Advocates note the impact of CCS on vulnerable children and families highlighted by data release

by Freya Lucas

April 15

A recent Federal Department of Education and Training data release detailing the impact of the child care subsidy (CCS) on the early education and care (ECEC) sector has re-raised concerns that the new legislation is impacting vulnerable and children and families negatively.  

 

In an article published today by the Sydney Morning Herald prominent sector advocates have expressed their concerns about the “huge drop in the number of vulnerable families claiming subsidies for the cost of care, fearing red tape and tougher eligibility criteria.”

 

The concerns come in the wake of the first quarterly release of the Child Care in Australia information report which draws on data gathered by the Federal Department of Human Services post the implementation of CCS.

 

Despite showing an overall increase in the number of hours attended by children in an average week and a small increase in overall attendance numbers, the report also showed that the number of families and children accessing the Additional Child Care Subsidy (ACCS) in the September quarter had fallen markedly from the previous year.

 

Background

 

Following the change to the CCS, and in the year to September 2018, the number of children supported by the childcare safety net fell by more than 14,000 children, to around 21,000, according to data from the Federal Department of Education and training.

 

Within that group the largest drops were among families with children classified as being at risk, those from families with financial hardship, and the children of parents who are unemployed and accessing support to transition to paid employment.

 

In recent Senate estimates, figures were cited showing that only one third of the 70,000 low income families who were expected to access the additional CCS using safety net entitlements have actually ended up doing so.  

 

Speaking with the Herald, advocacy manager for Goodstart Early Learning, John Cherry, said “those two things have us really worried – it’s a huge drop”. He attributed the “drop outs” to tightening of criteria for temporary financial hardship, and the more stringent approval process for children potentially at risk. Anecdotally, Mr Cherry said, “many families were also having trouble navigating Centrelink”

 

Impact on children and families.

 

The Sector spoke with Joanna Tutt from Appleberries Early Education Service Beenleigh, Queensland who spoke about the challenges faced by the families at her service who have applied for the additional child care subsidy (ACCS).

 

Ms Tutt said the focus on evidence, in terms of demonstrating that a child is at risk was a challenge, with some families experiencing risk factors but not being in a position to produce or obtain evidence such as police reports or court documents, saying it was “crazy” that families had to pay full fees while Centrelink deliberates, accruing huge debts which they are then responsible for if Centrelink rules against them.

 

In the instance where a family experiences unemployment, Ms Tutt said, “they are immediately put on 24 hours per fortnight, and told to find a job…only they can’t afford to pay the fees while they are seeking a new role”

 

Centre Manager from Community Kids Kadina, Jodi Panozzo, said her frustrations with ACCS were focussed more around the time taken to resolve applications – it simply takes too long, leaving vulnerable children and families facing uncertainty during already stressful periods in their lives.

 

Mr Cherry expressed to the Herald his concern about a lack of stability for the children involved, saying “for a lot of them, (attending ECEC) was a stable, secure, safe environment, while everything around their family was whirling in turmoil”

 

His thoughts were echoed by Samantha Page, CEO of Early Childhood Australia, who told the Herald that the ECEC sector was “deeply concerned” about the changes to the landscape, and the impact that has made on the drop in vulnerable families seeking support. Ms Page expressed her view that many parents are opting themselves out of the system, believing they will not meet the requirements for the activity test.

 

She spoke about the ‘double edged sword’ for families who are vulnerable – in order to demonstrate a level of vulnerability sufficient enough to qualify for assistance under the additional subsidy, families may be compromising themselves in terms of legal positioning or in the eyes of child protection services.

 

The original coverage as provided by The Sydney Morning Herald is available here.

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