Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Class action may depend on insurance

Tuesday, 26 January 2011
By Liam Walsh
Courier MailCHANCES of a class-action lawsuit proceeding against ABC Learning Centres will rest on whether the toppled childcare operator has more than $10 million in insurance.Tentative steps have been taken in the Federal Court almost two years after Brisbane-based ABC collapsed amid long-running concerns about its accounts.Maurice Blackburn Lawyers is seeking leave from the court to get information from ABC’s liquidators Ferrier Hodgson about whether the childcare operator had relevant insurance in place, so losses can be recovered.

Maurice Blackburn principal Ben Slade said the move came after liquidators had not responded to requests for information about the policy and sometimes policies required the existence of the insurance to be kept confidential.

The case is funded by litigation backers IMF Australia. More than 100 shareholders whose losses exceeded $100 million have signed up. Mr Slade said the action would proceed if any insurance policy was worth more than $10 million, otherwise the amount recovered would be too small.

IMF first flagged a lawsuit in 2008, several months before ABC’s collapse. The suit is alleging “misleading or deceptive conduct and a failure to disclose information that was material to the sharemarket”. It stretches from reported earnings given in August 2006, when ABC unveiled an 86 per cent rise in profits to $81.1 million, to guidance given in July 2008.

Maurice Blackburn said the share price of ABC, a former market darling, dipped almost 40 per cent during that roughly two-year period. Mr Slade said issues under the spotlight included fees from developers and income from an outside staffing agency.

Ferrier Hodgson confirmed proceedings were under way, but were unable to comment about the existence of an insurance policy.

Family daycare gets hammered

Wednesday, 26 January 2011
By Patricia Karvelas and Sallie Don
The Australian

THE number of children in

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family daycare has slumped since Labor took power, but institutionalised long daycare centres have been booming.

New figures provided by the federal government reveal that childcare places in accredited family homes have fallen under Labor in what the opposition claims is an ideological push towards formalised care.

In March 2006, the number of children in family daycare, which was heavily promoted by the Howard government in its later years, hit a high of 109,950.

But the latest figures from March

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last year show there were 103,630 children in family daycare. At the same time, the overall number of children in childcare had risen from 785,920 to 879,050.

Family daycare is a home-based childcare alternative that is often preferred by parents because it is cheaper, offers more flexible hours and generally has a more personal approach.

In last year’s federal budget, the Labor government announced it would cut the one-off payment currently given to those people, usually mothers, who want to start family daycare in their homes. A new national ratio of one carer to seven children, with no more than four under school age, will come into force in January 2014.

Family Day Care Australia spokeswoman Lynne Moran said the decline in home-based childcare numbers demonstrated the boom in institutionalised childcare, despite the collapse of the nation’s largest childcare provider, ABC Learning, in 2008.

“Much of this can be attributed to the significant growth, and in some cases, commercialisation of the long daycare sector over the past 10 years,” Ms Moran said.

“The high profile of some of the long daycare providers has meant many parents have been less aware of the diversity of care options available for their children.”

Childcare Minister Kate Ellis defended the decline in family daycare places, saying parents had the right to choose where their children went for care.

“Parents take into account a range of factors when making the important decision about placing their children in care,” Ms Ellis said. “This includes considerations like an individual child’s developmental needs, the availability of various types of care in their area, and the cost and quality of the care provided.

“Over the past few years there has been a modest decline in the number of children in family daycare, which has been accompanied by strong growth in the number of children attending long daycare centres.”

She attributed the decline to the government’s decision to remove the cap on long daycare places, which enabled the childcare sector “to grow and meet increasing demand”.

“We are supporting parents so they can choose the childcare arrangements that work best for their family,” the minister said.

The opposition blames the decline in family daycare places on the introduction of higher quality standards on all childcare places.

The Coalition’s childcare spokeswoman, Sussan Ley, said the new national quality framework took a “sledgehammer” to family daycare by enforcing a ratio of one carer to four preschool-age children.

“As any home carer will tell you, it is the fifth child who begins to make the role cost-effective,” Ms Ley said. “Before this you are struggling to even meet the overheads. But where Minister Ellis has really botched the changes is in requiring a family day carer to also pick up a Certificate in Early Childhood Education. She simply doesn’t understand the character of the industry. The future drop in available homecare numbers is potentially enormous, and we can ill-afford to lose these mums, especially when there are not enough to start with.”

Family daycare has been a good source of income for mother of two Megan Tordoff, but that will change under the new child-carer ratios mandated by the NSW government.

