Childcare sector says they won’t survive beyond COVID-19 without urgent help

Genevieve Jacobs 26 March 2020 24
Frances Crimmins

Frances Crimmins says the childcare sector in the ACT may not survive the COVID crisis without urgent help. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

One of Canberra’s largest not for profit childcare and social services providers says that unless the Commonwealth Government urgently releases childcare subsidy funds, the ACT sector faces devastating consequences and may not survive the COVID-19 crisis.

Speaking today at the Campbell Cottage Child Care Centre, YWCA chief executive officer Frances Crimmins issued a blunt warning that as 70 to 90 per cent of parents remove their children from childcare centres and most stop paying fees, the sector cannot survive the hit, with dire consequences for the economy and children’s safety.

“The childcare subsidy already exists and is budgeted. Now what’s occurring is the government is just not having to pay it out. So the money is there, we actually just want the money already there to be paid out,” she said.

“Without income from the childcare subsidy, most centres will be closed within a few weeks and, by that, I mean insolvent. There will be very limited opportunities for people to re-open rapidly after the crisis.”

While the absentee policy for childcare has been relaxed, Ms Crimmins said that many parents are withdrawing their children completely because they can no longer pay the fees to keep their places. When there are no fees from parents, no childcare subsidy is paid and consequently, there is no income for centres.

“I can totally respect a parent’s position, particularly if they have just been made unemployed. But the notion that a parent can continue to pay early learning fees through absenteeism for months is not a good policy position because it doesn’t see the income flowing through to us,” Ms Crimmins said.

While there is a COVID-19 provision in place for paying some childcare subsidies, that can only happen if a child, employee or an educator contracts the disease, a situation Ms Crimmins described as “appalling”.

A number of YWCA staff will be stood down from close of business tomorrow (27 March), but Ms Crimmins said the centres must be able to stay open where parents are playing an essential role in the crisis.

“Essential workers like medical professionals still need childcare for their kids, and Canberra needs a childcare sector when social isolation restrictions cease,” she said.

“If we could retain 50 per cent of funding, we could provide professional development for staff, people in traineeships could continue from home and we could ensure that we could staff our centres as required to meet all regulations for those people who really need them. Then we can start bringing our employees straight back in as soon as this is over.

“The other risk is that we see people going into ad hoc care arrangements and we lose the regulation framework. Children’s safety is number one. As soon as we see that occur, that’s a high risk for children.”

Ms Crimmins also made a plea for childcare workers to have the right to be tested early like healthcare workers and receive essential personal protective equipment.

“We are asking them to put their health on the line to care for only those who should be in care,” she said

“We don’t want our centres full, we only want those who need the care”.

Member for Canberra Alicia Payne, who was also at the press conference, said the Commonwealth needed to urgently come up with an action plan for childcare.

“Early childhood workers will lose their jobs but people in essential services won’t be able to work because they are caring for their children,” she said, adding there was a real risk that childcare centres will not continue to exist after the crisis passed.

“Centres are being asked to stay open so they can continue to do their jobs. The incredible work they do is even harder when you are ensuring strict hygiene and containing any risk. Social distancing with toddlers is challenging to say the least when they can’t access the essential equipment they need.

“If you can stay home, do so, lives are at stake. But some people can’t,” she said.

Ms Crimmins said that like many not-for-profits, the YWCA had created diversified income streams that were not reliant on government funding, and that the childcare crisis had the potential to seriously affect all YWCA programs.

“We’ve all done what the government told us to do and become independent,” she said. “You got the lecture not to rely on government funding, but now everything has evaporated. All the mechanisms set up to maintain funding for all our other programs have gone.

“We need a policy position now. We can’t afford to wait another week. We need to retain the sector and keep it and the community safe.”

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24 Responses to Childcare sector says they won’t survive beyond COVID-19 without urgent help
Jenny Stucki Jenny Stucki 2:23 pm 27 Mar 20

I was a single mum, working long hours. I would have enjoyed a centre. But as I was working 24 hour shifts ,Sometimes a fortnight or more away, it would not have worked. So between workers we trusted those too young to each other, our teens learned to cook , clean, shop, I felt very guilty, but my children made it to school, went on to have careers. It was tough, but we got there. I am sorry the world does not have more nans like me to take care of grandchildren. I love the park, catching the wild creatures. Teaching them to swim, follow and identify animal tracks. Painting etc. My grands have impecable manners and now one has began school, super social and a teachers delight. I wish all the mums out there had a family that could be there. The centers have a role but if those kids get sick maybe they will lose a lot of magic the elders will instill. We are not useless. So please ask the gov for what you need but do not be greedy. I want to see my grands for a long time. , My daughter teaches kinder , but we did not do childcare, nans time.

54-11 54-11 12:33 pm 27 Mar 20

My observations are that childcare directors have not yet taken this seriously enough. They need to circle the wagons, look at their which of their activities are vital, and which are “nice to haves”. Their budgets need to be examined line-by-line and unnecessary costs should be eliminated.

Many have got unproductive staff (middle managers, trainers, etc), who should be dispensable during crisis times.

It seems many centres are continuing business as usual, which is unsustainable for even a few more weeks.

Neil Willis Neil Willis 10:29 pm 26 Mar 20

Now that so many businesses have managed to find a way to work from home and adopt flexible rostering arrangements you might just find that child care is not in such high demand after this......

