Quality childcare access expected post-Cabinet endorsement

Young children from the village learn how to read and write during the program at Mokani Village, Tailevu. Picture: SUPPLIED/FILE

Following Cabinet’s endorsement of the Guidance Note for the National Early Childhood Care Services Policy and Regulatory Framework, working parents in Fiji can now expect access to good quality childcare options.

The Guidance Note will form the basis for public consultations with focused collaboration with stakeholders for the development of the country’s first early childhood care services policy.

This is an outcome of the cooperation agreement between the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Ministry for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation.

In a statement yesterday, the IFC said the policy would help establish basic minimum standards for early childcare services, a licensing and inspection system for service providers, and a central regulatory authority for oversight.

It said Fijian families often either did not have access to childcare options or did not trust the quality of services.

“Many childcare providers can’t enter the market as they lack accreditation,” the IFC stated.

IFC partnered with the Australian and New Zealand governments to support Fiji design the guidance note for the early childhood services policy framework, which aimed to foster better outcomes for children, support for working parents, and improve women’s employment.

“Our children are precious, and we want to give them the best start in life,” Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Lynda Tabuya was quoted saying in the statement.

“Our early childhood care services policy is also about empowering families, and particularly women, by enabling them to work. Endorsement of this guidance note will help ensure our childcare policy is in line with global best practices while supporting working families.”

According to the IFC, lack of access to childcare prevented women from reaching their full potential—only 37 per cent of Fijian women were economically active compared with 72 per cent of men.

And on average, lost staff time due to childcare responsibilities cost employers as much as $550,000 (FJD) a year or $1000 (FJD) per employee, the IFC says.

IFC Country Manager for Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands Judith Green said their research had demonstrated childcare responsibilities impact parents’ ability to perform at work.

“This pressure has only come more into focus amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ms Green said.

“Supportive policy and regulations can play a critical role in creating a market for quality childcare services aligned with the requirements of working parents, and which can also unleash the economic potential of women.”

The guidance note builds on a 2019 IFC study, ‘Tackling Childcare: The Business Case for Employer Supported Childcare in Fiji’, which suggests that 43 per cent of the workforce in the country has preschool-aged children but only 8 per cent used childcare services; also most working parents relied on family members or unqualified babysitters to care for their children.

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