With two children of her own — Oliver, 4 and Tilda, 2 — Ms Tordoff runs a small childcare group in her Surry Hills home in Sydney’s inner city, but she said when her third child is born in July, there will be no point in taking care of extra children.

“It’s not really worth it if I can only care for one more child — it doesn’t make you enough money,” she said. “I think it’s going to be tough for a lot of family day carers out there.”

Pre-school fees rising to $50 a day in NSW

Monday, 24 January 2011
By Letitia Rowlands
The Daily Telegraph

NSW families are paying as much as $50 a day for their child’s vital year of pre-school education while, in other states, the governments provide early childhood learning for free or a minimal charge.

The fees mean many children do not attend pre-school in the year before they begin kindergarten as their

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families struggle with the cost.

Community organisations, which run the majority of pre-schools across the state, have called for an increase in government funding so every child has access to pre-school education.

Research shows the first five years of a child’s life are vital to the development of life-long learning habits and children who attend a pre-school from the age of four have an easier transition to school the following year.

Chief executive officer of SDN Children’s Services Ginie Udy said the Government had to stop thinking about funding for early childhood services as a cost and recognise it as an investment.

“It’s great that public education in Australia is essentially free and available, but it needs to be recognised that it is in the early formative years that education can have the biggest impact on a child’s life,” she said.

“It is not a case of paying for babysitting for parents – it is a case of making sure the future generation is successful and that will benefit all of society.”

There are 850 pre-schools in NSW with 750 being run by community-based not-for-profit organisations, including large providers SDN Children Services and KU Children’s Services.

Pre-schools operate only during school terms and hours and are aimed purely at teaching children aged between three and five basic skills before they start kindergarten.

But unlike long daycare centres, which are federally funded, pre-schools are the responsibility of the states and territories – therefore parents are not eligible for the federal childcare benefit or rebate.

KU Children’s Services spokeswoman Karen Dawson said affordability was the number one concern of families attending her organisation’s 91 pre-schools across the state.

“We have centres with vacancies in some areas of Sydney’s west, and we know there are families in those areas who want their children to attend, but they simply can’t afford it,” she said.

The NSW Government is currently undertaking a Pre-School Investment Reform Plan and, together with funds from the Federal Government, have spent $55 million on pre-schools this year.

The plan aims to create an 5250 extra places by 2013.

But those in the industry say the money is not enough to provide any long-term relief for fee-paying parents.

The current average daily pre-school rate in NSW is $38.50 in metropolitan areas and $27.70 in rural areas.

Childcare fees hit hip pocket

Friday, 21 January 2011
By Boel Eriksson
The Mosman Daily

CHILDCARE centres on the lower North Shore have increased their fees, some by as much as $20 a day, to pay for additional carers required to comply with new NSW Government standards.

Under new state regulations, which were announced in April last year and made mandatory on January 1 this year, childcare centres need to provide one

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carer for every four children under the age of two.

The previous staff-child ratio was 1:5.

The new rules have forced many childcare centres to hire at least one more carer.

Jillys Educational Childcare Centre owner Chris Buchtmann has increased fees for under-2s by $20 a day, meaning parents will now pay $115.

Mr Buchtmann said the increase would just cover the cost of the additional staff member at the North Sydney centre.

KU Children’s Services’ Karen Dawson said the average rise in fees across all the group’s centres was $3.66, but the KU Greenwood Child Care Centre at North Sydney had been hit with an $11.50 a day increase to “bring it in line with other centres in the area”.

“It was one of our biggest increases but the North Sydney centre was pretty under-priced,” she said.

Parents will now pay $93.50 a day for under-2s.

Will you be affected by childcare fee increases? Comment below.

Froebel, North Sydney, director Eva Steinmetzer has hired one more full-time carer and a trainee.

For babies and toddlers, parents used to pay $92 a day for five days, $95 a day for three days and $98 for one day.

This year, the fees were changed to a flat rate of $98.

Universal Childcare, with centres at Mosman, Cammeray and Neutral Bay, put its fees up by 3.5 per cent, spokesman Fraser Cleghorn said.

This had resulted in fee increases ranging from about $3 to $4 a day.

Universal Childcare’s Little Dove Cammeray will charge $119 a day for under-2s, Little Dove Mosman $124 and

Gabriella’s Cottage at Neutral Bay $129.

ABC Mosman director Brooke Townend said they had increased fees by $1.70 a day.

The new fees were $97 a day for one day a week and $85 a day for five days.

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