‘Government dispute’ results in home-based ECEC program being axed in Cockburn
The Western Australian City of Cockburn will no longer offer its popular in-home care (IHC) early childhood education and care (ECEC) program, with officials naming rising costs and a tax office decision forcing the City to pay workers superannuation as “the straws that broke the camel’s back”.
The closure comes into effect next month, and is set to impact 23 families. The program supports families with challenging and complex needs, such as caring for a child with additional needs or disability, a parent undergoing treatment for a serious illness or other complex or challenging family situations. Up to 100 hours of subsidised care per child per fortnight is provided through the program.
In discussions with local publication Perth Now, city representatives said the space was becoming increasingly difficult to navigate, saying they had received no Federal funding for the program since July 2018. Coupled with changes to funding criteria, cost increases of up to 27 per cent and new work health and safety laws, this has meant the council decided this month to close the service.
Speaking on behalf of the Council, Chief of Community Services Gail Bowma, said it was “inappropriate to keep using ratepayers’ money to effectively subsidise the Commonwealth obligation”.
The City spent $76,000 on legal costs after it challenged the ATO’s decision over superannuation rights for the workers providing the care program.
“No funding of any kind is provided by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment to the City of Cockburn for the operation of IHC, therefore all additional costs relating to meeting the employment cost requirements would have to be passed on to parents,” Ms Bowman told the paper.
Given that many of the parents accessing the program do so because they are experiencing complex and challenging circumstances, such as serious illness or disability, affordability of the program is a major concern for the council, she added.
“The closure of the Cockburn IHC Service is clearly the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government and its contracted (and funded and controlled) IHC Support Agencies,” Ms Bowman said, adding that the Department “has refused to assist,” leaving the City with a large debt.
A Department spokesperson said it was working with the WA IHC Support Agency to ensure Cockburn’s affected families and educators were able to move to a new IHC service of their choosing.
The Council has had to transfer nearly $800,000 from its staff payments reserve to cover the superannuation liability for the past five years. The closure on 23 December will leave the City of Kwinana as Perth’s only local government assisting with an in-home service.
To access the original coverage of this story please see here.
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