    Sarah Mac Sarah Mac 7:17 am 27 Mar 20

    Hey Neil, have you worked from home with a child or children to care for and educate, for an extended period of time, every day, all day? I am sure a lot of people could benefit from your insights at this point in time if you have managed that successfully.

    And a broader point...

    early child hood education is proven to be a key indicator in how successful a child will be at school, and how successful they will be as a member of society. Early childhood education is an essential service in times of crisis, and it times of peace and calm. Kids have a right to an early childhood education and we have an obligation to provide it, and protect the industry (especially the NFPs) at this time for its future viability.

    Neil Willis Neil Willis 7:49 am 27 Mar 20

    Sarah Mac my wife and I have been shiftworkers with kids for the 11 years and not supported by daycare.....

    Forcing us to pay for days we don’t need but not being available for the times we do need.

    Things won’t go back the same after this, many work practices will change as we find a new normal.....

    Early education is critical as you point out, and it will be required on the other side of this event, but I hope it looks very different to the model that has failed to meet the needs of those of us that don’t fit a 9-5 work model.....

    Sarah Mac Sarah Mac 8:12 am 28 Mar 20

    I can relate to that, Neil, as I worked as a casual teacher for many years and ended up paying for private in home care. A more flexible system would certainly be more equitable. We can't adapt and change an industry if it doesn't exist, though. We need to protect what we have and, I agree, hope that we have the ability to grow as needed at the end of it all.

Anna Kay Anna Kay 9:29 pm 26 Mar 20

I'm confused. My child care centre needs 4 weeks notice to leave and I'm not even leaving, I'm still paying and they are getting the subsidy

    Kate O'Sullivan Kate O'Sullivan 4:16 am 27 Mar 20

    Anna Kay unfortunately in this situation you are the minority not majority. We are seeing families who are now able to work from home and still receiving their normal income, removing their children from care. For example some services have lost more than 50% of their income. The government has not provided additional support which means that should services need to close for financial viability. And in order to continue to opperate after this period that as the government stands now their income would be zero as no subsidy would be paid to services voluntarily closing. Just today I have had to stand down seven staff and pending on next week potentially we will cease to operate as the costs are far greater than income.

    Anna Kay Anna Kay 9:32 am 27 Mar 20

    Kate O'Sullivan I could see that happening to my child care. It's not for profit. Very sad times

    Anna Kay Anna Kay 10:08 pm 29 Mar 20

    Jarrod Garth yeah. My centre says they pay people above award and return all profits into the centre

Max Welch Max Welch 7:31 pm 26 Mar 20

Many childcare centres are owned by hedge funds or just privately owned. They are extremely profitable. I don’t think they are top of the list for any support. Fees have gone up exponentially over the past few years with the change in funding model. The YWCA might be different as it’s a not for profit though.

    Margaret Makeham-Kirchner Margaret Makeham-Kirchner 10:38 pm 26 Mar 20

    in our region centres have already been struggling after a bad start to the year. If this doesn’t get fixed they will be insolvent and all those workers will liaise their jobs- this is really happening.

    Paul Dowden Paul Dowden 8:43 am 27 Mar 20

    Max Welch childcare centres owned by hedge funds, um, sure, maybe? If believing this makes you feel better.

    Shame about all the wonderful community run not-for-profit centres that have been peppered across Canberra since Federation and will disappear without urgent support.

    Max Welch Max Welch 8:48 am 27 Mar 20

    Paul Dowden Guardian childcare’s are owned by a hedge fund

Russell Hadley Russell Hadley 7:19 pm 26 Mar 20

No child at the centre no payments should be received.

    Katy Norman Katy Norman 8:08 pm 26 Mar 20

    Russell Hadley you want more people to be unemployed? You want the sector to collapse, so that when the pandemic is over people still can’t go to work?

    Russell Hadley Russell Hadley 5:55 am 27 Mar 20

    Katy Norman I have had my children, no help from grubberment, back then as a single parent there were no handouts. I arranged work around my boys. So why should taxpayers fund anothers spore.

    Katy Norman Katy Norman 6:10 am 27 Mar 20

    Russell Hadley it’s called civilisation. We help each other. I’m sorry you weren’t supported. Society also cares for people who choose to retire. Is that wrong too?

Dee Collins Dee Collins 6:53 pm 26 Mar 20

Childcare places will become fewer and more expensive making it harder and harder to access.

Lyn Heidtmann Lyn Heidtmann 6:42 pm 26 Mar 20

Educator's are already being laid off.

    Natalia Rose Natalia Rose 7:30 pm 26 Mar 20

    Paul Chubb you do realise that a lot of that fee also goes back into their work for homeless women and women with domestic violence ect? It’s not profit based business, they are literally helping the most disadvantaged women and children in the community. That’s what makes them special.

    Katy Norman Katy Norman 8:07 pm 26 Mar 20

    Paul Chubb without childcare centres, many people can’t work. They’re essential.

Alena Sarri Alena Sarri 6:36 pm 26 Mar 20

We are all in the same boat not sure why they should be any different 🤷🏻‍♀️

    Natalia Rose Natalia Rose 7:31 pm 26 Mar 20

    Alena Sarri you do realise that a lot of that fee also goes back into their work for homeless women and women with domestic violence ect? It’s not profit based business, they are literally helping the most disadvantaged women and children in the community. Also with this new social isolation situation domestic violence will go thru the roof. We are Gonna need their services more than ever mate

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