Childcare centres falling through cracks

By Evelyn Leckie

Some childcare centre operators are questioning whether they can keep their doors open due to falling through the cracks of the Federal Government’s new plan to offer free childcare in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bassets Road Early Learning centre in Doreen is one centre that has been left disadvantaged due to not being eligible for the $1500 JobKeeper payments, but still having to offer their service for free, with the government only reimbursing them 50 per cent of fees at a capped rate.

Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Amanda Rishworth said she was deeply concerned that many early learning services were significantly worse off under the new childcare policy.

“As an unintended consequence of the new policy, some services have been stripped of so much income their viability is now at risk,” Ms Rishworth said.

“With their revenue cut by a minimum of 50 per cent, many providers are reporting they will not be able to continue providing their service.

“We are hearing reports that these services are now cutting back on opening hours, turning families away or sacking early educators to try and survive.”

Ms Rishworth said Education Minister Dan Tehan must protect the viability of childcare providers and ensure services could access JobKeeper payments.

Bassett Road Early Learning falls under the Melbourne City Mission group, that owns another childcare centre in Brunswick.

MCM group chief executive Vicki Sutton said the government’s latest announcements haven’t adequately considered the impact on diverse not-for-profits like

MCM for who childcare was only one component of the community services it provides.

MCM also supports several vulnerable families including those engaged with child protection and children with disabilities who have high needs.

“MCM has many programs supporting vulnerable Victorians including homelessness, disability and community palliative care,” Ms Sutton said.

“We cannot use those funding sources to subsidise losses in our childcare centres caused by this funding change and therefore the JobKeeper turnover test at our whole of organisation level isn’t appropriate.

“If a sustainable solution is not found, the losses we are faced with leave us no choice but to close our two centres.”

Parent Simone Morrison said she and other parents were hoping for the Bassetts Road centre to stay open.

“We’ve raised this issue with our local politicians to urgently help,” Ms Morrison said.

“A lot of the parents are still working, we really need them to stay open. I know the centre is trying everything they can.”

In Kilmore, childcare centre owner Rajesh Sharma said her business was eligible for the JobKeeper payments, but even with the government paying 50 per cent back for free child care, it still wasn’t enough help.

Less than 20 per cent of her usual group of children are attending Connect Kids Kilmore.

“I’m just keeping open at the moment to look after the children of health care workers, they’re doing such an important job, and I want to help parents and the childcare educators,” Ms Sharma said.

“As an employer these announcements mean there is nothing for us, there’s no profit at the moment – but i’m staying open for the community and our workers.

“I’m also dealing with the flood damage from last month to our centre, so it’s been a tough time.”