Relief is at hand for families on the Central Coast, with the announcement on April 2 that around a million families nationwide will receive free child care during the coronavirus pandemic, under a Federal Government plan.
Member for Robertson, Lucy Wicks, said the plan would deliver “hip pocket relief to assist the early childhood education and care sector to make it through to the other side of this crisis”.
The Government will pay 50 per cent of the sector’s fee revenue up to the existing hourly rate cap, based on a point in time prior to parents withdrawing their children in large numbers, but only so long as services remain open and do not charge families for care.
Funding applied from April 6, based on the number of children in care during the fortnight leading into March 2, whether or not they are attending services.
The sector is expected to receive $1.6B over the coming three months from taxpayer subsidies.
“A number of people have contacted myself and my office looking for assistance for staff, childcare centres, and for parents, whether or not their trusted childcare centres will remain open,” Wicks said.
“This plan will support families throughout our community, while also ensuring that as many as possible of the sector’s childcare and early learning services across the Central Coast keep their doors open for workers and vulnerable families who need these services.”
Wicks said the plan provides funding certainty to early childhood education and care services at a time where enrolments and attendances are highly unpredictable.
“This, along with the JobKeeper payment, means that services can offer free education and care,” she said.
“These services are vital for so many parents so that they can provide for their family.
“Children need familiarity and continuity.
“We are doing what we can to assist families during this unsettling time.”
Wicks said that priority would be given to working parents, vulnerable and disadvantaged children who need early education more than ever, and parents with pre-existing enrolments.
The new system will be reviewed after one month, with an extension to be considered after three months.
The payments will be paid in lieu of the Child Care (CCS) and Additional Child Care Subsidy payments.
“This package will help support families during these difficult times, particularly those who have lost their job and are doing it tough,” Wicks said.
“Until the payments arrive, we are allowing services to waive gap fees for families who keep their children home, and families will be able to use the 20 extra absence days that the government has funded for coronavirus related reasons, without giving up their place in a child care centre.
“If you have terminated your enrolment since February 17, I encourage you to get back in contact with your centre and re-start your arrangements.
“Re-starting your enrolment will not require you to send your child to childcare and it certainly won’t require you to pay a gap fee.
“It will, however, hold your place for that point in time when things start to normalise, and you are ready to take your child back to their centre.”
Payments of higher amounts in exceptional circumstances may be available, where greater funding is required to meet the needs of emergency workers or vulnerable children.
Wicks said that there was a range of other government assistance already announced also available to early learning and child care operators.
The Independent Education Union of Australia NSW/Act Branch (IEU) has cautiously welcomed the package, but said that it was looking closely at what the announcement means sector-wide in terms of jobs.
“The package will help many centres that are on the brink of closure,” Branch Secretary, Mark Northam, said.
“But we are still concerned about widespread loss of employment in the sector as fee revenue subsidy is capped at 50%.
“The announcement does not apply to preschools, which are also facing financial viability issues in the face of the coronavirus pandemic,” Northam said.
“We call on the NSW government to supplement its Start Strong funding to keep preschools open and teachers employed.
“Until all details of the newly announced early childhood education package are clearly understood, the IEU calls on all employers in the sector to cease terminations and constructively explore all options.
“If the state government does not deliver on a preschool funding package, parents may abandon preschool to get the fee relief benefits of long day care, where the new funding is focused.
“This would create more problems and ongoing job losses.”
Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Learning, Jodi Harrison, said there was still no immediate support for struggling pre-school providers which fall under the responsibility of the State Government.
“While I welcome free childcare for essential workers, I’m gravely concerned that there is nothing in this announcement for children in preschools during this crisis,” Harrison said.
“There are serious questions about the ongoing viability of preschools as enrolments decline and centres may be forced to close.
“There are nearly 700 non-government preschools across the State, with more than 25,000 places for children, and there is nothing at all in this for them.”
Media releases, Apr 2
Member for Robertson, Lucy Wicks
Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Learning, Jodi Harrison
Independent Education Union of Australia, NSW/Act branch