Wednesday, 16 March 2011

New My School-style website to name and shame poorly-performing childcare centres

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Sunday, 13 March 2011
by Samantha Maiden

Herald SunCHILDCARE centres that fail to meet basic hygiene and safety standards will be named and shamed on a My School- style government website from next year.The Sunday Telegraph can reveal a new rating system will allow parents to compare for the first time centres in their local area and interstate, with the providers rated from “excellent” to “unsatisfactory”.

Minister for Child Care Kate Ellis said parents would be “horrified” to learn of figures handed to her department that showed almost one in three childcare centres had inadequate food-hygiene practices and many failed to prevent the spread of contagious diseases.She said she wanted the transparency reforms to be rolled out on the existing website from January, 2012.

“We want to give parents the information, to make the best decisions for them,” Ms Ellis said. “They will be able to see how each centre is rated, whether it is high quality or unsatisfactory, and whether they have a focus on the issues important to them.”

The current My Child site offers only basic information on childcare centres, including fees and vacancies.

The Gillard Government’s new transparency push coincides with next week’s release of the latest report from the National Childcare Accreditation Council.

The report, obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, reveals one in four centres checked by officials had failed to secure dangerous products, including poisons, from children.

Nearly one in three childcare centres that received accreditation reviews also failed to implement effective and current food-hygiene

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practices, such as staff washing hands before serving meals.

The report also includes the finding that 28 per cent of centres checked by the NCAC failed to ensure toileting and nappy-changing procedures were positive experiences.

“When I talk about these statistics parents are quite rightly horrified,” Ms Ellis said.

“Parents want peace of mind when they drop their kids at the beginning of the day.”The Government’s new quality standards will force centres to boost staff-to-child ratios and improve training.

Childcare centres warn such measures will drive up the cost of care, but Ms Ellis argues they will not. She predicted parents would vote with their feet if unfair increases were levied.

Audit reveals childcare hygiene, safety flaws in centres

Wednesday, 16 March 2011
By Sue Dunlevy
The Australian

ALMOST one-third of the 1102 childcare centres audited last year failed to implement proper food, safety and hygiene practices.

The National Childcare Accreditation Council report for July to December last year found 29 per cent of childcare centres did not have effective food, safety and hygiene practices.

Procedures to make nappy changing and going to the toilet positive experiences were at fault in 28 per cent of centres.

One in four centres assessed did not properly support a child’s need for rest, sleep and comfort.

Learning was not documented in 22 per cent of centres and

20 per cent failed to control the spread of infectious diseases and maintain immunisation records.

Fifteen per cent of centres did not treat all children equitably.

Childcare Minister Kate Ellis used the report to back her push to improve quality by requiring more staff to be hired from next year. She said that from 2012, the MyChild website would name and shame centres that failed to make the grade.

“Many parents would be horrified by these statistics,” she said. “The more than 800,000 Australian parents who place their children in care each week deserve to know that they are safe and well looked after.”

The Australian Childcare Alliance said yesterday it did not condone breaches of any kind, but said the sector was already struggling to find suitably qualified staff.

Manuka Childcare Centre director Robby McGarvey said: “If centres are struggling to meet the requirements now, what’s going to happen when quality changes come in next year?”

Operators say the government will be unable to deliver on a promise to get a university trained teacher into every centre from January 2014.

Childcare reforms will cost us more

Sunday, 13 March 2011
Daily Telegraph

PARENTS want peace of mind when they drop their kids off at childcare.

But the latest figures on the performance of long-day care centres on safety and hygiene can only spark concern.

The National Childcare Accreditation Council found nearly one in three childcare centres checked in the six months to December failed to implement proper hygiene practices, including staff washing their hands before serving meals.

The report, obtained by The Sunday Telegraph also reveals one in four centres checked by officials had failed to secure dangerous products and objects.

The breaches range from the mild to the potentially deadly, including failing to secure poisons from children.

Even the Childcare Minister Kate Ellis concedes that when she talks about the statistics, “parents are quite rightly horrified”.

The Minister’s solution is to publish the results for the first time on the website from next year.

Any device that gives parents more information about their children will be welcomed.

Despite protests from interest groups, parents – who are solely interested in the welfare of their children – have voted with their feet and flocked to the My Schools website, which has allowed families to make more informed decisions on school choice by publishing literacy, numeracy and now financial and funding records.

And while concerns have been raised about the accuracy of the information, most parents would agree the new system is a step forward from the past, when the information was tightly held by schools as well as education department bureaucrats.

Currently, childcare centres are only required to display limited amounts of information to parents on the results of these accreditation checks by state and federal officials.

Parents who would like to view the results to choose a childcare centre would have to travel to individual centres and request the results if they wanted more information.

But the Gillard government’s answer to improving the performance of hard-working childcare staff in meeting safety and hygiene targets may prove less popular with families.

The answer, according to the government, is more staff and demands more university educated workers are employed by childcare centres.

That may improve care, but it will also drive up the cost, which in many capital cities is already over $100 a day for long-day care.

