means- and activity- tested, paid directly to the family’s choice of approved services, for up to 100 hours per fortnight, and based on a benchmark price for quality ECEC. In regional, rural and remote areas with fluctuating child populations, viability assistance should be provided on a limited time basis. 
    • support the inclusion of children with additional needs in mainstream services, delivery of services for children in highly disadvantaged communities and the integration of ECEC with schools and other child and family services. 
    • approved preschool programs funded on a per child basis, for all children, regardless of whether they are dedicated preschools or part of a long day care centre. 
  • Additional workforce participation will occur, but it will be small. ECEC issues are just some of a broad range of work, family and financial factors which influence parent work decisions. The interaction of tax and welfare policies provide powerful disincentives for many second income earners to work more than part time. Shifting to the recommended approach is nevertheless estimated to increase the number of mothers working (primarily of low and middle income families) by 1.2 per cent (an additional 16 400 mothers). 
  • Overall, more assistance will go to low and middle income families and their use of childcare is expected to rise. However, high income families who increase their work hours may also be better off. Enabling the lowest income families (those on Parenting Payments) some access to subsidised childcare without meeting an activity test may boost ECEC participation and improve child development outcomes for this group, but this comes at the cost of potentially higher workforce participation. 
The Commission makes the following recommendations and findings -
Families using mainstream services — improving accessibility, flexibility and affordability 
F11.1 The amount families pay for ECEC varies depending on their income, care use patterns and family size. For the vast majority of families, subsidies from the Australian Government cover more than half of their ECEC fees. Current subsidy arrangements make ECEC more affordable for families. However, there are a number of issues with the way Government support is delivered: • the existing system is complex and some families have difficulty understanding their entitlements under the Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Rebate • the design of these measures is resulting in a declining proportion of assistance to lower income families who are least able to afford ECEC services • the Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance program is not well targeted and the very high degree of subsidisation may encourage families to remain eligible for the program. 
R15.1 The Australian Government should combine the current funding for Child Care Rebate, Child Care Benefit and the Jobs Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance to support a single child based subsidy, to be known as the Early Care and Learning Subsidy (ECLS). ECLS would be available for children attending all mainstream approved ECEC services, whether they are centre based or home based. 
R15.2 The Australian Government should fund the Early Care and Learning Subsidy to assist families with the cost of approved centre based care and home based care. The program should assist families with the cost of ECEC services: • supplied by approved providers that satisfy the requirements of the National Quality Framework • with a means tested subsidy rate between 85 per cent (for family incomes at or below $60 000) and 20 per cent (for family incomes at or above $250 000), with annual indexation of the thresholds • which is applied to an hourly benchmark price based on the median fees charged for the type of service, and differentiating by age of child for long day care • for up to 100 hours of care per fortnight for children aged 13 years and under of families that meet an activity test of 24 hours of work, study or training per fortnight, or are explicitly exempt from the activity test (recommendation 15.3) • paid directly to the service provider of the family’s choice on receipt of the record of care provided • be conditional on the child being fully immunised, unless care occurs in the child’s home. 
R15.3 The Australian Government should exempt families from the activity test in the following circumstances: • parents are receiving an income support payment, with those who receive only a Parenting Payment being exempt from the activity test for up to 20 hours only of ECEC use per fortnight • the primary carer is a grandparent or other non-parent primary carer • exceptional circumstances, including when a family has experienced a sudden change in employment circumstances that would mean they no longer satisfy the activity test, with the exemption to apply for a period of three months following this change in circumstances • the child has been assessed as ‘at risk’, with those who have had at least 26 weeks of being assessed as at risk exempt from the activity test for a further 18 months • the child is attending a service funded (in full or part) by the Community Early Learning Program • the child is attending a preschool program in an ECEC service, with the exemption to apply for the period of the preschool program (15 hours per week for 40 weeks per year). Unless otherwise stated, these families should still be subject to the same means test as applied to other families in determining the subsidy rate that applies to their use of the ECEC service. These activity test exemptions would replace the current Special Child Care Benefit, Grandparent Child Care Benefit, and Jobs Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance arrangements and these programs should be abolished. 
