Is extended childcare hurting our kids?

We all know women are able to take maternity leave and get paid for it with the current system allowing a mother to be paid at the minimum wage ($622.10) each week for 18 weeks. Australian employers are required to provide 12 months of unpaid leave to employees who have worked for at least 12 months prior to the parental leave period.

But is this enough?

Since 1999, the proportion of parents reporting work-related reasons as the main reason for using childcare has risen. This figure is, in part, a reflection of the increase in women’s participation in the workforce over the last 15 years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

But with concerns about the amount of time children are spending in daycare outlined in a new study, do mother’s need more paid time off work to care for their child one on one?

The research by The Australian National University is based on four waves of longitudinal data over six years. The researchers studied 3,500 children aged four to five who were not in full-time schooling. Of this number, 14% received more than 20 hours of childcare services a week.

It found children who spent more than 21 hours in daycare had a higher chance of underperforming in maths and literacy as well as other areas of academic achievement later in school life.

But Early Childhood Australia spokesperson Mark Paviour says, “parents shouldn’t be alarmed”.

He cites the new report as contradictory to other research, saying children who are in 15 to 30 hours a week of early childhood can make the transition to school “much better”.

However, Mr Paviour notes there is a big difference between early learning centres and primary school, saying the sector is “working hard” to establish these links.

With regards to children under one years of age, he says there are benefits for a child to bond and develop a sense of attachment with their parent. However, he doesn’t believe many children around this age are in full-time daycare.

He says that as young children go through childcare, parents should still be spending a “significant amount of time” with them on the weekend through play-based learning to strengthen the parent-child bond.

But he says, “there isn’t any evidence” that children will lose their attachment with parents through extended long daycare.

He believes there’s “no hard and fast rule” when it comes to childcare and that the most crucial element is “not the hours” but the quality of the service provider.

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