Essential workers have been handed a lifeline during the pandemic with Australia’s 13,000 childcare and early learning services to remain open for free, the Federal Government announced today (2 April).
The Commonwealth will pay 50 per cent of the sector’s revenue, worth $1.3 billion over the next three months, provided the services remain open and do not charge families for care, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
The funding is designed to support the sector and families who use the service.
“If you have a job in this economy, then that is an essential job in my view,” Mr Morrison said.
“Priority will be given to working parents, vulnerable and disadvantaged children that need early education more than ever and parents with pre-existing enrolments.
“This plan complements more than $1 billion we expect the sector to receive through our new JobKeeper payment to help ensure many of the 200,000 vital early education workforce can stay connected to services.”
Under the scheme, any childcare service that is being subsidised by the Government, which includes after-school care, will be free for parents.
From Monday, parents who have an existing relationship with a childcare centre will be able to continue sending their child there for free, and they will also able to extend the number of days the child attends the centre, subject to availability.
Parents who do not have children enrolled can still access free childcare if there are available places at a centre, Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan confirmed.
The scheme also includes parents who are working from home and will even extend to parents who are at home not working, Mr Tehan said.
The free childcare program will remain in place until 30 June, before being extended for a further three months when it will be reviewed by the Government.
“This package will help support families during these difficult times, particularly those who have lost their job and are doing it tough,” Mr Tehan said.
“Until the payments arrive, we are allowing services to waive gap fees for families who keep their children home, and families will be able to use the 20 extra absence days the government has funded for coronavirus-related reasons without giving up their place in a child care centre.”
Mr Tehan also encouraged parents who had pulled children out of childcare recently to re-enrol to ensure that they still have a spot when things start to get back to normal.
“If you have terminated your enrolment since 17 February, then I encourage you to get back in contact with your centre and re-start your arrangements,” Mr Tehan said.
“Re-starting your enrolment will not require you to send your child to childcare and it certainly will not require you to pay a gap fee.
“Re-starting your enrolment will, however, hold your place for that point in time when things start to normalise, and you are ready to take your child back to their centre.”
The Federal Government will also set aside more than $450 million for preschools in 2021 to support almost 350,000 children in an attempt to provide certainty to the sector.
The subsidies are on top of the JobKeeper payment and cashflow boosts to small businesses which many centres will receive as they operate as small businesses, the Government said.
National Cabinet is also considering short-term intervention for commercial tenancy arrangements. They will meet again tomorrow morning (3 April).
Childcare services seeking health and situation information about COVID-19 should contact the 24/7 National Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.
Information is also available from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.