Alarming number of SA childcare centres exempt from staffing ratio rules

Alarming number of SA childcare centres exempt from staffing ratio rules

Over a fifth of South Australia’s childcare centres are exempted from staffing ratio rules – and communities are left wondering how this could impact the quality of care being given.

Childcare centres in SA are mandated to have one staff member for every 11 children aged three and above – and at least one staff member must have a university qualification.

However, figures from the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority found that 21.9% of state centres have been granted waivers ­– double the national average of 11.7%, according to an ABC News report.

Blair Boyer, spokesman for Labor education, told ABC News that the current government’s failure to push back on waivers will benefit families who enrol children to these centres.

"This will enable some childcare centres to reduce the number of educators per children and thereby increase their profit, but also reduce the standard of the service and childcare and education they're providing to families,” Boyer said.

Boyer’s take was affirmed by Rebecca Stiles, director at Hillbank Community Children’s Centre, who told ABC News that "there's no way that you can run a high-quality care and education system with having less staff looking after more children.”

Meanwhile, John Garner, SA education minister, claimed there was nothing wrong with waivers as it is always granted under due diligence.

"Waivers have always been part of the process under the National Quality Framework to ensure that children continue to get the services they need during times of staff transition or temporary unavailability," Garner told ABC News. “Children continue to receive high quality care and educational opportunities around South Australia under the high quality regulation of the Education Standards Board."

A spokesperson for the Education Standards Board added that waivers serve a purpose: enabling providers to deal with “special circumstances and unexpected events such as short-term illness, extended leave, or registration” for a usual period of three months.

Regardless of the grounds for granting waivers, Stiles acknowledged that the issue was suggestive of a broader problem – the shortage of qualified childcare workers – a problem that she believes can be fixed with better pay and working conditions.

"I really think it comes down to us not being recognised for what we are through our wages, through anything,” Stiles said. "We don't want to be seen as babysitters, we're certainly not babysitters. We do run an education system here and we'd like to be recognised for that.”