We need clarity – Rishworth adds voice to ECEC calls for clearer COVID-19 guidance

by Freya Lucas

March 26

Speaking on behalf of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Development Amanda Rishworth has called on Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan to “act with urgency” saying the impacts of COVID-19 on the early childhood education and care sector have left the sector “vulnerable to collapse”. 

 

Recognising the efforts made by the Federal Government to continue paying Child Care Subsidy (CCS) to services who are directed to close as a result of the pandemic, Ms Rishworth said more needed to be done to address what she termed “rapidly declining enrolment rates”. 

 

As more and more families withdraw their children from care, services are experiencing threats to viability, as CCS cannot be claimed unless a child remains enrolled. Attendance rates will only get worse, Ms Rishworth believes, as more families choose to cease enrolment of their children if they are working from home, lose their jobs, or make a personal decision about their child’s attendance.

Several providers have consulted with the ALP, providing feedback on the current state of affairs at service level.  One provider shared that in the past week 65 places have been lost, leading to a deficit in predicted income of $6,825, with “many more” families signalling that they will shortly cease enrolments due to job losses and other factors. 

“I’ve had to send four educators home today, due to very low numbers. It’s not financially viable to be open at the moment. We are losing enrolments rapidly in line with the change of employment circumstances of our families. Therefore, at the time that we are mandated to close, depending on the duration we are expected to remain open in the interim, we may not have any remaining families, or may have so few families remaining so as to be unviable to operate financially and therefore may not have any entitlement to CCS,” another provider said. 

 

The concern within the sector, Ms Rishworth said, is that if the Government does not provide urgent support to early learning providers “we may end up facing the widespread permanent closure of early learning centres”.

 

Given the fact that 1.2 million families rely on the ECEC system, the permanent closure of early learning centres “will have serious and long-term economic, educational and social ramifications for Australia,” she added. 

 

“The Government must act today and introduce adequate support to ensure the early learning sector can survive this challenging time – there is no time to waste,” Ms Rishworth concluded.

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