Australian Government COVID-19 support measures for ECEC extended to next June
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) services will be able to waive families’ gap fees until 30 June 2022, if the service, or part of the service, has to close because of a confirmed case of COVID-19, or if a family has been directed to isolate, Federal Minister for Education Alan Tudge announced late yesterday.
A further 10 allowable absence days will be available to families nationally through to 30 June 2022, bringing the total number of allowable absences for the current financial year to 52 days, in a pair of measures designed to provide support to ensure the ECEC sector remains strong during this transition period, and families have the flexibility and support they need to keep children enrolled in care.
Praise for sector from Minister
The ECEC sector, the Minister said, has done “an outstanding job under difficult circumstances,” in terms of remaining open and keeping staff employed.
“As support arrangements for Commonwealth-declared hotspots end, our focus shifts to ensuring services successfully adapt to living with COVID-19, and children can continue to access early childhood education and care and parents can return to work,” he added.
Since August 2021, the Government has provided a total of $278 million in fortnightly payments to more than 6,300 childcare and outside school hours care services. Payments were made to 3,420 services in NSW ($133 million), 2,643 in Victoria ($124 million) and 272 in the ACT ($20 million).
“The fortnightly payments have helped childcare services weather the COVID-19 storm so that as jurisdictions come out of lockdown, they are able to continue the vital role they play for families and keep staff employed,” Minister Tudge said.
Peak bodies respond
“After such a tumultuous 18 months, it’s so important that we continue to support children’s early learning,’” ELACCA CEO Elizabeth Death said.
“Families have been under significant pressure and we need to ensure they have every support to keep their children enrolled in early learning and care, for the sake of children’s wellbeing and parents’ capacity to stay engaged in the workforce.”
ACA President Paul Mondo said these measures will help remove financial pressure on families who test COVID-positive and/or are directed to isolate, or simply cannot attend the early learning service during a temporary period of closure.
“We have already witnessed this scenario many times, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, and we know that families struggle to continue paying fees when unable to work due to isolation requirements,” Mr Mondo said.
Not enough support for providers
Ms Death commented that the announcement, while welcome news for families, does not adequately address the added financial pressures on early learning and care providers.
“Waiving gap fees is a great support for families, but it does reduce income for early learning and care services,” Ms Death said.
“At the same time, these services are spending more than ever on safety and hygiene measures, including additional staff to implement them.”
‘We look forward to receiving further advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) on safe operating procedures, but we also know these procedures come at a cost,” she continued, pledging to continue to work closely with governments around Australia on a system to keep children and educators safe, while also safeguarding the viability of early learning and care providers.
To access the Minister’s announcement, please see here.