Australia’s childcare sector is in need of a desperate overhaul in order to see it survive beyond the pandemic, with relief hopefully coming this week. But Andrea Christie-David from Leor In Home Early Learning says there’s a hidden, under-utilised piece that has the capacity to support healthcare workers.
It is hard to miss the fact that the childcare sector is on the brink of collapse as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as covered in Georgie Dent’s piece earlier this week.
Families are giving notice and cancelling their enrolments in droves, which cripples the cash flow of childcare operators. Most small centres are run by Mums and Dads who seek to make a small profit to support their own families. For most centres, the majority of their income goes towards rent and wages with only a small profit made unless they scale to more than one site. It is therefore a major focus of the Commonwealth Government right now to support the sector and see that it survives the pandemic, maintains its workforce, and remains a core piece of the puzzle that gives parents the ability to work. We wait with bated breath for the Government’s announcement on Friday for a rescue package for the sector.
However in the midst of a pandemic, a hidden piece of the childcare puzzle is coming to the fore to provide support to families juggling the demands of work and parenting in these challenging times. The In Home Care scheme has been around for 20 years, but in 2018 when the new Child Care Subsidy package was announced, the previously known ‘nanny pilot’, was officially turned into the In Home Care scheme. It became regulated in line with other providers of the Child Care Subsidy, and it established In Home Care Support Agencies in each State and Territory to approve families’ access to the scheme.
The purpose of the In Home Care scheme is to allow families to access childcare in their home where mainstream childcare is unavailable or inappropriate to meet their needs. These families include those working non-standard hours or rotating rosters where childcare centres or outside school hours services are not open during the hours they work; families in regional or remote locations where there is no childcare available; or those who have complex needs such as compromised immune systems, developmental delays, or complex behavioural needs.
The scheme is regulated by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Skills and Employment, the same Department working furiously with the rest of Government to save the entire childcare sector. The scheme is capped but under-utilised, and given that parents now need to work from home and keep their children out of school unless they are essential workers, it is now supporting many more parents who need to work to keep their jobs in this challenging economic environment.
The In Home Care scheme is, by no means, a perfect model. The hourly rate for In Home Care sits at $32.58 per hour, which is based on Educators engaging in independent contracting arrangements with In Home Care providers rather than employment contracts. This means that those providers offering leave entitlements and benefits to their Educators must pass on a high out of pocket fee to families. The regulatory, oversight, and supervision costs are not accounted for in the hourly rate, and for a family earning an average wage and sitting on a 50% Child Care Subsidy allocation, it often means that families may as well hire a nanny rather than access the scheme that was designed to support them. But this hasn’t stopped the sector from finding ways to give families access to home based childcare when they need it most, whilst also lobbying Government to make the scheme work better for hardworking parents.
The Australian Home Childcare Association, which represents the In Home Care sector, made urgent submissions last week to the Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit within the Treasury Department outlining ways to improve access to the scheme during the pandemic. They suggested expanding the Additional Child Care Subsidy to include healthcare workers, increasing the cap to allow more families to access the scheme during the pandemic, and lifting the embargo on Educators supervising school work in the home whilst schools are closed or excluding children of non-essential workers. The Association also proposed measures that would allow In Home Care providers to engage the workforce currently being stood down by childcare centres to support both families and the wider childcare sector.
We anticipate that the Government’s announcement tomorrow will be a saviour for the sector, as we all know how long it will take to rebuild and offer real support for working parents in the event of a collapse. In the meantime, however, this hidden piece of the childcare puzzle has the capacity to support more families now, allowing healthcare workers to leave their child at home, whilst they spend their days saving lives.
Andrea Christie-David is a lawyer, entrepreneur and director of a charity. Andrea is passionate about gender equality, access to justice, and equal access to early childhood education.