And while the Gillard government maintains it will result in only modest increases, it has little control over the fees levied by private operators.

This is despite pumping billions of dollars into the system via the 50 per cent childcare rebate that offers eligible working families cash assistance of up to $7500 per child, to help meet the cost of care.

A 1:4 staff-to-child ratio for babies has already been introduced as mandatory across NSW, in preparation for the 2012 reforms.

But finding more childcare staff is also easier said than done.

In many parts of Australia, childcare centres struggle to fill job vacancies, with a high turnover of staff who complain they are underpaid and overworked.

The Gillard government’s reforms may help, but are also likely to cost parents more.

All things being equal

Tuesday, 15 March 2011
By Roslyn Guy
The Age

WHEN his daughter Ingrid was just nine months old, Magnus Knutsen Bjoerke took her on a road trip. It was, in a way, a celebration of how far he’d come in his few months as a stay-at-home dad. He wanted to show Ingrid off to family and friends in places far from his home in Oslo – and he needed a break from the daily grind.

Bjoerke had by then realised that being at home with a child for long periods was neither easy nor particularly stimulating, no matter how much you love your child.

So while his wife, Kristina Jullum Hagen, went to work as a communications consultant at a public relations firm, he and Ingrid took a journey that involved much more than the kilometres they travelled.

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Magnus and Kristina, both well educated and in their early 30s, could be considered a poster couple for Norway’s radical approach to reshaping society, an approach based on the premise that if women and men are to be truly equal, raising children can’t be primarily women’s work.

Successive Norwegian governments have introduced policies aimed at increasing the birth rate as well as trying to ensure that women, with all their skills and education, are not lost to the labour market.

The flagship policy is a generous parental leave provision (paid for out of oil revenue and high taxes) that allows most parents to share up to 56 weeks’ leave on 80 per cent pay, or 46 weeks on full pay. Almost three months of this is reserved, on a ”use it or lose it” basis, for the father.

About 90 per cent of fathers now take time to be the primary carer for their children, up from about 3 per cent in the 1990s. Parents are also entitled to a further year’s leave without pay and have the right to choose to work part-time.

When they return to work, parents are guaranteed a government-funded place in kindergartens for children aged 12 months and older.

By comparison, Australia’s first national parental leave scheme, capped at 18 weeks on the minimum wage ($570 a week) appears half-hearted. But that’s pretty much how we rate on a number of measures crucial to women’s rights – as a comparison with Norway makes clear.

Australia began well. In the late 1890s, we took a leap into a progressive future. Six years before federation, South Australia was the first government in the world to grant women the vote and the right to sit in Parliament. The newly constituted nation followed suit in 1902. Norway was a laggard by comparison – 1913.

But since those halcyon days it has been a slow struggle for gender equality in this country. By 1969, we were a decade behind Norway in legislating for equal pay; our laws banning sex discrimination weren’t enacted

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until 1984 (1979 in Norway) and only 28 per cent of our current crop of federal politicians are female, compared with the Scandinavian nation’s 50 per cent.

Despite finally having our first female prime minister, gender issues are not high on the federal government’s agenda. Where Norway has a minister for equality, our equivalent is responsible for families, housing, community services and indigenous affairs. The office for women is but a small part of Jenny Macklin’s portfolio.

Not that equality is simply about women’s rights, but research shows that when women are treated fairly, encouraged to participate fully in the workforce and given help raising their children, society as a whole benefits.

At the end of World War II, then Norwegian prime minister Einar Gerhardsen began the revitalisation of a country ground down by Nazi occupation. He declared that he would use the whole population to rebuild the country, not just the men, who traditionally assumed such responsibilities.

Although it took until the 1970s and the advent of a Labour government before women were given genuine incentives to work outside the home, Gerhardsen’s declaration was the first step towards building a society that is now beaten only by Iceland in the World Economic Forum’s most recent rankings of how well countries perform in closing gender gaps. Australia doesn’t even make the top 20.

A swag of initiatives has strengthened the role of women in Norwegian society – generous parental leave is just one piece of the jigsaw. Another, the brainchild of Ansgar Gabrielsen, has garnered global acclaim and spawned copycat legislation in countries such as Spain and France.

Gabrielsen was minister for trade and industry in Norway’s Conservative government between 2001 and 2004. He’s an unlikely contender for feminist accolades, yet it was he who introduced the law requiring publicly listed companies to structure their boards so that at least 40 per cent of members represented each gender. (In Australia about 10 per cent of board members are female.)

Gabrielsen talks about this as an economic measure rather than a move to ensure gender equality, but the effect is the same. He couldn’t understand why business considered just half the population when it recruited board members. ”So many boards were made up of people who’d gone to the same business school, they ski together, hunt together. It was a nice boys’ club,” he says.

In 1994, the business community asked for 10 years to make the changes. When there had been no progress after seven years, and Gabrielsen was in a position to act, he said, ”Game over!”

