On childcare

Quite a commotion over childcare and childcare workers but as it happens my wife is in the industry so I thought I might add my own perspective.

Before children she worked in the administration area of IBM so when I say that we have million dollar children this is literally true. She tried to go back to work but couldn’t do it. Worth every penny and not a moment of regret from any of us, neither from the parental side nor from our children.

So as kind of a career change when they went off to school, my wife took up the post as before-and-after school care coordinator at the school where our children went. She ran the place, and was in fact the person who set the program up from scratch. And what you must understand is that running one of these centres is not so much an example of early school learning, which it is, but is more like running a small business with a tonne of responsibility and a million things to get right with lots of possibilities for things to go wrong.

In a school that goes from Kindergarten to Grade VI made up of both boys and girls there are a mess of individual activities that have to keep the children engaged for upwards of three hours a day and it has to vary day after day. There are people to hire and sometimes fire. There are, besides the children, parents to deal with, a board overseeing the program and the school itself. There is money to collect and accounts to keep. A childcare program doesn’t run itself. It needs the entrepreneurial hand of someone who has an eye for what is needed and can ensure that everything is run with both the order necessary to keep things in harmony in the midst of the disorder necessary where upwards of a hundred kids are engaged. Try it yourself if you think it’s so easy. Most people couldn’t do this for a day without packing it in.

After we moved to Canberra which coincided with our youngest leaving his primary school, my wife preferred to work casual in childcare so got to see quite a number of different centres and also got to meet quite a number of politicians whose children she looked after. You wouldn’t know this but she sure as hell did know this, that there are good and bad centres and the person in charge makes the most colossal difference to the outcomes. And think of this. There are children being dropped off at 8:00 in the morning who are not picked up until five minutes to six at night. You make a program that will keep a three year old content with life five days a week in the company of adult strangers and other children who are not necessarily the nicest of people to each other.

And then the other day, my wife came home and kind of mentioned as in another day at the office that one of the children had a seizure and she had to tend to him before the ambulance arrived. All routine. It is very difficult work, very creative and requires imagination and good humour. It is difficult in a way that we university trained paper-writers never understand and know little about. And the amount of talent required is greater than most people might ever understand.

And as was once wisely stated, anything that can be done can be done better or worse. Learning to run a childcare centre properly and well is one of those tasks in life one should not look down one’s nose at. In comparison, doing economics is a piece of cake. And I reckon there are about as many people good at childcare as there are economists who are any good at doing economics.

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