Vacation care programs hit by COVID-19 staffing issues, leaving parents scrambling
Outside school hours care (OSHC) programs who have spent months planning engaging vacation care activities and outings have been left in a precarious position as COVID-19 staffing shortages force dozens of educators into isolation, leaving parents scrambling to find alternative arrangements.
The significant disruption to these programs, the Sydney Morning Herald wrote, foreshadows the challenges ahead for the education sector, including how schools will cope as rising infections threaten teacher and student absences.
Bookings for this vacation care period are down by nearly half their usual levels, Michael Abela, president of the Outside School Hours Council of Australia told the paper.
“There have been a lot of families quarantining as well as some people being a little bit risk averse,” he said. “And of course our staff, we’ve got a lot of them quarantining and that’s causing challenges in terms of the logistics of organising services.”
As a result, providers are making a choice between cancelling services, cutting hours, or capping the number of children allowed into the program, at what should be one of the busiest times of the year.
“We’re seeing [services] at a reduced state, which puts a significant financial burden on providers,” he said.
“The sector is working its hardest to make things work but at the moment we are openly seeking support from the federal government.”
About 430 early childhood centres were closed nationally on Tuesday due to COVID-19 or other public health emergencies, including 292 in NSW, which spans both early learning centres and vacation care services.
Oliver Murphy, director of West Ryde Before and After School Care vacation care program, told The Sydney Morning Herald that at least 60 children were left without holiday care this week after three days of the program were cancelled due to staff shortages.
“Parents are frustrated, and they have had no warning,” he said. “Unless we see changes to isolation rules this will keep happening. We don’t have enough educators to operate. There might be changes to isolation contact requirements but whether that’s a good idea or not is another question.”
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