ECEC sector responds to Government’s COVID-19 funding lifeline to protect viability
Prominent early childhood education and care (ECEC) groups and bodies have responded to yesterday’s announcement by Federal Minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge that the Federal Government will provide targeted support to ECEC service providers in Commonwealth declared COVID-19 hot spots.
Peak bodies such as Early Childhood Australia (ECA) and the Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) joined with service providers and other advocacy groups to offer support of the measure, whilst cautioning that the measure is simply another sign that a new approach to funding quality ECEC is needed.
“We need a system, like the school system, that is less fragile and based on children’s rights, that provides clarity and affordability to families and also provides secure employment to educators and teachers at professional wages,” ECA CEO Samantha Page said.
She described the decision as one which will be a welcome lifeline for services, and expressed hope that the funding will help ECEC settings provide more clarity to their employed staff and to the families who use their services.
The fate of ECEC employees was also discussed in a release from the United Workers Union (UWU), who expressed caution that the announcement includes “a raft of JobKeeper-style loopholes”.
By not linking the funding to wages, UWU ECEC Director Helen Gibbons said, there are no protections for workers. She implored ECEC providers to use the funding to support worker’s income and employment, and to commit to not cutting hours or forcing staff to take leave.
Ms Gibbon’s statement was supported by Executive Director of The Parenthood, Georgie Dent, who said it was disappointing that it had taken eight weeks of lockdown in Greater Sydney to provoke action from the Federal Government.
“Early learning providers and educators deserve so much respect and security from our political leaders as they are frontline essential services that have supported Australia through this pandemic,” she said.
“It is not acceptable for a sector as valuable and critical as early education and care to be this vulnerable in a crisis. We need the Federal Government to start looking at how we fund and deliver early education in a way that is more sustainable, secure and creates better outcomes for children, families and educators.”
An opportunity for reflection on how ECEC is funded
A common thread within the responses was that situations such as the current pandemic offer an opportunity for policy makers to reflect on how ECEC is funded.
Without a comprehensive plan and long-term funding commitments, Thrive by Five CEO Jay Weatherill said, the ECEC sector will “remain unstable”.
“This is the third time in about two years that lack of government support has pushed the early learning system to the brink of collapse. It’s unsustainable for such an essential service, it’s exhausting for providers, educators and parents, and it’s disrespectful of our children’s future,” Mr Weatherill said.
“The lasting solution is building a universally accessible, high-quality and affordable early learning and childcare system, not ad hoc tinkering on a system in need of reform.”
Goodstart Early Learning, Australia’s largest ECEC provider, welcomed the announcement saying the decision will help keep children, families and educators safe while ensuring services can remain open, ready for when families return.
“We thank Minister Tudge for listening to the sector’s concerns and announcing this measure,” Goodstart CEO Julia Davison said.
ACA President Paul Mondo said the support will make the difference between remaining open or being forced to close for a number of providers in NSW and Victoria, saying that ACA members are “extremely grateful for this rapid response to what is another emerging crisis in our sector”.
“Coupled with the government’s recent allowance for service providers in declared hotspots to waive the gap fee to families during this period, we hope this new policy provides the assistance our sector so desperately needs,” he added.
Representing the outside school hours care (OSHC) sector, the Outside School Hours Council of Australia strongly supported the announcement, which it said will provide “much needed relief” to the OSHC sector more broadly, following “a tremendously tough year.”
“We’ve greatly appreciated the opportunity to work closely with the Government over recent months to ensure the specific challenges of the OSHC sector are well understood, and the undeniable community need for OSHC services is recognised,” a Council spokesperson said.
For a comprehensive analysis of the recent funding announcement please see here.