Families keep children at home as flu and COVID-19 wreak havoc on educator numbers

Families keep children at home as flu and COVID-19 wreak havoc on educator numbers

by Freya Lucas

June 02, 2022

An already stretched early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector is battling with illness as Australia heads into winter, with COVID-19 continuing to impact, along with a heavy presence of Influenza A in the community. 

 

For some services, including Victoria’s Barry Beckett Children’s Centre in Coburg, desperate times call for desperate measures, resulting in requests for families to keep their children at home unless it is vital for them to attend care while educator numbers are down due to illness. 

 

Carla Bottari has two daughters who attend the service, deciding to work from home and care for the girls to support the team as COVID sweeps through the centre. Speaking with The Age assistant director Holly Hamilton said a combination of colder weather, the relaxation of mask mandates for staff and an increase in colds and flu had left the service struggling to meet educator-to-child ratios.

 

Even last ditch measures, such as relying on expensive agency staff, are failing because, as Ms Hamilton said “there’s nobody out there.”

 

“I’ve worked in early learning for eight years, and you’ve always been able to get last-minute staff, and that’s just not a possibility at the moment.”

 

The ECEC sector, she continued, is particularly suffering with the pandemic, which she says has felt like a decade to those working directly with children, unable to work from home, and regularly exposed to illness. 

 

“It has deterred a lot of people and a lot of people have left,” she said. “I hope that it’s just a fleeting moment, and we can re-engage them.”

 

The challenges aren’t limited to educators, with Julie Price, Executive Director of the Community Child Care Association, noting that experienced leaders are quitting or retiring early after burning out during the pandemic.

 

While leaders and educators alike are both frustrated, and concerned about a drop in the quality of education and care they can provide, solutions are thin on the ground, Ms Price continued. 

 

“There’s not a pool of workers that we can get to work in education and care, and the pay and conditions aren’t really a big attraction.”

 

To access the original coverage of this story, please see here

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