Measures to support Greater Sydney during lockdown welcomed by ECEC sector peaks
Various early childhood education and care (ECEC) peak bodies including the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia (ELACCA), Early Childhood Australia (ECA), and the Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) have welcomed a recent decision by the Federal Government to allow providers of early learning and care services in the NSW lockdown zone to waive the ‘gap fee’ for children who are not currently attending ECEC because of restrictions.
The measures extend on a previous legislative change which allowed for those services who had been directed to close as a result of a public health direction to waive gap fees.
This decision enables services to lift a financial burden from families who are living through very stressful circumstances, ELACCA CEO Elizabeth Death said.
“Particularly for families who have experienced a loss of income due to the current lockdown, the waiving of the legal requirement to pay for care when their child is not attending will come as a big relief,” she added, noting benefits to ECEC services also, many of which have seen a drop in children’s attendances since the lockdown began last month, and with some families have cancelling their children’s enrolments altogether, rather than be liable for gap fee payments.
ECA CEO Samantha Page welcomed the decision as one which will ensure that educators continue to have paid employment and services can remain open for those who need them.
“While the measure is a good one, there is likely to be confusion and unnecessary pressure on services unless the fee waiver measure is backdated to 26 June to match the start of lockdown (currently it comes into effect Monday 19 July, but the lockdown commenced on 26 June),” she added.
ECA called on the Government to increase the number of allowable absences to reflect the five-week lockdown, and provide transition funding to services to protect the jobs of educators where these are at risk, consistent with the approach used during the Victoria lockdown in August 2020.
ECA has also written to federal and state health ministers calling for priority access to vaccinations for early childhood educators and teachers.
“The Delta strain is more contagious and poses a greater risk to adults and children. It is unreasonable to expect educators and teachers to keep working without the protection of vaccination—this should be an urgent priority,” Ms Page said.
ACA also welcomed the changes, estimating that the changes should provide assistance to over 200,000 families and 3,600 Early Childhood Education & Care (ECEC) centres in the locked down areas of Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour.
Service providers may also qualify for the business support payments announced earlier this week to help offset any loss of revenue as a result of the waiving of gap fees, ACA President Paul Mondo said.
“We would like to wholeheartedly thank the Minister for Education, the Treasurer and the Prime Minister for listening to our members and recognising the importance of ensuring that all Australian families have access to high quality early learning services, especially during these hard lockdowns,” he said in closing.
To learn more about the recent announcement see here.