In ancient history, when I was young, hardly anyone's mother worked. In fact, public servants, on marriage often lost their permanent positions, and I think bank staff had to resign. In the seventies, when I was having my children, it was acceptable for married women to work, but still, as there was no maternity leave, having children generally meant long periods out of the workforce, losing seniority and dulling skills.
While some still debate the pros and cons of working mothers compared with stay at home mothers, we now have maternity leave, paid for a period, flexible working hours, job sharing, working from home, all attempts to cater for the needs of working parents.
We have certainly come a long way, thanks to the feminists and women's liberation and the efforts of unions and some far-sighted politicians.
Some employers are more flexible than others, and there is no doubt that for small business in particular, it can be difficult to offer flexibility while ensuring that the needs of the business are met.
Alongside this growth in work options for women has come the growth in the childcare industry. Centre based care, family day care and home based care are the main sectors, interestingly enough, a largely female workforce.
As director of Melbourne's premier nanny agency, Susan Rogan Child Care I face the issues for employers and employees. As an employer of approximately 100 nannies as well as office staff, I am affected by maternity leave provisions, and I am closely involved in supporting parents to participate in the workforce.
My agency offers many possibilities for care, private and government funded. In private arrangements we can, for a fee, recruit a nanny whose employment then becomes the responsibility of the family, or we can recruit a nanny and act as employer taking on all the tasks this involves: WorkCover, tax and sick and annual leave provisions, charging a family on-going fees.
The Federal Government's In-Home Care Program, is targeted at working parents whose cannot access other forms of approved childcare. This includes shift workers, families with sick or disabled children and families in crisis. Families who can access In Home Care get government funding to help with the cost but government limit the number of places we can provide.
The issue of childcare is now recognised by major political parties, and has become an area where different bids are being made to win the support of the electorate. This process has started to pit the different sectors of the childcare industry against each other, each seeking to promote the needs of their sector for funding and future viability. The In-Home Care sector is probably the smallest and thus has the weakest voice. Sneering remarks are made about 'middle class welfare' but this ignores the needs of particular groups of workers and the right of parents to choose the model of childcare they prefer. The National In-Home Care Association continues to lobby for the program to continue as one part of a broad range of initiatives to offer flexibility for the care of children.