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Friday, May 18, 2012

Let's talk about money. And appreciation.

For so many families, childcare is not really a choice. Oh sure, just about everything in our life involves a choice- I know that, believe me. But sometimes the alternatives to childcare are pretty dire.

You could choose not to have kids.

You could choose the one-parent-working route, and not even try to own your own house, or to have any more kids, or whatever that financial hardship might mean for you.

You could just give up on trying to work at all, and pay the rent and make ends meet on the dole.

And so on. Times are tough. All the alternatives have a price. Often childcare is the best option.

But boy, is it expensive!! It can make you feel quite very resentful to see all that money going out the door when you're working so hard to get it. And some of that resentment seems to get laid at the carers' and teachers' doors by some parents.

Making money to help out mum & dad?
Sometimes I think there might be a little bit of a misunderstanding happening.

Many families whose children are in care or at preschool during the day are in pretty dire financial straits. When you're financially stressed it's hard to see things clearly. Perhaps, because of these worries, parents can be a little blinded to the fact that the people who take care of their children are, more often than not, in the same financial boat.

I wonder how many of the parents who use Australian childcare and preschool facilities are actually aware of how little the workers are paid?

Let me give you an example of our wages. One private centre raised the daily fees to cover the cost of extra staff, as required by new legislation. The price ended up over $90 per day for babies. Any childcare worker at that centre who had their own baby in care- or, heaven help them, a baby plus one or more other child- had to seriously consider their options, because that $90 constituted the larger part of their daily wage after tax.

That's a pretty extreme example at a particularly expensive centre- but believe me, it's close to that bad for all of us workers. I don't have children at home, and I own my own home outright- but I still had the devil's own job surviving on my weekly salary when I was working full-time. All that money you're paying out for childcare is NOT, repeat NOT, filtering down to the workers. I've just been browsing the award wages for Early Childhood workers, and it's not pretty.

And this is where this blog post is heading. We're not here for the money. The money is terrible. Please keep that in mind, as you rush in and out of our centres with certain expectations of what all that hard-earned money is buying for you. Please keep that in mind, as you sit down (probably exhausted after work) for your parent-teacher interview.

Let's talk money a bit more, so you really get it.

Take the Early Childhood Teacher, or ECT- fully university trained, at great expense to themselves despite the recent increase in government support. Even with the current extra government support, an early childhood education degree can cost in the region of $700 per subject (and it's twice that without the government support) before we even consider buying textbooks and other expenses.

For example, to top up my Diploma to the lowest rung required for teaching preschool, I needed to study eight subjects. How many hours do you think it would take me to earn that $5,600, remembering that I also have to pay bills and eat, on my current casual Diploma wage of about $22 per hour? (It would be even less per hour if I were on a permanent wage.)

Our least qualified workers are trying to survive on less than that, and our most qualified teachers aren't making a significant amount more (as well as working untold hours of unpaid overtime). And so exactly how attractive do you imagine is it for the best high school graduates to take on a TAFE or uni course that will incur such a large loan compared to their earning power? (I can't imagine why there's a shortage of qualified ECT in EC settings, can you?)

The maths is frightening. In the end, the money we make from our qualifications is hardly worth the price of the piece of paper.
I can make $25 an hour nannying, and I'd only have to care for one family's children with no qualification needed, no paperwork to do and no after-hours expectations at all.

We're not here for the money.

And here's another real worry for the EC education workforce. Did you know that once a worker obtains an Early Childhood teaching degree, they're paid significantly more for working in the infants' department of a primary school than for working in an early childhood care setting?

That's right- same qualification, equivalent workloads and stresses- but lower wages.

Guess where most EC teachers want to work? Yep, correct- most of them are in a long queue for a job in an infants' school. Not because they don't enjoy working in preschools or long day care, but because they simply can't survive on the wages offered. Many directors are having the devil's own time finding teaching staff who are committed to Early Childhood settings, rather than marking time till a job turns up in a school.

I'm sure you can imagine how this sometimes impacts on teacher quality. If you're financially stressed, if you're constantly wanting and waiting to be somewhere else, you're not going to give of your best. Fortunately there are some ECTs out there who are actually committed to EC settings- I hope you've been lucky enough to find one at your centre.

Playing at being the breadwinner?
Just quietly, it also impacts on gender representation in EC workers. Even in this day and age, men often feel the need to be (or are expected to be) the primary breadwinner in the family, and taking a poorly-paid EC job can be extremely challenging on an emotional level. Even the most outstanding male teacher in the world of EC blogging, Teacher Tom, admits that his career in EC education is a luxury afforded to him only by his wife's more lucrative career.

