Mass service closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic could be on the horizon for the early learning and child care sector if the Federal Government doesn’t step in with further support.
Early Learning and Care Council of Australia (ELACCA) CEO Elizabeth Death said ELACCA members appreciated the government initiatives for the sector thus far, but it is not enough to mitigate impending mass service closures.
“More than 80% of Australia’s early learning and care services are facing closure in the very near future and Australia-wide we are looking at the potential of 150,000 job losses across the sector.”
Ms Death said closure of early learning services across the country will have a disastrous impact on families now and “in the future when we commence economic recovery and business resumes”.
“Many of the hundreds of services that will close will not reopen and there is the potential of a critical shortfall in services and places for the 845,000 children who are currently enrolled Australia-wide, not to mention the job losses for our skilled early years workforce.”
A coalition of Australia’s major Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) service providers has also warned that large parts of the sector face the threat of collapse.
“The Outside School Hours sector has been completely forgotten by State and Federal Governments, despite the essential role we play in caring for children outside of school hours,” said Sinead Ryan, a spokesperson for the OSHC providers.
“While many schools remain open, students are being urged by individual schools and/or government to stay home and attendances at Out of School Hours Care and Vacation Care have collapsed, leaving our staff with no work to do. Our sector faces no choice but to commence the closure of services across the country, leaving large parts of our workforce without work,” Ms Ryan said.
OSHC service providers are primarily funded via the Child Care Subsidy, a government payment which is calculated on the number of children attending the services.
Kylie Brannelly, Chairperson of the National Outside School Hours Services Alliance, said that without a change to the funding model, “we simply have no revenue coming in. We need a resolution from government on assistance to the sector immediately”.
To ensure the sector’s ongoing viability, the coalition is seeking government support to be based on program attendances in the last week in February, a baseline period prior to COVID-19’s impact on attendance.
Locally, Communities@Work employs over 600 Canberrans, with more than 400 employed in early education and care.
“Communities@Work’s early education and care services have already been impacted, and in the coming weeks we expect this to get much worse,” said CEO Lee Maiden.
“We have seen declines in attendance of as much as 90% in some services and we know many other service providers are in a similar position. Our fear is that in a very short time, we won’t be able to provide our essential services to the community, and we want to ensure we can continue to contribute to supporting our community through this crisis.”
This is a concern shared by YWCA Canberra CEO Frances Crimmins, with staff being stood down from Friday 27 March due to a significant drop in attendance.
Ms Crimmins said across the ACT they have experienced a 70% decline in childcare attendance, while school-aged care attendance has dropped by at least 95%.
“The challenge for us is that the current position of the Federal Government is that childcare subsidy will only be paid to an early learning centre when a child, an employee, an educator or a parent contracts COVID-19,” Ms Crimmins said. “That is an appalling position to put our staff in and children and their parents in.”
Ms Crimmins said the childcare subsidy was already budgeted and “already exists”.
“Now what’s occurring is the government is just not having to pay it out. So the money is there, so we actually just want the money that was already there to be paid out”.