Real grass still grows at my neighborhood childcare centre, in dirt which melts to mud when it rains.
A scrub turkey scratches about in the sandpit each evening. There’s a possum, too, hiding in the native trees which shade the garden-style playground. It often raids the vege patch - where kids use their bare hands to help plant and harvest carrots and cherry tomatoes.
Stray grown-ups need to look out, lest they be mown down by the junior Evil Knievels who hurtle around the playground on trikes - sans helmets.
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During the Prime Ministerial summit on childcare last week, it wouldn’t have taken Julia Gillard long to realise the current story was heading for an unhappy ending.
I hope this came as no surprise. For the best part of 20 months the Opposition has consistently argued the childcare industry was set to completely buckle under the impost of Labor’s new national regulations, which has resulted in rapidly increasing fees when parents can least afford them.
During this time, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, childcare fees have risen on average by 17 per cent and 110,000 parents aren’t working because they can’t locate suitable or affordable child care.
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In the latest in a series of ‘pro-family’ initiatives that begun with a new paid-parental scheme, Tony Abbott is now suggesting changes to the childcare rebate, wanting to extend it to nannies in order to allow more flexibility. Basically, Abbott wants more families to have subsidised access to childcare - sounds great!
And, specifics aside, it’s a great idea. Single-parent families and families where both parents work will have more childcare options under the scheme. Parents would no longer need to seek out certified childcare agencies to enrol their children into – agencies that are often expensive and too popular to actually satisfy demand. They can work with any nanny they are comfortable with, allowing them to go out and work.
A nanny gets paid, a job gets filled, two jobs are created and Aussie families don’t have to foot the bill. A recipe for a stronger economy. Not bad, Tony.
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If a family has a nanny, you’d think they’d have to be pretty wealthy. Chances are you’d think they’d be able to afford a pretentious British butler and a stuffy Manhattan (or Mosman) mansion.
But times are changing. There’s some evidence that nannying is a growing alternative to childcare. And over the weekend the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, made clear he’s interested in transforming nannying into a more palatable alternative to childcare centres.
If elected at the next election, Abbott wants to explore expanding the childcare rebate to cover nannies. It’s not a flawless idea, but it’s a good one.
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Imagine you are the harried working parent of a bustling four-year-old child - unless of course you’re actually in the zone right now, experiencing all those many wonders first hand.
Next year’s the big one. School, and potentially a 13-year stretch of study, social integration, with hopefully some fun and a few of life’s lessons in the mix.
As you’re dropping them off at the local pre-school before zooming off to work, it is time to wonder how much do they really need to learn right now.
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With significant diversions during Federal Parliament last week one of the more contemptible political back flips in recent memory might have escaped your notice.
Without a blush, Labor - supported by the Greens in the Senate - took $700 a year from 21,000 parents to fund its reform agenda for the childcare industry.
A little explanatory background is needed.
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The Coalition loves to play up its family credentials with Christian voters. But both the Coalition and pro-life groups talk big and do little to support women to have kids. This is the unspoken hypocrisy of the pro-life movement.
Under Howard, promoting family values became dogma, as a belief that American-style conservative campaigning - pro-life, anti-gay - would deliver dividends electorally.
Although the rise and fall of Family First suggests that the conservative Christian vote is overstated in Australia, pro-life lobbies have benefitted from an increase in influence on the Coalition (and at times Labor) as a consequence.
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He’s been billed as New Zealand’s answer to the Super Nanny and his program The Politically Incorrect Parenting Show, which advocates punishing children by padlocking them in their rooms, will be screening in Australia later this year.
Nigel Latta says that reasoning with toddlers is “like trying to explain bad behaviour to drunken rugby hoons with the language skills of a chimpanzee” and that the only way to bring the little buggers into line and save your own sanity is to lock them away for a while.
