Free iPad offers luring parents to profit driven childcare

CHILDCARE operators are luring parents by offering free iPads and digital tablets if they enrol their children.   

The gimmick exposes the lengths the for-profit component of the sector is going to win over mums and dads trying to cope with working and raising children.   

As families struggle to pay for childcare fees that are heftier than their mortgage and among the highest in the world, centres are getting craftier in their approaches to securing business. 

Some larger providers are even hosting cocktail-style information nights for parents who are choosing to send their children to a particular centre, with drinks, canapes and a guest speaker spruiking the benefits of early childhood education.   

News Corp Australia has uncovered three providers that have offered free iPads and tablets for sign-ups, two of which are current offers.   

Little Gems Early Learning, which runs four centres in Queensland, has a tablet offer for parents signing their kids up to their kindergarten classes.   

Director Hayley Harrison said it was not unfair to offer families incentives to sign up.  

"If anyone has an issue with it, well, each to their own," Ms Harrison said.   

"We all have to try something to sell ourselves somehow."  

Guardian Early Learning, one of the larger for-profit providers in the country, areis also offering free iPads for sign- ups at theirits Mulgrave centre in outer Melbourne.   

And it was Guardian that hosted an information evening with prospective parents at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney last month with Dr Elanna Yarlow as a guest speaker.   

Parents were provided a light, canape-style dinner, drinks and even a gift bag.   

News Corp attended the session.   

Guardian Early Learning did not respond to News Corp Australia's repeated requests for comment.   

Not-for-profit Goodstart Early Learning's advocacy manager John Cherry said gimmicks were not what families were truly after.   

"Families are telling us that the quality of care and learning programs is what they are looking for, and that is our focus," Mr Cherry said.   

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said families had a choice about where they enrolled their children.    "Providers need to justify their fees and the profits they make to the families that use their services," Senator Mr Birmingham said.   

The Department of Education said there was no indication offers like such as free iPads impacted quality.   

"The department monitors these types of emerging marketing practices as part of its ongoing policy and compliance analysis," a response to a question on notice from Senate Estimates said.   

"To date there is no indication that these practices are linked with viability concerns."   

For-profit childcare centres in Australia are currently in the black by a collective $1 billion a year.