Education Department releases guidance for ECEC on latest COVID-19 restrictions
The Federal Department of Education has released information for early childhood education and care (ECEC) services designed to support them in navigating the latest COVID-19 restrictions, particularly concerning New South Wales and Victoria.
In this advice, which was sent via email to those subscribed for updates, the Department strongly encouraged ECEC services to use official websites, such as NSW Health and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, to remain up to date with developments.
Changing restrictions, including border closures, may impact the ability of families and staff to travel across borders, and to and from designated hot spots, may affect who can attend any given ECEC service.
Health requirements may also mean educators, staff and children have to be tested for COVID-19 and to quarantine, and/or follow other rules. In some cases, people are still required to quarantine even if they have been cleared of the virus.
Services, the Department said, will need to give careful consideration to all this, and contingencies, as educators return to work and as services progressively become busier with the approaching new school year.
“It is incumbent on childcare services to stay up to date on how the constantly changing circumstances may affect your area and operations, and to plan in case of a local emergency even if one does not seem imminent,” the Department warned, recommending the following resources as useful, given the current circumstances:
- Restrictions for Northern Beaches, NSW Government website
- Restrictions for Greater Sydney, Central Coast and Wollongong, NSW Government website.
- COVID-19 restriction checker, a handy national tool
- Our Help in an emergency webpage, which outlines what constitutes a local emergency and what support is given by the Australian Government.
Absences and gap fees
Families are allowed to have 42 absences per child, per financial year, and some ECEC services are able to waive gap fees until 31 January 2021, in the event that they have been forced to close following public health advice.
Family Day Care and In Home Care providers, the Department said, must apply to waive gap fees.
Child Care Subsidy (CCS) can be paid for additional absences for COVID-19 related reasons without the need for medical evidence for the period 24 March 2020 to 31 December 2020.
If a child did not attend due to COVID-19, before 31 December 2020, services should submit any absences from 43 days and above as additional absences.
Select the reason as ‘illness’ and tick the evidence provided box. This will allow CCS to be paid for these absences. In the event that a service has submitted absences above the allowable 42 that were due to COVID-19, but failed to mark them as additional absences, these are able to be amended as outlined above.
A Local Area Emergency Declaration was made for child care services by the Department on 21 December 2021, allowing families who had already used their 42 absence days to have unlimited additional absence days if they cannot attend their child care service due to COVID restrictions. This declaration will remain in force until 11:59pm on Sunday 10 January.
All children attending a Victorian child care service will have an additional 45 days of extra absences in 2020-21, in addition to the existing 42 days for the 2020–21 financial year, making a total of 87 absence days that can be taken for any reason without the requirement for evidence.
Applications for the Community Child Care Fund Special Circumstances grant opportunity, which may provide financial help to eligible Child Care Subsidy approved services at risk of closure due to COVID-19 will close 31 January 2021.
Further information about which services are eligible for support under the grant, and how to apply, is available here.
The Department encouraged services to use the COVID-19 webpage to remain up to date as support changes depending on hotspots.