CCC makes a series of recommendations before CCS and parents’ fees are reinstated
As the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector awaits an anticipated announcement in relation to a return to child care subsidy (CCS) as signaled by the Prime Minister last week, a number of core advocacy organisations, including the Community Child Care Association (CCC), have made recommendations about how to enhance the previous system and improve outcomes for children and families.
In a submission to the Senate Select Committee, CCC noted that while child attendances “have been steadily increasing” since the introduction of “fee free” childcare, particularly in long day care and in regional areas, many families “are experiencing significant income reduction” even while they continue to work, meaning that families “may be unable to afford childcare fees if the CCS system is re-introduced too quickly”.
“As DESE’s Summary Report on the ECEC Relief Package four week review acknowledges, services may not be able to meet increasing demands for care within the constraints of the ECEC relief package and JobKeeper wage subsidy,” the submission read.
In order to ensure the viability and availability of ECEC services moving forward, ongoing support to services and families will, CCC said, be needed “to ensure that services remain viable, parents maintain employment, and families experiencing vulnerability receive the support they need.”
Before a return to a CCS and parent gap fee model is reinstated, CCC recommended the Commonwealth to implement the following:
- Make changes to policy with regard to CCS to support families, especially those experiencing vulnerability, to access education and care through this continuing COVID-19 crisis:
- Abolish the Activity Test indefinitely, or at least until January 2021. If it cannot be abolished, ensure that eligible activities are clearly and simply articulated and change all activity test results to 100 hours.
- Increase the hourly rate for all service types in a staged back approach to support families as the economy improves through the year. In July and August, families receive a 25 per cent increase on their hourly rate; for September and October, a step back to 15 per cent above June 2020 level; and November and December, 5 per cent above June 2020 level (on top of the CPI annual increase).
- Provide extra allowable absences for the 2020–21 financial year.
- Allow services to continue to waive gap fees for absences during the recovery period, particularly for vulnerable families
Access to ACCS could be made easier for vulnerable families, CCS said, by:
- Expanding the definition of families experiencing vulnerability to include the income and mental health impacts of COVID-19 and expanding the definition of ‘at risk of abuse or neglect’ to include these impacts;
- Applying automatic eligibility for ACCS (financial hardship) to any family receiving JobSeeker;
- Extending eligibility to all families if at least one parent has lost their income due to COVID-19;
- Applying a continuation of the ‘no-barriers’ access for vulnerable children; and,
- Applying an extension of six weeks for ACCS (wellbeing) cases that are due to expire or have expired throughout this period.
As well as these measures, CCC said, the following steps should be implemented;
Provide a safety net payment (accessible through Community Child Care Fund) for stand-alone services that are not viable in the transition, including for:
- Additional costs required for cleaning;
- Lower service capacity due to permanent staff with high vulnerability to COVID-19;
- Higher ratios in outside school hours care (OSHC) due to the drop-off/pick-up requirements implemented in schools away from the service; and d. Services not receiving JobKeeper for at least 50 per cent of their staff.
Ensure that JobKeeper wage subsidies remain available to the sector until the end of September 2020, and provide additional funding to support professional development with particular focus on:
- Managing a health crisis;
- Children’s health (including mental health) and wellbeing;
- Recognising the impact of stress and trauma on children and educators; and,
- Supporting children and educators experiencing stress and trauma. IF CCS changes are not ready for implementation on 29th June then:
- Extend the ECEC Relief Package with changes including:
- An extra payment, doubling the current amount for OSHC services providing vacation care; and,
- Increasing the ECEC Relief Package to 60% for all services.
CCC also expressed its concern about the impacts of COVID-19 on the education and care workforce, including the impact to the high number of casuals employed within the sector, and the number of preservice teachers employed in the OSHC sector who have been unable to undertake placement during the pandemic, potentially leaving services with few experienced OSHC educators as increased numbers of staff are out on practicums.
Further concern was expressed about workforce shortages being exacerbated by a delay in Diploma and Certificate III students being able to gain education and care qualifications because they have been unable to complete the practical hours required to demonstrate competency.
“The ability, particularly for our high quality community-based services, to take all the increased number of students requiring practicum placements in the second half of the year. We are concerned that the supply of new workers may be held up, however, do not want to compromise the quality of their career preparation by reducing practicum requirements. Whilst we understand the urgency to respond in these situations, the unintended consequences of some decisions to date have caused much stress and anxiety for the sector,” CCC said.
In closing CCC noted that they “welcome further discussions with the Government to inform and influence future policy impacting the education and care sectors.”
To read the submission in full, please see here.