Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has unveiled new measures to address the growing childcare crisis in Victoria, aiming to prevent a mass withdrawal of children from the system.
According to an announcement on Wednesday, parents who are not allowed to use childcare services over the next six weeks, during Melbourne’s stage four lockdown, will be provided with an extra 30 days of “allowable absences” that will be counted on top of already existing days.
The federal government has also said the gap fee for parents will be waived during this six week period, although Tehan admitted childcare providers can only be incentivised – not compelled – to do so.
In a statement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “parents will not be required to pay a gap fee when their children are not attending and we will continue to pay their subsidies to childcare facilities.”
Tehan said it was in the interests of childcare providers to waive the gap fee for parents so they maintain enrolments and ensure children come back after the lockdown period.
“We cannot by law compel services to waive the gap fee but what we are doing is everything we can to encourage services to waive the gap fee when parents are compelled to be at home,” Tehan said.
“And I would say to parents, please keep your children enrolled; it won’t cost you anything to do so and it means when we come out of this pandemic those positions will be there for you at your childcare centre.”
From this Thursday, childcare services in Melbourne will be available only to vulnerable children and children of “permitted” workers, who need to obtain and fill in a form declaring there is no available adult in their household who can care for the children.
Early Childhood Australia (ECA) issued a statement noting concerns about the packages lack of certainty for families.
‘It would make much more sense for the Federal Government to fully subsidise early childhood services across Victoria for the next 6 weeks. This would allow families to focus on the best interests of their children, and it would enable educators and teachers to continue supporting families through this challenging time,’ said ECA CEO Samantha Page.
‘During the first wave of the pandemic, we saw some exemplary practice in which educators maintained contact with children who were being kept at home. That needs to be our main focus now in Melbourne and Mitchell shire.
Page also expressed concern for early childhood educators.
‘The employment guarantee the Minister referred to is simply a headcount clause in a funding contract that discourages providers from laying off educators and teachers. It does not guarantee any minimum wage be paid to those educators and teachers. A minimum income payment should be added to the employment guarantee.’
Parent’s advocacy group The Parenthood says the “rescue” package provided by the federal government is inadequate and has not given Victorian parents clarity nor secured income for early childhood educators.
“Because it’s up to the discretion of individual providers to determine whether they will waive the gap fee there is still considerable confusion,” Georgie Dent, executive director of The Parenthood said (Georgie is also contributing editor on Women’s Agenda).
“Asking parents to remain liable for a service they cannot use for six weeks, at a time of unprecedented job and income losses is unreasonable.”
“Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan said this package incentivises providers to waive the gap fee and to keep their staff employed but without enrolment numbers being guaranteed this will be compromised.”
Melbourne parents which children in ECEC will have an extra month of allowable absences (on top of the existing days) which will come at no cost…if providers waive the gap fee. @DanTehanWannon says services are being incentivised – but not compelled – to waive. #auspol— Georgie Dent (@georgiedent) August 5, 2020
The federal government will also provide a ‘top up’ payment for eligible services that receive low CCS payments. And the transition payment will be raised from 25 per cent to 30 per cent as a base.
Georgie says it is paramount that the federal government puts early childhood educators back on Jobkeeper to provide certainty to the sector.
“Putting early educators back on JobKeeper and reintroducing the emergency relief payment for services would have delivered the certainty and clarity families and educators desperately need.
“This is the second time in three months that the early childhood education system has fallen over, despite it being an essential service for both children and parents.
“We need Minister Tehan to deliver proper reform and funding to support the best possible early childhood education system,” she said.