The Department of Education has been praised for the design and governance of its child care package, acting as a good example for other agencies.
Child care functions were transferred from the Department of Social Services to Education in September 2015. An updated child care package was established in 2018 with the goal of helping working parents by delivering an affordable and accessible child care system.
In its latest performance report, the Australian National Audit Office found the department’s handling of the new package and its ability to support the government’s policy targets has been “largely effective”.
According to ANAO, the department considered key stakeholders in the package’s design, implemented an effective engagement strategy and advised the government during important design and implementation stages. However, the office noted that key policy objectives on the package have gradually disappeared from appropriate documentation.
While arrangements have been implemented to support the transition to the package and manage it, with risk management, compliance, performance management and evaluation frameworks in place, the audit office noted that oversight arrangements are still under development.
ANAO recommended the department ensure its objectives are accurately described in internal and external documents and remain consistent with the government’s policy objectives, which the department Secretary Dr Michele Bruniges accepted.
“The department welcomes the ANAO’s report and will use the findings and observations from the report to inform and enhance ongoing package implementation and delivery arrangements,” she wrote in her response.
“The recommendation is agreed and the ANAO’s suggested area for improvement regarding oversight arrangements for the package will also be used to strengthen existing arrangements including where service delivery is outsourced to another entity.”
The audit office used its report to offer key messages to all government entities:
“When designing major policy initiatives, it is good practice to dedicate sufficient time and resources for meaningful consultation with affected stakeholders and consideration of how elements of the policy design will impact these stakeholders. This has been a strength of the department in designing the package.”
“Outsourcing service delivery (for example, IT services) does not reduce an entity’s accountability responsibilities. As the entity remains accountable for all elements of delivery, it should ensure that effective oversight arrangements are established in a timely manner, service and quality control expectations are agreed and maintained and its business is appropriately prioritised, to help provide assurance that policy objectives are being met.
“Evaluation is a critical element of establishing accountability for program performance against objectives and providing insight to ensure ongoing improvement in program impact. It is good practice to consider the evaluation approach early and to establish an evaluation framework during the design phase, as was done by the department.”