The intriguing thing is that this conservative politician from one of Norway’s most conservative rural electorates got his radical legislation through parliament without the support of his own party, then in a minority coalition government. And he makes a telling point about his success: the same could not have been achieved by a woman, he says, especially a woman from the left.

So for all feminism’s achievements, progress is still largely dependent on men. Which takes us back to the rationale behind the ”father’s quota” in Norway’s parental leave scheme.

Some see it as only a start. The Equal Pay Commission, led by Kristina Jullum Hagen, wrote a report to government in 2008 that found women took the bulk of parental leave and this often meant that their earning capacity fell further.

As Hagen points out: ”Clearly something happens. When young women and men finish university and are in their first jobs, they generally earn the same. And then, between 25 and 40, when the kids come, the gap rises. By the time a woman is 40 years old, the damage is done.

”Some say that the Norwegian parental leave scheme is too good, that it has come back as a boomerang on the women. You get punished for long absences.”

Like other Norwegian feminists who spoke to The Age, Hagen is concerned that an increasing number of young women are now choosing to be stay-at-home mums and have no concept of the long-term implications of being out of the workforce.

”They don’t see that if all women make the same choice it does matter, in strictly economic terms. If you look at who gets the lowest pensions, a barely liveable rate, 9 out of 10 are women.”

Similarly, Dr Ingrid Guldvik, a political scientist at the University College in Lillehammer, says there’s an added problem because young women think they have equality. ”They say, ‘we are not victims, we have a good education’ and they think all is fine, so it’s difficult to put the subject on the agenda.”

These young female students don’t seem to see a glaring example of inequality right before their eyes: only 7 per cent of their professors are female. And most of the predominantly female occupations – childcare, teaching, nursing and so on – attract lower salaries than male-dominated professions.

The equal pay commission has argued, unsuccessfully so far, that the caring professions should be given large pay increases to help close the gap in earnings, which, as in Australia, is reported as 15 per cent based on an hourly rate, but in real terms is much higher.

The average Norwegian woman earns only 60 per cent of average male earnings. The problem is exacerbated because 41 per cent

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of women work part-time and high-earning men – often those with children – work the most overtime. ”The more children men have, the more they earn. They work more than anyone else. It says a lot about the male role as the breadwinner,” Hagen says.

More fundamentally it is about changing perceptions of what work is important and ensuring no one is ”punished” for looking after children.

The white paper based on the equal pay commission’s final report is due for discussion in parliament. It includes the commission’s view that the persistence of a substantial pay gap between men and women demands radical action, including mandating a three-way split of parental leave: one third for the mother, one third for the father and the final third to be determined between them.

DR KNUT OFTUNG dismisses this as too timid. Oftung is a senior adviser in the Ombud’s office, an equivalent to Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, and a strong advocate of a more equal parenting rule as the only way to help women achieve full potential.

He says Norway’s family policy was designed to help women overcome a double workload, ”but ironically the new arrangements have cemented the status quo”.

”There are two ways to tell this story,” he says. ”You could be satisfied that now women have more independence, a lot has been done to reduce violence in the home and abuse in close relationships, and we have achieved very much when it comes to education.

”Or you could tell the other story. If you want women to be able to combine work and home, fathers really should be equal parents. They are not today – although they are fantastic fathers compared to my father’s

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Oftung acknowledges that many men don’t want to take 50 per cent of the parental leave, but asks: ”Why do they want to have children if they don’t want to spend time with them? I would argue that it’s a father’s responsibility.”

He isn’t speaking theoretically – he shared parental leave with his partner for each of his two children.

”It’s a right to get this help from society when you are a parent, as it’s a right to get childcare and free schooling, but you also have an obligation. Women have always had this obligation. Now, as a man, you can pay a woman to take care of your child. That’s what happens in practice – you can pay your wife to take care of your child.”

Hagen knows of more and more people, who like Oftung, are splitting the leave evenly. And, like her, many then adjust their working hours when the leave is finished. She starts early so that her photojournalist husband, who begins work later, can take Ingrid to kindergarten, and they reverse this at the end of the day. Her work arrangements mean she is able to collect her daughter before 4pm. What’s more, her career has flourished. ”For me it’s all worked out perfectly,” she says.

So far only a relatively small number of people in Oslo manage their lives this way, but she is optimistic: ”Maybe this small group will act as trendsetters for the rest.”

When they do, the Norwegian government will have finally succeeded in including women equally in the workforce.

Historical Independent Consultant Articles

Article Title Article Provider Date

Australian Industry Newsletter – 10 February 2012
Australian Industry Newsletter – 16 January 2012
Australian Industry Newsletter – 4 November 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 31 August 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 24 August 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 04 August 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 29 June 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – Tuesday, 15 June 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 08 June 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 01 June 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 30 March 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 23 March 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 16 March 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 23 February 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 16 February 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 09 February 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 26 January 2011
Australian Industry Newsletter – 10 November 2010
Australian Industry Newsletter – 03 November 2010
Australian Industry Newsletter – 27 October 2010

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