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Defend nannies to oppose the nanny state

By Richard Allsop - posted Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Australian Childcare Alliance wants to get its hands on all Australia's children.

Currently, their expressed gripe is with nannies, who they claim have "no childcare qualifications", but most of the Alliance's arguments could be equally applied to parents.

The Childcare Alliance, which claims to represent 70 per cent of the long-day childcare sector, made their anti-nanny pitch as part of a paper responding to Tony Abbott's commitment to ask the Productivity Commission to explore extending childcare subsidies to nannies.


According to the Alliance, nannies just do not cut the mustard. Their paper claims that "the nannies course available in Australia is a baby-sitting course and falls significantly short of the standard set in long-day care centres where carers are university-trained and have ongoing intensive training and all-day supervision".

The fact that workers in the long-day childcare sector have extensive qualifications may be something that many parents appreciate and, if they do, it will be a commercial boon for that industry. However, while there is some evidence that exposure to such an environment is beneficial for children, there are equally strong views that children up to the age of three, in particular, thrive most in their own home, whether cared for by parents, grandparents or a nanny.

A few years ago, there were reports of increased stress levels in children placed in long day care and claims that primary school teachers could pick out the children who had been in long day care – and not for their educational advancement. Parents placing their children in such care were made to feel guilty for doing so. Now, the boot is being placed firmly on the other foot.

The Alliance's position has some powerful friends in the media. On a recent edition of ABC TV's influential 'Lateline' program, host Emma Alberici introduced a segment by saying that "the scientific research is clear and unchallenged that every child should be in pre-school by the age of three and it should be provided by the state".

There is some evidence that pre-school has benefits, but it is hardly strong enough for it to be mandated by the state to the exclusion of other options parents may choose. Indeed, some studies, such as that by Kay Margetts of Melbourne University's Graduate School of Education, have shown that, contrary to the Childcare Alliance's claims, children in longer care had lower levels of co-operation and academic competence than their peers once they were all in school.

The fact that the Childcare Alliance have made ludicrous claims about dangers in the home, such as power points and pets, for children supervised by nannies, tend to indicate that they are a bit desperate in their anti-nanny crusade. And, of course, a child at home with a nanny will often be taken to the park, to the shops, to playgroup, to swimming lessons, and on play dates with other children. This is not education within the four walls of a childcare centre, but education in the real world.


Further, if an untrained nanny is a problem, surely the same argument applies to untrained parents. Most parents have no tertiary childcare qualifications, having not even done the 'baby-sitting course', so on a certification basis the nannies might be at least one small step ahead.

And if the 'public health' debate is a guide, then it will not be long before government start mandating parental qualifications. Already some states are insisting on police checks before prospective parents can undertake IVF – how long before this is extended to some other aspects of parenting? Initially, the 'public health' advocates were devotees of information campaigns, but are gradually moving towards the advocacy of more invasive public policy.

Following the same pattern, the Federal Government has begun mandating certain amounts of pre-schooling, rather than letting parents decide. It is clear that the institutionalised childcare zealots want to save the children from the in-home carers, be they nannies or parents.

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About the Author

Richard Allsop is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs. He was Chief of Staff to the two Transport Ministers in the Kennett Government and has had a range of other roles in federal and state politics, as well as private sector experience. He has a Masters in History from Monash University and is currently undertaking his PhD. Richard has written on Australian political history for various publications and has also worked on the Nine Network's election night coverage of federal and state elections since 1993.

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