Childcare choices: What parents want

About the paper

The Commission surveyed a representative sample of more than 2,000 parents and carers in New South Wales to find out what policy options they value most, and the relative importance of various barriers to early childhood education and care (ECEC) usage.

We found what NSW families value most is choice, flexibility, and access – more than lower cost in most cases. In New South Wales, less than 20 per cent of childcare centres offer flexible hours (before 7:00am, after 6:30pm, on weekends, or overnight) compared to more than 50 per cent of centres in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia.

To support parents who want to access childcare at times that work for them, government could address planning and regulatory barriers to improve supply and support more flexible service offerings rather than expanding broad-based subsidies. Expanding online tools may help to reduce the uncertainty regarding the out-of-pocket costs of ECEC by providing parents and carers with simple, accurate, and timely information.

Key findings

  • Cost is not necessarily the only or main reason preventing increased use of ECEC services amongst non-users and low users. Three other factors are often more important to parents:

    • a lack of choice

    • inflexible care arrangements

    • poor access (that is, problems securing a place at their preferred provider).

  • The difficulties parents face in accessing up-to-date and accurate information, and uncertainty about out-of-pocket costs, can be as big a barrier as cost. 

  • Specific caring needs, parental preferences and judgements on education and care also drive parents’ decisions to use ECEC services little or not at all.

  • Preferences and barriers differ in Sydney and regional New South Wales. The greater difficulty that regional families tend to face in accessing services partly reflects smaller, more dispersed population bases. It also reflects a greater need from parents in regional areas for flexible care arrangements, as they are more likely to be employed in shift work.

  • Many families that are not using ECEC do so out of personal preference rather than reflecting ECEC cost or availability considerations. 

  • The perceived quality of ECEC services is not a large barrier to usage.