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Paperwork burden means childcare centres have less time for kids

Patricia Karvelas

The Australian

October 14, 2014 4:47PM

Paperwork burden means childcare centres have less time for kids

A report into childcare says the administrative burden on centres means children are getting less attention.

A REPORT into the national quality standards introduced to regulate childcare centres has found there is broad support for the system introduced by Labor. But it says the regime must address paperwork and documentation issues to reduce an administrative burden that has at times led to children getting less attention.

As part of the 2014 Review, a public consultation process was undertaken to enable the sector and parents to provide feedback on the implementation and operation of National Quality Framework, including how it may be improved.

Woolcott Research Pty Ltd was engaged to facilitate and manage the consultation process on behalf of all State and Federal governments.

The majority of participants and respondents who felt the National Quality Framework had increased regulatory burden believed this was attributable to the time intensive notification, documentation and record keeping processes, and services needing to continually contact regulatory authorities to clarify “ambiguous’’ National Quality Framework requirements.

There were concerns from some participants and respondents that adequate face to face time with children was sometimes replaced by the need to complete administrative work, such as updating policies and procedures and documenting children’s learning. It should be noted that similar requirements existed before the introduction of the National Quality Framework. The perceived duplication of forms was another factor in increased regulatory burden.

Many participants and respondents felt the assessment and rating process took too long, with some commenting services with a rating of Working Towards National Quality Standard wait for much longer than the promised 12 months to be reassessed. Most felt the assessment and rating process did not allow for the provision of high quality reports or give an appropriate amount of guidance to services on how they could improve quality or their rating.

Many who responded during the consultations felt authorised officers were inconsistent in their approach to the assessment and rating process, which conflicted with the objectives of a standardised approach of the National Quality Standard and assessment and rating system.

“There was mixed feedback regarding the demeanour of authorised officers, with some supportive of their professionalism and collaborative approach, while others commented that officers used too much personal judgement or were not approachable during assessment and rating visits,’’ the report says.

It found there is no desire for more “systematic change at this time”.

“However, there are some improvements to be made to improve consistency and remove red tape for services and regulators, in particular to further streamline the assessment and rating process, to improve consistency of approach and interpretation of the National Quality Standard by authorised officers, within and between states and territories and address some paperwork, documentation and administration issues to reduce administrative burden”.

Respondents from the sector felt the National Quality Framework has enhanced the professionalisation of the workforce due to the qualification requirements and the increased focus on ongoing professional learning and development and reflective practice.

“While families’ awareness of the National Quality Framework was extremely limited, those who were consulted supported the goal of the National Quality Framework to increase the quality of education and care within a nationally consistent sector. There was specific support for the introduction of quality standards; however, there was an expectation that quality standards and ongoing professional development would already be a requirement within the sector, in accordance with other professional sectors.

“Many families had noticed improved quality in the provision of quality education and care over the last two years since the implementation of the National Quality Framework”.

While there is support for the National Quality Framework, and its current implementation timeframe, there was overwhelming support for improvements to the assessment and rating process. This was a result of perceived inconsistency in the approach to assessment and rating within and across jurisdictions, but particularly in relation to authorised officers.

“There was support to increase the frequency of assessments, noting the majority of services under the National Quality Framework are currently awaiting an assessment and rating. Stakeholders also felt the National Quality Standard and assessment and rating system appeared to be more tailored to the long day care sector and had failed to appropriately take account of the OSHC and family day care environments,” the report says.

Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley said the independent review was important for the “future success” of the National Quality Framework, with the national regulator (ACECQA) reporting in December last year that the ongoing cost of administering the NQF was $140,000 per year for a Long Day Care service with 75 places and 15 staff.

“The Abbott Government is committed to the National Quality Framework and its values, but services also need to be able to realistically and practically implement and deliver it if we want a high-quality child care system that doesn’t adversely drive up fees like we saw under Labor,” Ms Ley said.

“I hear from educators and services all the time who just want to get on with the important job of educating and caring for our children instead of being locked in an office filling out unnecessary paperwork and being tied up in excessive red tape, and that’s reflected in this report.

“Let’s not forget Labor promised the National Quality Framework would only increase fees by 57 cents per week, but the evidence suggests this is closer to $5-$20 per day. We did see child care fees increase 53 per cent under Labor after all.”

Ms Ley said the Coalition and the states and territories had already been working together to cut NQF red tape where possible and would continue to work together as part of the review process.

Labor’s childcare spokeswoman Kate Ellis said the findings show a clear and consistent message from parents and services that quality matters and quality works.

“The sector and parents are sending a clear message to the Abbott Government not to mess around with quality,’’ she said. “Parents deserve to know that when they drop their child off, they are receiving the best education and care. Labor reached agreement with all the states and territories on the timeline for quality improvements, and this research confirms the need to keep on track.

“The Abbott Government must promise not to implement cheap and nasty child care reform.

“The Government needs to change its outdated view of early childhood education and care as some sort of a baby-sitting service.’’

David O’Byrne, National Secretary of United Voice, the early childhood union, said the review assures parents that children directly benefit from the new national standards for early childhood education and care.

“It is gratifying to see educators, directors and operators all telling the Government’s review that the National Quality Framework is delivering significant benefits,” he said.

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