R15.4 The Australian Government should establish a capped Viability Assistance Program to assist ECEC providers in rural, regional and remote areas to continue to operate under child based funding arrangements (the Early Care and Learning Subsidy), should demand temporarily fall below that needed to be financially viable. This funding would be: • accessed for a maximum of 3 in every 7 years, with services assessed for viability once they have received 2 years of support • be limited to funding the fee gap that arises from a decline in the number of children using the service relative to the previous 3 years • prioritised to centre based and mobile services that are viable in most years • be available to new services on the condition that they can demonstrate a business plan to be financially viable within two years. 
F10.1 The value of waiting lists to families would be increased if providers were to regularly publish on an appropriate platform: • information on the fees charged to join the waiting list • information on the number of families on the waiting list for each age group • statistics on the number of places offered to children on the waiting list over a given period. 
R10.1 The Australian Government should remove the ‘Priority of Access’ Guidelines once the proposed means and activity test requirements have been introduced. 
R10.4 The Australian Government should remove caps on the number of occasional childcare places and abolish operational requirements that specify minimum or maximum operating hours for all services approved to receive child-based subsidies. ECEC services to children under school age should be operational for at least 48 weeks per year in order to be approved to receive child-based subsidies. ECEC services for school age children should be operational for at least 7 weeks per year in order to be approved to receive child-based subsidies. The requirements for before and after school care services to operate on every school day should be abolished. 
R10.5 Governments should allow approved nannies to become an eligible service for which families can receive ECEC assistance. Assistance would not be available for use of nannies who do not meet the National Quality Standard. National Quality Framework requirements for nannies should be determined by ACECQA and should include a minimum qualification requirement of a relevant (ECEC related) certificate III, or equivalent, the same staff ratios as are currently present for family day care services, and be linked to an approved coordinator, as occurs in family day care. Assessments of regulatory compliance should be based on both random and targeted inspections by regulatory authorities. 
R10.7 The Australian Government should simplify working holiday visa requirements to make it easier for families to employ au pairs, by allowing au pairs to work for a family for up to the full 12 month term of the visa, rather than the current limit of six months per family. 
Additional needs — improving accessibility, flexibility and affordability 
F5.1 Generally, Australian children are doing well developmentally and most are well prepared to begin formal schooling. Those who are less well prepared tend to be Indigenous children, children living in socio-economically disadvantaged communities, children living in very remote areas and children from non-English speaking backgrounds. There is likely to be overlap across these groups. 
R5.2 Early intervention programs to address the development needs of children from disadvantaged backgrounds should be underpinned by research. Their impact on the development outcomes of the children attending ECEC should be subject to ongoing monitoring and evaluation, including through the use of longitudinal studies. 
F13.1 Having short-term arrangements that enable access to ECEC for children at risk of neglect and harm is an essential element of a wider solution to protect these children. Access for unlimited hours — in some cases 24/7 care — amounts to emergency care and is the responsibility of state and territory governments. 
R15.5 The Australian Government should continue to provide support for children who are assessed as ‘at risk’ to access ECEC services, funding an at risk children program that provides: • a 100 per cent subsidy for the benchmark price of ECEC services • up to 100 hours a fortnight, with exemption from the activity test • support initially for 6 weeks then in blocks of up to 26 weeks, on application by the relevant state or territory department and approval by the Department of Human Services • automatic extensions are to be provided for children for whom there is a current child protection order. Families who have had a child assessed as ‘at risk’ for a period of 6 months or more would be exempt from the activity test for on-going ECEC services for this child for a further period of up to 18 months. 
R15.6 States and territories should nominate an agency for ECEC providers to contact where the provider has identified a child as at risk and applied for the initial six weeks at risk subsidy. This state or territory agency should be responsible for assigning a case worker to the child. If assistance is required beyond the initial period, this agency should also be responsible for making any applications for extensions for assistance on behalf of the child to support their attendance at the ECEC service. The application would require approval by the Department of Human Services. ECEC providers should be required to contact the designated state or territory department contact agency within one week of applying for the six week at risk assistance. Continuation of access to the subsidy would be based on ongoing involvement by a state or territory agency with the child and their family, and approval by the Department of Human Services. The processes for providers to notify the nominated state or territory agency, and for the agency to apply for an extension of the full subsidy on behalf of a child, should be trialled to establish an effective process before being fully rolled out. 
