ACT Labor has laid out a timeline to deliver on its long-held goal of providing free early learning for three-year-olds.
- ACT Labor has promised free childcare for three-year-olds by 2024
- The delayed rollout is attributed to time needed to train more educators
- The Canberra Liberals today promised additional mental health facilities, including for new mothers
It intends to deliver one day per week of care to all of the city’s three-year-olds by 2024, six years after first making the commitment.
Childcare centres and preschools would be funded to provide the positions, but Labor says details are still to be ironed out.
Preparing workforce behind delays
There is an early-learning scheme for three-year-olds already in place, with 400 disadvantaged children currently offered government-funded positions.
Education Minister Yvette Berry said they need the time to work out exactly how the scheme will work.
“Because we know how complicated it is, because we know that we have to invest in early childhood educators to make sure that there is a workforce there to actually deliver this, we have to take our time to get it right,” she said.
Four-year-olds are currently offered universal access to early learning through a partnership with the Federal Government.
The scheme would run separately to that, and is costed at $15 million per year.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said it is worth the ACT stepping in and providing the care on its own.
“If there is any series of policies that make the biggest difference in ensuring quality in education outcomes, in ensuring that you are tackling entrenched and intergenerational poverty, it is investment in early childhood education,” he said.
The ACT Government’s “Set Up For Success” early childhood strategy, released in late August, committed to eventually providing more than just one day of early childhood care for three-year-olds per week.
It sought 15 hours per week, but Ms Berry said there is no timeline for that — as finding the staff required to make that a reality will be a challenge.
“We really do need to make sure we’ve got the educators there, experienced and on the ground, to deliver that education,” she said.
Liberal leader Alistair Coe said it is a long timeline on an old commitment.
“This is something that the Labor Party has been talking about for a long time,” he said.
“They still haven’t delivered it.”
Liberals offering new mental health facilities
Separately, the Canberra Liberals today announced it would build a residential facility for new mothers suffering anxiety and depression if it won government.
A perinatal facility was among 70 recommendations made by a parliamentary inquiry into maternity services in the ACT this year, but was not committed to by the ACT Government.
The service would be modelled on those provided by groups like the Gidget Foundation, and would only house a small number of women and children at a time.
The retiring Liberals’ health spokeswoman, Vicki Dunne, said women should not be travelling to Sydney or Melbourne for this kind of care.
“We [want to] ensure that these women, in a very fragile state, are not required to travel interstate for weeks at a time at a time when they should be in a position where they are able to build the bonds of a mother-child family unit,” she said.
While in government, Labor committed to considering such a unit as part of a wider review of perinatal health services.
But Andrew Barr said a health system like the ACT’s can only provide so much.
“There will always be some highly specialised services that the ACT doesn’t have a big enough population to offer that level of highly specialised healthcare,” he said.
“That’s the nature of being a city of 430,000 people, as opposed to a city of 5 million.”
The Liberals have not set out a specific cost, saying the project would go to tender, and have expressed hope an existing facility could be re-purposed for the work.
The party has also made a $25 million commitment to provide 20 new mental health inpatient beds at Calvary Hospital, along with 55 new staff to run the beds.
They say it is a 50 per cent increase on the current number of beds available, and there is scope to add more if the demand is there.
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