Government provides summary of COVID-19 support measures for the ECEC sector
Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan yesterday released a summary of the efforts made by the Federal Government to support the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, and its subsequent economic impact.
While The Sector recognises that there are some elements of the ECEC community who continue to have challenges in accessing the levels of support they need in order to remain viable, we have chosen to share this information as an overview of the measures taken thus far.
The release of the summary comes as the Government seeks feedback from providers about the package, and is in line with a planned review after the Government has collected four weeks of data. This review, Mr Tehan said, will prioritise ensuring services that have capacity based on the relief package are providing care to the children of essential workers and vulnerable children.
Measures provided to support the sector
An additional $27 million, divided into grants of up to $10,000 per service, has been made available by the Government to ensure that services can continue providing care to the children of essential workers.
The additional funds are available in line with the ECEC Relief Package, which Mr Tehan explained was introduced in response to “a dramatic fall in attendance that threatened the viability of the sector”. Advocates within the sector communicated clearly with the Government that if no action was taken, “operators would go out of business, workers would lose their jobs, and families would lose their child care service altogether”.
In response, the Government announced on 6 April the advent of the ECEC Relief Package, which they believed would “guarantee revenue for operators” by working in conjunction with the JobKeeper Payment to ensure that services can continue to provide care during the COVID-19 pandemic and emerge on the other side.
It has since transpired that this measure requires some finessing to support council based services, services run in independent schools, and services which are run by charities who have mixed offerings, such as ECEC, aged care, and community support.
The measure also leaves those educators who are not eligible for JobKeeper payments, due to the length of time they have been employed, their visa status and other reasons, in a vulnerable position.
JobKeeper, Mr Tehan said, was chosen as a key element of the Government’s Relief Package “because approximately 60 per cent of a child care services’ costs relate to staff wages”.
Therefore, under the Relief Package, the Government is seen to be covering most of a services’ staffing costs, on top of paying half of the revenue they would have received under normal circumstances.
Monitoring data and seeking feedback
Part of the relief package is a planned review after the Government has collected four weeks of data. This review will prioritise ensuring services that have capacity based on the relief package are providing care to the children of essential workers and vulnerable children.
The Government is monitoring data for evidence of services that are artificially keeping attendance below capacity while receiving the Government’s support payment, which is in contravention of the conditions of the package.
Information about such practices can be directed to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment’s tip off line 1800 664 231 or emailing [email protected]
Government relies on services to provide care to “as many children as they can”
Mr Tehan’s statement noted that the Federal Government “is providing substantial support for services” that has given them certainty to plan appropriately to get through the pandemic, and that in return, services who accept payment through the package are required to remain open and prioritise the children of essential service workers, vulnerable children and families with an existing relationship with the service.
“The Government listened to the sector and acted on their advice, and it relies on services providing care to as many children as they can with the staff and resources they have,” he added.
Hinting at some practices within the sector, which have seen service providers decline new enrolments or an increase in days based on concerns about not being able to adequately fund these places due to the metrics of the relief package, Mr Tehan said “While services may not have the usual incentives to take on children during this time, they need to consider the staff and resources they have available to provide and maximise the care for families that need it during this national emergency.”
“Every Australian has a role to play to help us get through the COVID-19 pandemic, from child care services, to frontline health workers, to the teachers providing continuity of education to our students and the workers ensuring the supermarket shelves are stocked with essential items,” he continued.
Where services have increased demand and feel they cannot afford to meet it based on current levels of support, Mr Tehan emphasised that exceptional circumstances funding is available, meaning that if a service has more children attending now than it had during the reference period it can apply to receive a higher payment.
To read this statement in full, please see here.
The Sector has released extensive summaries about many elements of the recent changes in education and care. To access these summaries, please see the dedicated COVID-19 tab of the website, here.