R15.7 The Australian Government should retain the Inclusion Support Agency, Inclusion Support Subsidy, Bicultural Support, and Specialist Equipment Support elements from the Inclusion and Professional Support Program to form the core of a new Inclusion Support Program. The National Inclusion Support Subsidy Provider should also be retained. The budget should be increased for: • the Inclusion Support Agencies to allow for ‘value for money’ contracting based on the number of services and child populations, with an adjustment for level of disadvantage in the communities in their allotted district • the Inclusion Support Subsidy to allow for up to 7 hours of funding a day for up to 10 days a fortnight and paid at the certificate III award rate • Bicultural Support to allow services access to at least 20 hours of support to settle new culturally and linguistically diverse families and their children into an ECEC service. The ongoing need for Inclusion Support Agencies should be reviewed in five years. 
R13.2 The application process for the Inclusion Support Subsidy should be streamlined through: • sharing of information across government agencies to reduce the administrative burden on families and ECEC services • an upgraded and more user friendly IT portal. 
F13.2 Funding to providers has an important role to play in improving accessibility to ECEC for children who live in disadvantaged areas without access to ECEC. There is scope to improve the current Budget Based Funded Programme which delivers assistance directly to providers in disadvantaged areas. Current funding precludes new services from opening up and does not encourage existing services to transition from provider-based funding to child-based assistance. 
F13.3 Block funding is problematic for the long term sustainability of integrated services — the loss of one service (if funding for that service is not continued) can threaten the viability of other providers in the service. While the ECEC component of integrated services can be funded through mainstream ECEC funding arrangements, block funding of coordination functions may be required to realise the value of integration. Non-ECEC services should be funded through the appropriate budget portfolio. 
R13.3 Governments should consider greater use of integrated ECEC and childhood services in disadvantaged communities: • to improve accessibility for families of ECEC and other childhood services • to help identify children that are at risk of abuse or neglect or have additional needs • ensure that the necessary support services, such as health, family support and any additional early learning and development programs, are available • to improve the efficiency of related service provision. 
R15.8 The Australian Government should establish a Community Early Learning Program (CELP) to fund ECEC services for communities where the children in the community are at a high risk of development vulnerabilities. The CELP would fund the: • establishment of new services that have a five year business plan to transition to mainstream funding • operation of these and current Budget Based Funded Programme services as they transition to mainstream funding, with a declining share of funding being provided by the CELP over time • on-going support to CELP services to meet any unavoidable higher costs of supply to children after transition • activities undertaken by an ECEC service to organise and manage integration of the ECEC service with other family and child services • Indigenous Professional Support Agencies to assist CELP services in Indigenous communities in the establishment and transition of these services. The Inclusion Support Agencies are to provide these services for those CELP services that target refugee communities. These agencies would also provide advice to mainstream ECEC services on culturally relevant inclusion planning strategies. 
R15.9 Budget Based Funded (BBF) Programme services that are unable to transition even with on-going assistance should be reviewed every three years and closed if there are better alternatives available to provide ECEC services to the children attending the service. Activities (such as playgroups) in the BBF Programme that do not involve non-parental care do not fit within the ECEC non-parental care and early learning objectives and should find alternative non-ECEC sources of funding. 
Preschool — supporting universal access 
F12.1 Whether preschool is the responsibility of the states and territories or the Australian Government needs to be resolved and could usefully be a consideration of the White Paper on the Reform of the Federation. 
F12.2 Participation in a preschool program in the year before starting formal schooling provides benefits in terms of child development and a successful transition to school. An analysis of the effectiveness of the existing arrangements in improving development outcomes and evidence drawn from relevant Australian and overseas research is necessary before any decisions can be made on the value of extending the universal access arrangement to younger children. 
R12.1 Payment of a portion of the Family Tax Benefit Part A to the parent or carer of a preschool aged child should be linked to attendance in a preschool program, where one is available. 
R15.10 The Australian Government should continue to provide per child payments to the states and territories for universal access to a preschool program of 15 hours per week for 40 weeks per year. This support should be based on the number of children enrolled in state and territory government funded preschool services, including where these are delivered in a long day care service. A condition placed on the per child payments is that they should be directed by the state or territory to the approved preschool service nominated by the family. The Australian Government should reduce the benchmark price for the hours of preschool provided by a long day care centre by an equivalent amount to the per child preschool funding.   
Outside school hours care — improving the accessibility, flexibility and affordability 
R10.2 State and territory governments should proactively encourage the provision of outside school hours care on school sites. At a minimum, this should involve: • ensuring outside school hours care services receive high priority on any guidelines on access to school facilities in non-school time • placing the onus on school principals to take responsibility for ensuring there is an outside school hours care service for their students on and/or offsite if demand is sufficiently large for a service to be viable. 