So what's my point?

My point is that despite this job being very unrewarding in terms of dollars, there are many wonderful, committed EC teachers and workers out there who would really appreciate your understanding and support. (And who would really appreciate it if you took your feelings about the fees out on the government, not on them.)

It's one thing to have a vocation for working with children, and to give freely of your own time to do your job the very best way you can. It's another thing entirely to be expected to go above and beyond the call of duty out of hours, or to be expected to do the work of parenting on top of the work of an educator during those poorly paid hours, or to be abused for not doing more within those full-to-the brim, underpaid hours of work.

The ECT who hands you a beautiful portfolio at the end of the year, full of your child's artwork and professionally written and evaluated observations, hasn't knocked that up during working hours while she kept one eye on the kids. She's done it in her own time- in fact she's probably done 25 or more of them in her own time, while her partner crankily queries the unpaid overtime and invasion of their relationship time. A little insight into what that cost the teacher in time, a little thank you from every parent- that would be really, really nice.

The carer who asks you to please send your three-year-old in shoes with velcro fasteners isn't being lazy or dodging his duties. He can support a child to tie their own laces if they have a clue already, but teaching them to do that is your job. He simply hasn't the time or the support to tie 25 sets of laces before the kids go outside. If your carer makes a simple request, there will be a good reason. Please don't make a fuss about it. If your carer can't do for 25 children everything that you would do for your own two or three, please don't be surprised and indignant.

The daycare worker who hands you a plastic bag of soiled clothes is not your washerwoman. She may have seven of those bags in the laundry bucket, and her eyes need to be on the children- not on the washing machine, and not on seven pairs of clean but unnamed underpants while she tries to work out what belongs to whom. Please don't berate her at pick-up time.

A little bit of appreciation and understanding goes a very long way. Many, many childcare workers and ECTs absolutely love working with your children, but the way they are being paid has no relationship whatsoever to the level of responsibility they accept (or, for that matter, to the number and quality of tasks expected of them by the regulations and by centre management). When they go home at the end of the day, it's to the same sorts of financial stresses as many of the parents, or worse.

You can make a difference to how we EC workers feel at the end of the day. All it takes is a little understanding and appreciation. Because really, the vast majority of your fees fly straight over our heads and disappear- into rent, and insurance, and power bills, and maintenance, and heaven knows what other running costs each centre must cover. And we, the staff, are left scrabbling around on the ground splitting up the small change for our wages.

We're only here for the love of it.


  1. Thank You.You said the words right out of my mouth and said it better then I could.
    The reason why I wont go back to work in child care is cause I still have two at home and I have two at school. So care for the younger two and then before and after school care for the older two. There goes ALL my wages. Its not worth the hassle. I worked as a diploma room leader at one centre for $18 an hour caring for 18 kids a day. I got $1 for every child every hour. Only had two children back then and paid their child care as well. Very little was left at the end of the day for me.
    I wanted to write a blog post up of this exact thing. I think you have encouraged me to do so.
    Im on both ends I think the staff need to be paid more but child care is so expensive already. Id love to see the financial reports of these centres to see where the money does go. especially for centres that have over 40 kids and charge $80 a day or more. I do believe that some parents think that you get what you pay for. not in all centres. you might find the cheapest and smallest centre has the best education for your child.
    Anyway I will be linking up this post to my blog for my readers as well.

  2. Why thank you, Sal the DummySpitter! It's a crazy equation, isn't it?! It doesn't make sense, yet so many of us are shafted (by the demands of our bills and our kids and our own needs) into supporting a system that just isn't fair.

    Totally agree with what you say about price and quality not necessarily correlating.

  3. I really appreciated this post. As a 34yr old Cert 3 trainee with 3 school age children, I am paid $14.18 per hour to help care for other people's children. When I complete my traineeship my pay goes up to about $15 per hour. I used to work as a cleaner and get paid $22 per hour. I've always thought it was awful that people placed more value on a cleaner than they do the person who spends 6 - 10 hours caring for their child. Child care is what I call a 'love-job', you don't do it for the pay, you do it because it means something to you.

    1. Yes, Anonymous- it's a love-job, and sadly, the people who have the power to change our wages play upon that fact. Nobody expects the doctor to work for free or next to nothing because of some moral obligation to heal the sick; nobody expects the vet to heal their animals for small change because animals are cute. Yet we're expected to be in loco parentis, with all the responsibilities that entails, for a wage that barely covers basic existence? Not fair!!!


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