OSHC sector deeply concerned at Government backtrack on committed COVID support
A coalition of five large outside school hours care (OSHC) providers has released a statement in response to the latest clarification on the Victorian Stage 4 lockdown funding package in which it expresses “surprise and disappointment” at new funding levels and eligibility criteria that have been released.
At the heart of the concern is a mismatch between commitments made by Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan on 5 August 2020 regarding top up payments for services where the Child Care Subsidy component of their total revenues was below a predetermined threshold and details, including eligibility criteria, of how the payments are to be calculated in the just released Community Child Care Fund (CCCF) Special Circumstances Guidelines.
A spokesperson from the collective said “Coming to terms with the content of the guidelines released earlier in the week has been a particular challenge for the OSHC sector. Not only have we invested significant amounts of time trying to articulate the challenges we are facing to Department representatives but we now have to contend with support levels that fall well short of Minister Tehan’s initial commitments and his assurance that services would be topped up to 80 per cent to 85 per cent of their pre-CoVid-19 revenue levels.”
“This long-awaited but inadequate funding package comes despite tireless effort by OSHC providers to maintain full transparency and communication with the Government, in order to help develop solutions to both immediate and longer-term issues impacting the OSHC sector.”
“We are now seeking urgent clarification from the Government around how it plans to meet its stated intention to support us and bridge this gap between the funding that was announced and what is being offered.”
In the wake of Victoria entering into Stage Four Lockdown, Minister Tehan held a press conference at which he introduced a comprehensive support package for the child care sector, including both long day care and outside school hours care providers.
Mr Tehan confirmed that allowable absences for parents would be boosted by further 30 days and, in addition to the transition payments of 25 per cent already being paid, all services would receive a further 5 per cent top up.
He also stated that “for those services who have an average Child Care Subsidy rate of less than 50 per cent, who see a reduction in their enrolments, or, sorry, a reduction in their attendance to below 30 per cent, they will get top-up payments between 10 per cent and 25 per cent” as well as stating that “services, on average, will be getting revenue – based on the pre-COVID fortnight – on average, between 80 to 85 per cent.”
This commitment was of particular importance to the OSHC sector as it would enable eligible services to secure an additional line of funding that would help mitigate the low levels of CCS that they were able to retain from their families using further allowable absences as overall enrolment levels recorded during the lockdown were materially lower, especially relative to centre based services.
However, according to the latest release of CCCF Guidelines for the Transition Payment, Special Transition Payment and Additional Viability Support Payments the detail suggests some slippage in the original commitments which in turn is creating significant distress in the OSHC community.
Specifically, that the “low CCS as a percentage of revenue ” top up payments for OSHC have now been capped at 10 per cent, not 25 per cent as per the original announcement and that the proportion of CCS in total revenue threshold used to determine eligibility has now been reduced to 40 per cent from 50 per cent, both of which impact OSHC service grant eligibility negatively.
The OSHC spokesperson said; “The outcome of the recent financial support package, the time taken to provide guidance and the lack of clarity from the Government continues to exacerbate the stress and anxiety facing OSHC providers and more importantly, their workforce.”
“The inability for providers to plan with any certainty means the essential child care workers who have turned up every day since the pandemic began have little financial security, which will lead to mass exits from the sector resulting in long-lasting issues around the provision of quality outside school hours care for families both now and into the future.”
Looking forward the consortium reiterates their willingness to engage constructively with Government to address the very specific challenges that the OSHC sector is facing and ensure the sector can support children, families and ultimately the nation as it emerges from COVID-19.