R12.2 The Australian Government should ensure that any requirements on the age of children able to attend an outside school hours care service be sufficiently flexible as to enable an outside school hours care service to include, or operate primarily for, preschool age children. 
R7.2 Governments and ACECQA should remove educational and child based reporting requirements for outside school hours and vacation care services, and consider other ways to tailor the National Quality Standard to suit different service types. 
R7.6 Governments should develop and incorporate into the National Quality Framework a nationally consistent set of staff ratios and qualifications for those caring for school age children in outside school hours and vacation care services. • The minimum staff ratio for school aged care should be no stricter than 1:15. • At most, one-third of staff should be required to hold or be working towards an approved qualification. Approved qualifications may be a certificate III and could also include those from other relevant disciplines such as sport and recreation. • Outside school hours and vacation care service directors should be required to hold or be working towards at least a diploma level qualification. Removal of ECEC assistance to some providers 
R5.1 Australian Government ECEC funding should be limited to funding approved ECEC services and those closely integrated with approved ECEC services, and not be allocated to fund social services that largely support parents, families and communities. Any further Australian Government support for the Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY) should be outside of the ECEC budget allocation. 
R9.1 In line with the broad level recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s 2010 study into the Contribution of the Not for Profit Sector, the Australian Government should remove eligibility of not-for-profit ECEC providers to Fringe Benefits Tax exemptions and rebates. State and territory governments should remove eligibility of all not-for-profit childcare providers to payroll tax exemptions. If governments choose to retain some assistance, eligibility for a payroll tax exemption should be restricted to childcare activities where it can be clearly demonstrated that the activity would otherwise be unviable and the provider has no potential commercial competitors. 
R10.3 The Australian Government should abolish the Community Support Programme. 
R10.6 The Australian Government should remove the In-Home Care category of approved care once nannies have been brought into the approved care system. 
R11.1 The Australian Government should remove the registered childcare category under the Child Care Benefit. 
R13.1 The Australian Government should remove the category of ‘financial hardship’ as a justification for receiving fully subsidised ECEC services. 
R14.1 The Australian Government should amend the Fringe Benefits Tax Act 1986 (Cth) to remove section 47(2), that is, the eligibility for Fringe Benefits Tax concessions for employer provided ECEC services. Section 47(8), which enables businesses to purchase access rights for children of their employees without this being considered an expenditure subject to the Fringe Benefits Tax should be retained but better publicised. 
Workforce participation 
F6.1 The workforce participation rate of mothers with children aged under 15 years has grown substantially in recent decades, in line with that for all women. However, the participation rate of mothers is below that of fathers and women without children. The employment rate of Australian mothers is also below the OECD average. 
F6.2 Of employed mothers with children aged under 15 years, more work part time than full time. The part-time share of employed mothers is much higher than that of fathers and women without children. Australia has a higher proportion of couple families where one parent works full time and the other part time than the OECD average. 
F6.3 Roughly 165 000 parents (on a full-time equivalent basis) with children aged under 13 years who would like to work but are not able to because they are experiencing difficulties with the costs and accessibility of suitable childcare, could potentially be added to the workforce. 
F6.4 Secondary income earners in couple families and single parent families with children under school age could face a significant disincentive to work more than 3 days a week due to high effective marginal tax rates from the cumulative impact of income tax and the withdrawal of childcare assistance, Family Tax Benefits and the Parenting Payment. 
F16.1 Reforming subsidies for early childhood education and care services on their own can only partially address disincentives for mothers to work. Greater workforce attachment can be achieved by simultaneously reforming childcare subsidies, taxation, family income support and transfer payments. Other factors that can encourage greater workforce participation of mothers include fathers being willing and able to work flexibly and take on more child caring responsibilities and having ECEC services that offer rich and engaging experiences (particularly in relation to outside school hours care). 
R6.1 The proposed White Paper on the Reform of Australia’s Tax System should include consideration of how taxation and the design of family income support and transfer payments impact on effective marginal tax rates. 
F6.5 The workforce participation of mothers of children aged under 15 years is affected by the preferences of parents to look after their own (particularly very young) children. These, in turn, can be affected by such factors as costs and availability of suitable childcare, the stresses of managing paid work and unpaid work at home, the provision of flexible work and other family-friendly arrangements by employers, the level of contact with the workplace, long-term career prospects and the effective marginal tax rates facing mothers. 
