Recent debates about the provision of child care for children of
below school age have focused on issues relating to children, to
families, to social capital building and to financial return on
investment. The first of these is concerned with providing for
children’s growth and development and focuses on the
enhancement of skills and experiences conducive to furthering
children’s capacity as learners. Early learning provides a critical
underpinning for subsequent social and academic success
(Shonkoff & Phillips 2000). For example, the Longitudinal Study of
Australian Children (LSAC), identified that 4–5 years olds who had
not participated in educational programs prior to school were
performing less well on measures of early literacy and numeracy
(Harrison & Ungerer 2005).
Issues around social capital building recognise that a focus on
the early years, particularly for socially disadvantaged families,
subsequently reaps long-term benefits in terms of improvement in
educational outcomes, increased economic self-sufficiency, crime
reduction and improvement in family relationships and health
(Bruner 2004; Karoly et al. 1998, Lynch 2004; Schweinhart 2005).
Family circumstances include those associated with social
disadvantage, child protection and disability. Martin (2003)
identified that the childcare system in Australia returned over $1.86
per dollar spent to the government’s ‘bottom line’ through
increased taxation revenue and reduced social assistance outlays.
Martin also recognised the potential for such investment to have a
ripple effect through society and, consequently, to facilitate social
capital building. The Australian Government’s Stronger Families
and Communities Strategy and the NSW Department of
Community Services Early Intervention Program have both welfare
and social reform agendas but little attention has truly been given
to financial and social return on investment.