Childcare centres fail to stay open late due to lack of demand

Round-the-clock childcare centres would be neither practical nor in demand, according to a nationwide childcare survey.

Despite Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s call for childcare centres to provide greater flexibility for the “24/7 economy”, less than 1 per cent of centres are open after 6.30pm.

A new report from Early Childhood Australia, the national representative group for children’s services, found little demand for the 400 centres surveyed to care for children beyond 7pm.

Seven out of 10 of the centres opened early, between 6.30am and 7.30am, and half remained open beyond 6pm.

Providing flexible hours for families was a challenge if parents weren’t willing to pay for the extra staff costs, said Early Childhood Australia head Samantha Page.

“Most families want to be home and cooking dinner and kids into their own bed,’’ she said, adding that parents who needed very early or late care preferred children to be in their own homes.

The Productivity Commission is tipped to release its report on childcare and early childhood this weekend, and is likely to recommend families be able to access one simplified, means-tested payment that would include the use of nannies.

When Mr Abbott launched the inquiry in March, he said the childcare system needed to respond to the current “24/7 needs of the modern Australian family”, rather than the traditional nine-to-five working week.

Liz Porqueddo and her husband Daniel both work full-time on their own businesses and their three children have all attended the Creative Play early-learning centre in Bulleen.

Having a centre that opens at 6.30am was essential because Ms Porqueddo often starts work at 7.30am, but she does not feel comfortable with them staying late in the evenings.

“I like to spend some quality time before they go to bed - we read a book to them every night and talk about their day,” she said.

Centre director Georgina Dimitrakis said there were only a small percentage of families - including those who do shift work in the nearby Austin Hospital - who would be interested in the centre staying open later than 6.30pm.

Ms Dimitrakis welcomed the likelihood of the government including nannies in its childcare policy, saying the government should subsidise other kinds of care so that families are not so restricted.

In 2013 the Labor government announced a trial of late-night childcare centres but the program was criticised after a tiny percentage of families signed up used the service.

The story Childcare centres fail to stay open late due to lack of demand first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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