Long day care services for children grew rapidly in the 1990s, opening for longer hours and offering a greater variety of different services than ever before, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Trends in Long Day Care Services for Children in Australia, 1991-99 shows that the number of Commonwealth-supported places available in long day care centres increased by 150% over the 1990s-from about 76,200 places in 1991 to more than 190,300 places in 1999.
The number of Commonwealth-supported family day care places (based in carers' homes) also increased over the same period, by 51%-from 42,500 places to just over 64,000.
While these services were originally set up to provide long day care for children under school age, this report shows that they are increasingly offering a variety of programs-including long day care, preschool programs, occasional care and school-age care.
By 1999, around half of all centres had a preschool program run by a qualified teacher and half of the private-for-profit centres ran an outside-school-hours care program.
Head of the AIHW's Children, Youth and Families Unit, Helen Moyle, said increasing participation of mothers in the work force was one of the main reasons for the growth in demand for child care in Australia, and the Commonwealth had responded to this growth in demand since the late 1980s. Centres had also responded to parents' needs by diversifying the programs that they deliver.
'It's interesting to note, however, that while there are many more places available, and many long day care centres are now open for 11 hours a day or more, children are spending less time in long day care services overall,' Ms Moyle said.
'The proportion of children in long day care centres for less than 20 hours a week increased from 53% to 62% between 1991 and 1999, while the proportion in care for 40 hours or more fell from 19% to 12%.'
The report also shows that more than half of all children using centre-based long day care were aged between 3 and4 years, compared with just under one-third of children in family day care services.
The proportion of children aged under 2 years in long day care increased from 23% to 33% between 1991 and 1999, in line with the increased number of places made available for younger children.