“Childcare and early childhood education is critical,” was how the PM opened the press conference in Canberra on Thursday afternoon. Particularly for Australians, he continued, who rely on it to go to work everyday. Not just the more obvious ‘essential’ workers who are nurses or doctors but for the cleaners in hospitals and the truck drivers who ensure food is stocked in supermarkets.
It was a promising start and things only improved when the PM announced that from Sunday evening, the government will begin paying childcare centres directly and parents won’t be charged.
So long as services remain open and do not charge families for care the Government will pay 50 per cent of the sector’s fee revenue, based on their earnings before the pandemic began.
— PatriciaKarvelas (@PatsKarvelas) April 2, 2020
The old system, we were told, is effectively being switched off for now and a totally new arrangement will be introduced, likely for at least six months.
“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,” the PM said in a statement. “Priority will be given to working parents, vulnerable and disadvantaged children that need early education more than ever and parents with pre-existing enrolments.”
The new funding will apply from 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.
This plan will support families while also ensuring as many of the sector’s 13,000 child care and early learning services as possible can keep their doors open for workers and vulnerable families who need the services.
It provides funding certainty to early childhood education and care services at a time where enrolments and attendance are highly unpredictable. This, along with the JobKeeper payment to supplement the wages of educators, will mean services can offer free education and care.
“It means building a bridge for these valuable services to the other side of this virus so they can continue to play their valuable role in our workforce and education systems and so Australia can bounce back strongly,” the PM said.
The education minister said that any families who terminated the enrolment of any child since 17 February are encouraged to get back in contact and re-start existing arrangements.
“Re-starting your enrolment will not require you to send your child to child care and it certainly won’t require you to pay a gap fee,” the education minister said in a statement. “Re-starting your enrolment 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.”
PM stresses this free childcare deal is temporary. This decision will change childcare funding in Australia forever though, I suspect. We will not go back easily to old system
— 𝕤𝕒𝕞𝕒𝕟𝕥𝕙𝕒 𝕞𝕒𝕚𝕕𝕖𝕟 (@samanthamaiden) April 2, 2020
These arrangements will not be permanent but it is very unlikely this won’t create some kind of systemic change. Is it too much to hope this will be the start of a fundamental shift in the understanding and appreciation of the vital role early education and care plays?