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The economic benefits of high-quality universal early child education

Child care assistance Child care Early childhood education Economic modelling Australia

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession shone a very bright light on the essential services provided by 200,000 Australians who work in the nation’s early child education and care (ECEC) sector. In the early days of the pandemic, when ECEC centres were closed for health reasons, hundreds of thousands of parents were prevented from attending their own jobs because there was no-one to care for their children. Even those who were able to transfer their jobs home, found that trying to juggle child care with home-based work was stressful and unproductive.

For a short time, the Commonwealth government treated ECEC like the essential public service it proved itself to be. ECEC services were made effectively free (through expanded subsidies to parents), and ECEC work was supported with JobKeeper benefits. But those supports were then cut off quickly and prematurely. In fact, the ECEC sector was the first industry in the entire economy to have JobKeeper benefits stripped away (in July 2020, when the pandemic was still in its early stages).

This report reviews several economic aspects of Australia’s failure to both allocate sufficient economic resources to ECEC services, and to ensure that those resources are used to provide the best-quality services possible. Ample evidence documents widespread quality failures among private for-profit providers of (publicly-subsidised) ECEC services.

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