The choice of twelve months paid parental leave would best support women’s workforce participation and optimal care for children in Australia, according to the findings of Southern Cross University researcher Dr Wendy Boyd.
Ongoing research through the School of Education began as part of Dr Boyd’s PhD studies 10 years ago when 120 first-time mothers were tracked using questionnaires during their last trimester of pregnancy and early motherhood, when babies were six months and one year old.
Dr Boyd’s most recent book chapter, ‘Working it out: balancing work and care after the birth of a first child’, discusses how women in western economies, who have more options and pressures to combine a career and family responsibilities, make decisions about re-entry to the workforce.
“The World Health Organisation recommends women should be breastfeeding up until their baby is 12-months-old,” Dr Boyd said.
“My early research found many women feel a strong sense of dissatisfaction with returning to work when their child is only a few months old, especially if they cannot find suitable child care.
“Parents prefer child care to be provided by a known relative, especially grandparents, up to the age of 12 months, and then consider formal child care. At 12 months children are becoming mobile, able to express their desires; and usually feel more comfortable leaving their parents and experiencing a new care environment,” she said.
“However many families do not have access to care provided by grandparents, and so may have to choose other types of care. If a mother is dissatisfied with her child’s care then her work productivity may be lower which can be a lose-lose situation for the mother, the child and her employer.”
According to Dr Boyd’s research, around 22 per cent of women opted for their young child to attend long day care, however the majority expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of the care. The women cited the age and expertise of the carers as being of concern, and that children were sick too often.
“Parents want to feel secure about who is looking after their child and this depends upon the quality of care and education being provided,” she said.
Dr Boyd said Australia could learn from the other countries where women were entitled to up to 47 weeks parental leave as in Denmark, and fathers up to six weeks paid leave.
She is calling for improved quality of child care, with at least one university-trained early childhood teacher working with each group of children in child care, not just with children in the year before primary school.
Dr Boyd said her recent research is examining career choices of early childhood/primary pre-service teachers who decide to work in early childhood settings or primary school settings.
“While we are training teachers to work in early childhood settings, the research shows many are opting to work in schools as the status and working conditions are more favourable,” she said.
“At present Australia does not require trained teachers for children under four years of age, which wrongly suggests that children under four aren’t learning.
“Research demonstrates the first six years of our life are significant in terms of brain development.”
Dr Boyd’s initial research data was collected before the paid parental leave scheme was introduced, providing 18 weeks paid leave at the basic wage, which she would like to see increased.
Dr Boyd continues to work with the Work and Family Roundtable on relevant submissions to the Government, the most recent being to the Inquiry by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee into the Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill 2016.