More than a fifth of South Australia’s childcare centres are being granted exemptions to staffing ratio rules, raising concerns about the level of care.

Key points:

  • Childcare centres in SA need one staff member for every 11 children aged over three
  • At least one staff member needs a university qualification
  • The opposition says too many centres are being granted exemptions to run without following those rule

In South Australia, childcare centres need one staff member for every 11 children aged over three, and at least one staff member needs a university qualification.

But many do not operate at those levels.

The latest figures from the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority show 21.9 per cent of the state’s centres have been granted waivers — the highest in the nation and almost double the national average of 11.7 per cent.

Labor education spokesman Blair Boyer said the previous government resisted the push to grant waivers, but the current government has failed to do the same.

“What we see now are the consequences of that decision and failure of leadership from the Marshall Liberal Government and [Education Minister] John Gardner,” he said.

Education Minister John Gardner says waivers have always been part of the process under the National Quality Framework. (ABC News)

But Mr Gardner hit back, accusing Labor of trying to scare parents by misrepresenting the significance of the data.

“Waivers have always been part of the process under the National Quality Framework to ensure that children continue to get the services they need during times of staff transition or temporary unavailability,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Education Standards Board said waivers are usually approved for a three-month period to enable providers to deal with “special circumstances and unexpected events such as short-term illness, extended leave or resignation”.

The spokesperson said that, as part of the process, the provider must satisfy regulators that “the education program will be maintained including measures to protect the wellbeing of children”.

Shortage of qualified childcare workers

Hillbank Community Children’s Centre director Rebecca Stiles said her centre had more staff than required by the mandatory ratios.

“The children are the most important thing in our centre, the families are the most important thing,” she said.

Hillbank Community Centre director Rebecca Stiles with parent Chloe Halliwell. (ABC News: Patrick Martin)

Parent Chloe Halliwell said she had noticed the benefits of having strong staffing levels.

“My youngest has struggled socially a lot so having the higher ratios has meant he’s had that support to be able to grow and be confident,” she said.

“So I know when he goes off to kindy and then goes off to school he’s actually going to be able to survive in that environment.”

Ms Stiles said a lack of qualified staff across the industry was part of the broader problem.

“We’re not down to having to call agency staff and even agencies are running out of people as well so there’s a huge crisis in quality early childhood educators across the whole state,” Ms Stiles said.

Ms Stiles believed the solution to staffing shortages was better pay and conditions for educators.

“We don’t want to be seen as babysitters, we’re certainly not babysitters,” she said.

“I really think it comes down to us not being recognised for what we are through our wages, through anything.”

Posted , updated