Mass service closures had been forecast for the early learning and childcare sector, however a new relief package from the Federal Government looks set to provide a lifeline.
Announced on Thursday 2 April, the new Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package is expected to provide free childcare to around one million families during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the plan, the Federal Government will pay 50% of the sector’s fee revenue up to the existing hourly rate cap before parents started withdrawing their children en masse, but only so long as services remain open and do not charge families for childcare.
The funding will apply from Monday 6 April based on the number of children who were in care during the fortnight leading into 2 March, whether or not they are attending services.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the plan supports families while also ensuring as many as possible of the sector’s 13,000 child care and early learning services could keep their doors open for workers and vulnerable families who need those services.
“These services are vital for so many parents so they can provide for their family, and children need as much familiarity and continuity as we can help provide at this unsettling time. Priority will be given to working parents, vulnerable and disadvantaged children who need early education more than ever, and parents with pre-existing enrolments,” Mr Morrison said.
“This plan complements more than $1 billion we expect the sector to receive through our new JobKeeper payment to help ensure many of the 200,000 vital early education workforce can stay connected to services.”
The plan means the sector is expected to receive $1.6 billion over the coming three months from taxpayer subsidies because of the 2 March baseline that has been set, compared to an estimated $1.3 billion if current revenues and subsidies had continued based on the existing system and the significant reduction of enrolments the sector has seen.
The new system will see payments start flowing at the end of next week and 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 Subsidy (CCS) and Additional Child Care Subsidy payments.
Locally, the announcement has been welcomed by both Communities@Work and YWCA Canberra.
“We are currently examining the details, however, this announcement appears to provide much needed continuity of care for families and sustainability for childcare operators,” said Communities@Work CEO Lee Maiden.
YWCA Canberra CEO Frances Crimmins added, “as one of many early childhood education and care providers that has experienced a large number of parents withdrawing their children from our services, this measure, along with the JobKeeper payment, will go a long way to ensure the livelihood of our educators and the ability of the sector to survive the pandemic”.
“The next step is to ensure all early childhood education and care professionals are equipped with appropriate personal protective equipment, to ensure their safety as front-line workers. They also need access to COVID-19 testing to ensure educators and children are kept safe during this very challenging period.”
Early Childhood Australia CEO Samantha Page said the announcement “tackles most of the big issues that services and families have been grappling with over the past month”.
However, Ms Page said there are some complexities to work through – some services that are part of not-for-profit or local government entities with other activities have not dropped below the 30% turnover benchmark across their entire business or organisation.
Further to the Federal Government’s announcement, Minister for Education Dan Tehan said “the States and Territories are looking at how to reduce the regulatory burden on the child care services, which will further help them to remain viable”.
The Federal Government also announced they will provide $453.2 million for preschools in 2021 to support almost 350,000 children to attend preschool. The funding injection comes on top of the $3.2 billion the government has delivered for preschool education since 2014.