Australia's early childhood services are among the worst in the developed world, according to a UNICEF report that warns of the risk of placing children in care before the age of one.
Among 25 developed countries Australia ranks third last, meeting only two of 10 benchmarks considered essential to protect children in their formative early years.
Only Sweden meets all the standards but Australia is one of only three countries, with Ireland and Canada, to meet less than three. Mexico, Slovenia, Portugal and Korea are all ranked well ahead of Australia.
The report, called The Child Care Transition, describes the mass movement to child care as a "high-stakes gamble" to the extent it is unplanned and unmonitored.
It proposes an internationally applicable set of 10 core minimum standards drawn up after worldwide consultations as a first attempt at comparing early childhood services.
Australia fails to meet standards on minimum staff-to-children ratios in pre-school education set at 1:15. It fails on a measure of having 80 per cent of all child-care staff trained. The Government also fails to spend 1 per cent of GDP on early childhood services.
We do not provide subsidised and accredited early education services for 80 per cent of four-year-olds; and unlike most of the other countries in the survey, we have no national child-care strategy that gives priority to disadvantaged children.
We do not provide near-universal outreach of essential child health services. Child poverty rates exceed 10 per cent. And Australia is one of a handful of countries that fails to provide parental leave of one year at 50 per cent of salary.
The only standards Australia meets are the provision of subsidised and regulated child care for 25 per cent of children under three. And 50 per cent of child-care staff have relevant qualifications.
The report, which draws on global and scientific studies, favours children being cared for at home for the first year of their life. It notes that when parents have choice, including financial support, they have tended to vote with their feet, with nursery care plummeting in Sweden after the introduction of 12 months' parental leave at 80 per cent of salary.
The report says that the mass movement of young children into child care is a revolution in how children are being brought up in developed countries.
At the same time a revolution has occurred in understanding the importance of experience in shaping the infant brain.
"Today's rising generation … is the first in which a majority are spending a large part of their early childhoods not in their own homes with their own families but in some form of child care," the report says.
Child-care staff were working incredibly hard but under appalling circumstances, said Associate Professor Margaret Sims, director of the Centre for Social Research at Edith Cowan University.
Dr Sims said inadequate care had led to a generation of maladjusted children. "We've seen increases in youth violence, drug and alcohol addiction, obesity."
Lynne Wannan, the past national convenor of the community-based children services sector, said Australia had allowed too much child care to go into private hands, and the private sector was a strong lobby against improved ratios and qualifications.
Quote: In addition day care is also for lazy parents and (especially lazy mothers, some with better things to do) who don't want to raise their children, even if the children's father can provide enough money for the children's mother to stay home and look after them. So in reality, unnecessary day care could be seen as neglect.
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