R6.2 Employer and employee associations, the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency should all trial innovative approaches to: • increase awareness about legal rights and obligations with respect to flexible work • promote positive attitudes among employers, employees and the wider community towards parents, particularly fathers, taking up flexible work and other family-friendly arrangements. 
R6.6 Based on analysis in the Productivity Commission’s 2009 inquiry on Paid Parental Leave: Support for Parents with Newborn Children, it is unlikely that the Government’s proposed changes to the Paid Parental Leave scheme would bring significant additional benefits to the broader community beyond those occurring under the existing scheme. If the Government is seeking increased workforce participation, this may be achieved more effectively through additional funding of ECEC than through the modification of the Paid Parental Leave scheme. 
Quality assurance processes and regulation of ECEC 
R7.1 To simplify the National Quality Standard, governments and ACECQA should identify elements and standards of the National Quality Standard that can be removed or altered while maintaining outcomes for children. 
R7.8 Governments should: • urgently reconsider the design of the assessment and ratings system, giving particular consideration to finding ways to increase the pace of assessments • explore ways to determine services’ ratings so they are more reflective of overall quality • abolish the ‘Excellent’ rating, so that ‘Exceeding National Quality Standard’ is the highest achievable rating. 
R7.9 Governments, ACECQA and regulatory authorities, as applicable, should: • abolish the requirement for certified supervisor certificates • give providers more detailed and targeted guidance on requirements associated with Quality Improvement Plans, educational programming, establishing compliant policies and procedures and applying for waivers • identify and eliminate potential overlaps between the National Quality Framework and state and local government requirements • review ways that services with higher ratings (‘Exceeding National Quality Standard’) could be relieved of some paperwork requirements, where these are less important to ensuring quality given the service’s compliance history • remove the requirement for outside school hours care services operating on school facilities to provide site plans as a condition of service approval. 
R7.10 Governments should extend the scope of the National Quality Framework to include all centre and home-based services that are eligible to receive Australian Government assistance. National Quality Framework requirements should be tailored towards each care type, as far as is feasible, and minimise the burden imposed on service providers. In particular, child based educational reporting should not be required where children only attend services irregularly. 
R7.11 The quality standards in state and territory education legislation which apply to dedicated preschools should recognise those standards that are required to be satisfied under the National Quality Framework and any sources of inconsistency or duplication of requirements should be removed from the education legislation applying to preschools. 
R7.12 State and territory governments should, within two years, harmonise background checks for ECEC staff and volunteers by either: • advancing a nationally consistent approach to jurisdiction based ‘working with children checks’ as proposed in the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, including mutual recognition of these checks between jurisdictions, or • implementing a single, nationally recognised ‘working with children check’. 
R7.13 Where there is an overlap with existing state and territory food safety requirements, Governments should exempt services from, or preferably remove, those requirements in the National Regulations. State and territory governments, in conjunction with Food Standards Australia New Zealand, should explore the possible exemption of childcare services from Standard 3.3.1 of the Australian food safety standards, as in New South Wales. 
R7.14 Local governments should adopt leading regulatory practices in planning for ECEC services. In particular, local governments should: • use planning and zoning policies to support the co location of ECEC services with community facilities, especially schools • use outcomes based regulations to allow services flexibility in the way they comply with planning rules, such as in relation to parking • not regulate the design or quality of any aspect of building interiors or children’s outdoor areas within the service property, where such regulation unnecessarily duplicates or extends the requirements of the National Regulations or other standards such as the Building Code of Australia • not impose regulations that interfere with the operation of the ECEC market, such as by restricting the maximum number of permitted childcare places in a service • provide clear guidelines for the assessment of development proposals in relation to ECEC services, and update these guidelines regularly. 
R7.15 State planning departments should, as in Victoria, develop flexible standard planning provisions that can be applied across local governments to ensure some level of consistency; and scrutinise amendments to local planning schemes that might seek the introduction of different standards, to guard against potentially costly requirements being imposed. 
