Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

The New South Wales Campaign for Improved Staff Ratios for Babies in Centre-Based ECEC (2002-2009): Influences on Politicians' Decisions

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

The New South Wales Campaign for Improved Staff Ratios for Babies in Centre-Based ECEC (2002-2009): Influences on Politicians' Decisions

Article excerpt

Introduction

'I think the challenges were always going to be that it was about babies, and in society, that's not necessarily high on everybody's agenda.' (ECR5 Cassandra, interview transcript)

Politicians play a key role in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) policy landscape. Their decisions directly affect the way ECEC is experienced by children, educators and families. While politicians are key to shaping ECEC policy, research on politicians' decision making in ECEC, and particularly research involving politicians as participants, is still relatively new (Bown, Sumsion & Press, 2009; Bradley, 2011). This paper contributes to this small but growing literature by reporting on a study investigating influences on politicians' decision making in ECEC policy in Australia. Specifically, the article reports a case study investigation of a longstanding campaign by parts of the early childhood profession in one Australian state to change the minimum regulated staff-child ratios for children aged birth to two years (hereafter referred to as 'babies') from 1:5 to 1:4. In New South Wales (NSW) at the time this study was conducted, staff--child ratios were mandated in the Children's Services Regulation 2004, administered by the Department of Community Services (DoCS). In presenting the findings of the case study, this article generates an 'eventalization' (Foucault, 1991) to understand the role of influence in ECEC policy.

The ratios campaign (hereafter referred to as 'the campaign') was marked by extensive debate within the sector and with politicians in the years 2002-2009. The campaign was characterised by activism from predominantly community-based organisations and service providers to reduce the staff-child ratio for centre-based ECEC from 1:5 to 1:4 for children under two years; these efforts were countered by an equally strong resistance to the proposed change from predominantly for-profit organisations and service providers. In 2008, the 'One to four, make it law' campaign realised its goal when the then NSW Minister for Community Services, Linda Burney, announced that the minimum adult to child ratio for children birth to two years in centre-based early childhood settings would be reduced to 1:4, commencing January 2011 (Burney, 2008, 23 October), some eight years after the campaign was initiated.

Yet, as the participant whose quote began this article articulated, babies have rarely been high on political agendas. Indeed, I have argued elsewhere (Bown, Sumsion & Press, 2011) that community service portfolios, which have often encompassed the ECEC portfolio, are not often high political priorities. How is it then that the 1:4 ratio was finally promised by Minister Burney? What happened that paved the way for such a choice to be made possible? How can the notion of 'influence' be analysed in the ratio campaign? What can be learned by early childhood activists to inform future policy activism efforts?

To respond to these questions, I analysed data collected from interviews with politicians and key ECEC stakeholders involved in the ratio campaign, and relevant policy texts. The analysis uses the Foucaultian method of 'eventalizing' which involves 'analysing an event according to the multiple processes which constitute it' (Foucault, 1991, p. 76). I argue that during the years of the campaign, national and international events generated an opportunity for early childhood activists that had not previously been available. The movement of power relations enabled a new discourse to be taken up by politicians that had long been advocated by ECEC activists. Taking up a new discourse to some extent brought issues of equity and quality to the fore in ECEC policy.

The article begins by outlining the theoretical framework guiding the analysis of the case study investigation. An explanation of the methodology, including initial processes of data analysis, follows. …

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