Latta, who it should be stressed doesn’t support smacking, is entitled to his view. It’s clearly a harsh view, and the theatrical addition of a padlock to the traditional time-out is obviously there to drive ratings. But there would be plenty of frazzled parents out there who would agree that from time to time the only solution to a crazed tantrum-throwing two-year-old is a dose of isolation, to let them cool down and regroup shortly after. Ideally without resorting to a padlock.
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As all the cool kids got themselves in a lather over last night’s budget I noticed a distinct void in the chatter. Where were the mums and dads? Turns out that lots of them were watching Masterchef (possibly the people’s new opium) - studiously avoiding the budget telecast.
Political apathy seemed to be the flavour of the day, plated up and served with a side of Couldn’t Give a Shit.
Was it the fault of the no-frills budget? Or have we lost faith in a government which once seemed to promise so much?
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Yep, everyone should have access to childcare. It should be affordable, accessible, high-quality. But there’s a limit to what society should pay.
People are outraged that the Federal Government has decided not to build more than 200 childcare centres. Yeah, they broke an election promise. They did it because they need to claw back a whole lot of cash for a bunch of other stuff – health reform and such.
They say they also worked out that there are already too many childcare centres. According to their statistics, there are thousands upon thousands of spare places. If that’s right, then they shouldn’t spend precious taxpayer dollars on more places.
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On our summer holidays we had a baby.
And with the joy of Georgia’s arrival managing the night has reached a new level of complexity. For parents of young families this is one of the great challenges of life.
Night feeds, bad dreams, wet beds and sleep walking have been part and parcel of the night shift in our house for more than a decade now. Yet of the four children easily the busiest at night, at least for now, has been Harvey.
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Since recently becoming a mother, I seem to have developed an obsession with cake. And it has nothing to do with knowing I should really shun chocolate éclairs if I’m going to fit into a pre-baby size 10 again.
No, what I’ve been grappling with is my determination to have it all when it comes to balancing family and work. The desire to return to my stressful, you’d-have-to-be-mad-to-work-here job without relinquishing the joys and challenges of my newfound role as a parent.
So there it is in all its unfashionable, unrealistic glory: the desire to want the proverbial cake and eat it too.
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Close examination of the Rudd Government’s much-touted childcare reforms brings to mind the wonderful quote by Milton Friedman “the government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem”.
In this case, it may in fact be worse.
Labor’s proposals for more highly qualified staff in all childcare services, and lower child:staff ratios in the name of “quality care” are, on the face of it, very worthy. What self-respecting human being doesn’t want the very best for our children? How can an emphasis on “quality” be anything but laudable?
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Generation X (broadly defined as those born 1961-1981) was labelled the “me” generation by their earnest baby boomer parents – they were regarded as self-absorbed and too selfish to commit to marriage and parenting.
So what happens when the “me” generation is in charge of the next generation?
The fact is that the vast majority of today’s parents with children aged 0-12 years are Gen Xers – myself included. The popular perception is that the Gen Xers who grew up in the era of “outsourcing” have taken it literally and are now outsourcing all aspects of family life – most especially childcare.
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A peculiar thing about the Puddin’ was that, though they had all had a great many slices off him, there was no sign of the place whence the slices had been cut. ‘That’s where the Magic comes in,’ explained Bill. ‘The more you eats the more you gets.’ - Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding
Generations of Aussie children have been captivated by Norman Lindsay’s classic story centred on the exploits of Albert, a somewhat devious pudding who had the magical quality of being anything the eater desired and, fortunately, limitless in quantity.
It’s no wonder Albert appeals to children of all ages - he epitomises the hedonistic and naïve dream of “having your cake and eating it too” (literally).
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The shocking case last week of a two-year-old Victorian girl being savagely beaten has once again raised the issue of child abuse into the headlines.
It has started an important debate about when to remove children from their parents and what constitutes a child at risk.
Despite some horrifying high profile cases in recent years, child abuse is a problem that many Australians still think is limited to a certain section of the community.
While this view might make it easier for us to sleep at night, it does nothing to protect the more than 30,000 Australian children who were abused or neglected last year.
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