Hundreds of daycares shut down in state blitz
HUNDREDS of family daycare providers across NSW have been shut down in the past five years, for a range of reasons including negligence, a lack of supervision and staff not being qualified.
Data from the Education Department obtained by The Saturday Telegraph reveals 211 family daycare operators in Sydney had their approval cancelled, meaning up to 4000 home educators have been banned from looking after children since 2015.
Under tougher requirements introduced by Education and Early Childhood Minister Sarah Mitchell, the number of service providers given fresh approval to operate has dropped from 157 approved in 2015 to just three services last year.
It means there are currently now only 154 family daycare providers in operation across NSW, with about 38,670 children in their care.
Each service provider can oversee up to 20 educators operating in their homes, and each individual educator can only look after a maximum of four children of preschool age per day.
They must have a Certificate III in an approved education and care qualification.
Department investigators found that the top reason for a service provider having their approval cancelled was because they posed an unacceptable risk to children.
This includes negligence such as a lack of supervision, a house not being safe and the presence of hazards. Staff lacking qualifications was the second most common reason for a licence being cancelled, followed by fraud, then breaching service approval conditions.
The revelation follows a massive police operation that resulted in 50 people being charged for their alleged roles in the Red Roses Family Day Care fraud syndicate across southwest Sydney and Wollongong last year.
Police allege members of the syndicate used parent details to make childcare subsidy claims for care they never received.
It is alleged the syndicate raked in at least $3.9 million in rebates over a 10-month period by exploiting the federal government's childcare subsidy scheme.
In a separate case last month, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal upheld a decision by the Education Department to prohibit family daycare operator Sultana Nilufar from looking after children following a police raid on her home.
Nilufar allegedly told police she believed a mysterious white substance found on the property was protein powder belonging to her son.
But testing later indicated it was Dinitrophenol - an obscure diet powder which also was used for explosives in World War II and is restricted because it can be fatal to children.
Ms Mitchell said she made no apologies for banning unscrupulous operators.
"Family daycare provides an important option for parents as an alternative to centre-based services, particularly in regional areas," Ms Mitchell said. "However, family daycare should never be seen as an opportunity for unscrupulous operators to make a quick buck.
"That is why I make no apologies for cracking down on rogue operators, and raising the bar for entry into this service type to ensure quality."
Family Day Care Australia chief executive Andrew Paterson said he welcomed the crackdown on dodgy operators but said the sector was now facing financial pressure because of onerous compliance paperwork.
"The capacity of services to recruit new educators has been impacted somewhat by changes in regulations and barriers to entry and just the significant compliance burden off the back of that legislation," he said.
"The requirements of them to remain compliant with a whole raft of new regulations that were brought in to stamp out fraudulent practice has meant services have to invest a certain amount of resources to just remaining compliant."
But Mr Paterson said demand for family daycare remained strong.
University of NSW early childhood education expert Megan Blaxland said parents chose family daycare because it could be less clinical.
"For some people it feels better if they're going to have someone look after their kids to have that done in a kind of home environment with a consistent carer," she said. "There is a tendency to have younger children in family daycare and as they get older they might move into kindy."