Nannies and flexibility

Liam Hogan tweeted:

Further on rebates for nannies: if they’re a response to family-unfriendly working hours, flexible childcare is solving the wrong problem.

Here’s some systemic problems with childcare as it currently stands that one might hire a nanny as a possible solution to:

availability (strong form) For under 2s in Sydney, you simply might not get a childcare place accessible to you, by your scheduled return to work. Full-stop.

availability (weaker form) You have 2 or 3 children under 5, not uncommon. If you do get childcare places for them all, they (a) start to approach the price of a nanny and (b) are often not at the same daycare centre. So you can add 2 to 3 drop-offs to your commute run, 2 to 3 infection sources to your health problems, and when your children do all end up at the same daycare centre, you can enjoy four to six weeks of emotionally resettling them with the new centre. Or hire a nanny.

commuting in general Family unfriendly work hours are common. Family unfriendly commute hours are even more common: either a really tight schedule where you hope for no breakdowns/signals failures, or just total impossibility of getting to the centre in time. (Or you can have your kids in care near your work, and have them commute with you. Fun for the whole family. Plus you cannot use the centre when you are sick, which is one of the times when you really want to.)

illness I had four bouts of gastro and eight respiratory infections in the four months after my son began daycare. A nanny is an expensive way to avoid this, but that night I considered calling the police because we couldn’t lift him up to feed him? Maybe that’s worth $200 a day to people who can pay to avoid it.

throughout the day contact a privilege of (partial) telecommuters and (partially) at-home business people, and in theory daycare centres allow drop-ins if children are well-settled there and can handle two separations in a day (so, probably not in the first several months of care). For these people, a nanny may be one way of allowing the parent and child to have throughout-the-day contact without the parent needing to be first contact point for the child’s needs.

Now, I fully agree that funding nannies is less good ultimately than, say, free and freely available childcare, predictable work hours, widespread onsite/neighbourhood childcare with liberal allowance for parent drop-in, redesigning work and cities so that 1+ hour commutes aren’t the usual case, or… I don’t even know what you do about the illnesses, because I once saw my 9 month old licking another baby’s face and getting a good licking back. But there’s a raft of reasons why nannies are attractive. We may turn to one after our next child on cost alone. So that’s the context of nannies, for me.

3 thoughts on “Nannies and flexibility

  1. Liam

    I find this discussion compelling and hooray for taking it to the blog format, something that should happen more often!

    [First of all a disclaimer for others reading: I have no children or immediate plans to have them].

    Obviously everybody’s starting point is that childcare in the Australian urban economy just doesn’t work very well, not for parents, not for children, not for childcare workers. It’s as you say, there’s a drastic shortage of places and skilled staff, and there’s terrible spatial distribution.

    My reservation about the suggested rebate for nannies isn’t that in-home care isn’t a good solution for parents or children: both you here and @cristyclark on twitter explained why in many cases it is. My problem is with the rebate itself as a proposal without thinking about the other industrial and workforce factors.

    I do stand by what I said about family-friendly hours. If a parent is expected to work to such hours as they can’t find childcare, frankly, it’s fair to expect her or his boss to try to meet (at least) halfway.

    But on rebates, we’ve got this policy fetish where every time a problem comes to a Federal politician they reflexively jump to using the tax system as a solution. For childcare (and as I mentioned on twitter, aged care and disability care) there’s a drastic undersupply of skilled workers because the pay is insultingly low and there’s not much of a career path to speak of. Tweaking the tax system for once-a-year payments to consumers/parents is fine if all you want to do is compensate taxpayers but it’s not going to support expansion of the childcare industry. Nor is it going to help day-to-day affordability: some kind of voucher scheme—not that I’m a fan of vouchers—would be a better option to help parents with immediate costs.

    It comes down to: if in-home childcare is to grow as a sector, where are the workers to do the in-home caring going to come from? My view is that in the absence of things like a means test and restrictions on claiming the rebate for cash-in-hand work, the proposed rebate would just be a subsidy to the kinds of parents who’re able to employ nannies now: the professional upper-middle class, in other words. Which is fine if that’s the policy objective, and I think Tony Abbott should be clearer about saying so.

  2. Mary Post author

    As a point of clarification, at present the means-tested CCB, and, as of this financial year, the non-means-tested CCR too, are available as direct payments to childcare centres, meaning that they show up to parents as (very markedly!) reduced fees, rather than the old, weird system of a refunded amount after the end of the year. (Well, strictly I think the refund payment is still available if you want to do things that way.)

    I don’t have any dispute with your main point about the childcare workforce.

    In terms of Coalition policy, I suspect either Abbott does intend a subsidy to professional upper-middle types, or else is picturing lower-to-upper middle class families where a father works full-time (or more) and a mother works part-time in a home-based business, which (in terms of face-time with children only) is probably acceptably near non-working mothers as a policy goal for the social conservative. (I don’t think the home-based, child-centered model of work is inherently conservative, but I think it’s fairly readily adopted as a conservative story, witness Abbott’s reported “having a baby is the most conservative thing a woman can do” remark.)

  3. Liam

    I think you’re definitely right about Coalition policy.

    I wouldn’t know, obviously, but I can’t think of anything more likely to run a home-based business into rapid bankruptcy than the expectation of face-time with small children.

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