I just got a call from a childcare centre who has had my son’s name down for nineteen months. I’m not even sure if they were offering him a place, most likely they are just culling their waiting list in preparation for the 2012 enrolment season. Nineteen months long waiting lists, on the very edge of the metropolis.
I’m sure there’s plenty of info out there already about the economic inefficiencies generated by private childcare in countries like Australia and the US where supply doesn’t meet demand and there’s little government intervention in the market. One of the most noticeable for us is geographic lock-in. If it takes a year or more to get our son care at a new location, we can’t move, until, oddly enough, all of our children are school age and thus likely to be badly disrupted academically and socially by a move. The next most obvious is all the mother-work in this. Applying to 20 centres (… many of which ask for a $20 waiting list fee). Ringing them all once a month or more just to keep a tick next to our name as “really wants a place”. (It likely doesn’t advance you up the list, what with all the other mothers ringing monthly too, and they certainly don’t give us any actual news until a place actually appears.)
I should put in a little bit of background for people from countries with at least some government provided childcare. Childcare in Australia for children 8 weeks to 5 years is provided by for-profit and non-profit suppliers in a private market. Waiting lists for first born children in Sydney (younger siblings of an enrolled child often receive some preferential treatment) who aren’t in certain disadvantaged and at-risk groups are somewhere in the realm of nine to twenty four months. (Employers are supposed to keep permanent jobs open to a returning mother for a year.) Costs are in the realm of $70 to $110 dollars per day for infants (median maybe $90?) and $60 to $100 per day for children over age two. There are government subsidies on a sliding scale that for some families might halve this cost.
The alternatives are local government certified “family carers” caring in their own homes, who have similar waiting lists, nannies at around $200 per day, or family. I don’t see a lot of solutions aside from nationalisation: the private market obviously sees no need even for centralised waiting lists and for whatever reason it certainly doesn’t see the need to create enough places to meet demand. All I have is a couple of lessons:
#1 you do not put your child’s name down at birth you put it down when you are pregnant, if they let you, and if they don’t, take the forms to the hospital with you and post them from there within hours of your child’s birth. (Sydney hasn’t quite reached the stage that I am told New York City is at, of ringing them all to give them notice that you have stopped using contraception, and might therefore require their services at some point in the next two years.)
#2 most childcare places open up in January and February, with enrolments in October. It’s obvious why when you think about it: (southern) January is when the five year olds leave to start kindergarten, so it’s the time when by far the most vacancies are created. That doesn’t mean put the kid’s name down in October for a place the following January, it means putting them down as early as possible and then concentrating your phone calls in October.
This can be frustrating depending on your child’s month of birth. Born January or February? You may well have to keep them out for a full year. Born November or December? You may have to enrol them much younger than you would have been comfortable with if you are lucky enough to be offered a place (although only for a day a week, already enrolled children almost always get the pick of newly opened spots on other days).
For the record, my January-born first son got a place that July, in a centre that had recently re-opened after bankruptcy and was taking immediate enrolments. That same centre, whose youngest enrolment at the time was a child 9 weeks old, is a year later asking us to re-confirm 2012 enrolments four months ahead because of their enormous waiting list. They currently have no children born in 2011 enrolled, implying a waiting list of 9 months at the very least We’re ourselves presently awaiting results of the 2012 enrolments closer to the city, to see if we get to move closer to my husband’s work in the next 12 months, or if we’re staying out here for the foreseeable future.