ECEC qualifications and ratios 
F8.1 There are no significant regulatory or other impediments preventing the ECEC sector from addressing any recruitment, retention and workforce shortage issues through higher wages, better conditions and improved career opportunities. Some services have taken this approach. The use of wage subsidies to attract and retain staff is likely to be ineffective, inefficient and unsustainable. Implementing the required regulatory reforms around the NQF would increase the potential pool of eligible ECEC workers. 
R7.3 Where all children are aged 25 months and over, educator to child ratios for home based care services should be amended such that a ratio of 1 educator to 5 children is permitted for children aged from 25 months up to school age. 
R7.4 Requirements for educators in centre based services should be amended by governments such that: • all educators working with children aged birth to 35 months are, as a minimum, required to hold or be working towards at least a certificate III or equivalent and be under the supervision of at least a diploma qualified educator • services may determine the number of diploma qualified educators sufficient to supervise and support certificate III qualified educators, as is currently the case in family day care services • the number of children for which an early childhood teacher must be employed is assessed on the basis of the number of children in a service aged over 35 months. 
R7.5 Differences in educator to child ratios and staff qualification requirements for children under school age across jurisdictions should be eliminated and all jurisdictions should adopt the national requirements.
R7.7 To provide services with greater flexibility to meet staffing requirements: • all governments should amend the National Law and any other relevant legislation to allow ACECQA further flexibility in the way it approves qualifications — in particular to allow ACECQA to approve qualifications on a conditional or restricted basis • all governments should allow a diploma qualified educator to be replaced by a certificate III qualified educator for short irregular absences of up to half a day per week • ACECQA should continue to explore ways to make the requirements for approving international qualifications simpler and less prescriptive in order to reduce obstacles to attracting appropriately qualified educators from overseas • the New South Wales and South Australian Governments should allow a three month probationary hiring period in which unqualified staff may be included in staff ratios before beginning a qualification, as was recently adopted in all other jurisdictions. 
R8.1 Governments should ensure, through regulatory oversight and regular audits by the Australian Skills Quality Authority, that Registered Training Organisations maintain consistently high quality standards in their delivery of ECEC-related training. Where Registered Training Organisations are unable to rectify identified non-compliant processes, the Australian Skills Quality Authority should employ appropriate regulatory responses including the cancelling of registration. 
R8.2 ECEC employers should accept primary responsibility for the funding and support of ongoing professional development. • Funding for Professional Support Coordinators should be discontinued. That part of their function which relates to assisting services in the inclusion of children with additional needs should be provided through an inclusion support program. • Funding for the Long Day Care Professional Development Program should not be extended once the current funding arrangements have expired. 
R8.3 To retain skills and experience in those services being brought within the scope of the NQF, staff employed in the service at the time of transitioning to the NQF who have a minimum of five recent years of relevant practical experience should be considered as meeting the NQF minimum qualification and be included in the staff ratio requirements. Ongoing support for evaluation and ECEC policy assessment 
R17.1 The Australian Government should establish a program to link information for each child from the National ECEC Collection to information from the Child Care Management System, the Australian Early Development Census, and NAPLAN testing results to establish a longitudinal database. Where possible, this should also be linked to other key administration data sets and Censuses. A confidentialised file should be made available for statistical, research, policy analysis and policy development purposes. The ability of researchers to access unit record information should be permitted subject to stringent privacy and data protection requirements. The Australian Government agency that is the custodian of the Child Care Management System should provide a publicly available extract from the database each year for interested parties at a sufficiently detailed geographic level for planning purposes. 
R17.2 Centrelink and the Department of Human Services should clarify in the claim form for ECLS that parents have the ability to authorise ECEC providers to enquire or act on their behalf in relation to their claim. 
R17.3 The Department of Education should establish a complaints mechanism for parents to lodge a complaint about an approved ECEC provider with regard to pricing, accessability, and any other ECEC matter. The mechanism should include a referral of the complaint to the appropriate Australian Government or state and territory government agency. 
R17.4 The Australian Government should review the operation of the new ECEC funding system and regulatory requirements after they have been implemented. In particular: • within 2 years of introducing subsidies based on a benchmark price, any adverse unintended outcomes of the approach should be identified and resolved • within 3 years of extending the coverage of the National Quality Framework (including to current block funded services and to nannies), ACECQA should prepare a report identifying any legislative, regulatory or procedural difficulties arising from the wider coverage of the National Quality Framework • within 5 years of implementing the new ECEC funding system and regulatory requirements, the Australian Government should undertake a public review of the effectiveness of the revised arrangements.