Free childcare ends today as Child Care Subsidy switches back on

Stardust Childcare Centre Director Ros Thackray reads to pre-schoolers Charlie, Ella, Aaron, Eli, Oliver and Ahan. Picture: Karleen Minney
Stardust Childcare Centre Director Ros Thackray reads to pre-schoolers Charlie, Ella, Aaron, Eli, Oliver and Ahan. Picture: Karleen Minney

The coronavirus pandemic brought about a sense of fear and uncertainty for Stardust Childcare Centre director Ros Thackray.

Not only did the childcare system change to being free for parents with limited reimbursement from the government, educators were expected to turn up to work while others were sheltering at home.

"We are an industry that cannot protect ourselves because little children cannot socially distance," she said.

Attendance at the Tuggeranong childcare centre dropped to about 50 per cent during the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mrs Thackray said the federal government's childcare package along with the JobKeeper payment allowed the centre to stay afloat.

From Monday the system will change again. Parents will go back to paying their usual fees while providers will be able to access a government transition payment of 25 per cent of their pre-pandemic fees.

From July 20, the sector will lose access to the JobKeeper payment, the first eligible sector to have it removed before the September cutoff.

Mrs Thackray said most of the centre's parents were still employed so the new scheme should work, but having JobKeeper available would have created more certainty.

"Being singled out again really says we're not of great value. We're not as good as teachers. We don't matter."

Early Childhood Australia chief executive Samantha Page said providers were shocked that the JobKeeper payment was being removed so soon.

"I think that the sector is almost holding its breath to see what happens this week and beyond to see how many families continue to send their children to early education settings and whether they can afford to do that and what level of support they're going to get from the government.

"I just think there are so many unknowns."

Ms Page said it was an opportune time to review the Child Care Subsidy system in order to simplify it and make it more appropriate for the current economic climate.

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Until October 4, parents who were previously meeting the activity test to get subsidised hours of childcare do not need to report their activity, meaning they automatically will have 100 hours of subsidised care per fortnight.

However, the peak body believes this test should be scrapped as parents face a difficult job market where it would be hard to say with certainty how many hours of work they do each fortnight. Other activities that count towards the test, including volunteering and jobseeking, are also impractical or impossible during the pandemic.

"The activity test actually rules out only a very small portion of families anyway under normal circumstances so really it's just unnecessary administration and it's not helping anybody."

Ms Page said an investment in fully subsidised childcare for the rest of the year would be a worthy stimulus measure, with at least a two-for-one return on every dollar spent.

"We get a return because parents can work, we get a return because children have a better chance of making a smooth transition to school... and we get a return by reducing inequality and the number of children at risk of poor educational outcomes."

Mrs Thackray said the subsidy system was fair as it was based on families' incomes, but could be improved.

"If it was changed I would like to see it changed so educators got higher wages for the important work that they do."

This story 'We don't matter': Free childcare ends but educators still face uncertainty first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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