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Australia Free child care during coronavirus pandemic leaves family day care providers concerned

02:41  07 april  2020
02:41  07 april  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Child care is expensive to operate and to provide , yet families are largely left to pay for it themselves while providers eke out a living on meager profits. To make it through coronavirus -era closures and the economic downturn, providers say they need help. Without it, parents juggling child care with

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Family day care represents about 16 per cent of the childcare sector. () © Provided by ABC NEWS Family day care represents about 16 per cent of the childcare sector. ()

Family day care (FDC) operators say they are concerned the Federal Government's plan to offer free child care during the COVID-19 crisis will see them lose 50 percent of their income.

FDC represents about 16 percent of the childcare sector and typically involves accredited operators providing child care in their homes for up to four children at a time.

The FDC sector is a major provider of child care in non-standard hours, for the children of night shift and weekend workers.

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Several states are now offering free child care for emergency workers who are on the front lines of combating the coronavirus outbreak. In Michigan and Maryland, governors have signed orders to provide temporary relief from some regulatory restrictions regarding child care services and to

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The ABC spoke to a number of FDC operators who said their main concern was they had fallen through a crack in the new arrangements.

They said they fear they may not qualify for the $1,500 JobKeeper payment, but were still required to offer their service for free, with the Government to only reimburse them 50 percent of their fees up to a capped rate.

To qualify for the JobKeeper payment, operators must have experienced a 30 percent drop in their revenue, but many FDC operators say they haven't.

The owner-directors of West Coast Family Day Care Services in Perth, Brodie Vallence and Kathryn Oldfield, have started an online petition lobbying the Government to review the model.

"Information had been really thin on the ground, so there had been a lot of confusion and it's actually created a lot of fear amongst early childhood providers and educators," Ms Vallence said.

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"Initially the information provided was that education service providers would be paid 50 percent of all bookings and enrolments that were processed for the fortnight between the 17th of February and the 2nd of March.

"[But] that 50 percent is not 50 percent of the entire fee — that's 50 percent of a capped rate.

"For family day care that capped rate is $11.10.

"So that means that educators will be paid $5.55 per hour, per child that they have in their care, and only for those children that were attending in that particular time frame."

She added that existing FDC rates are typically reflective of working overnight and on weekends.

"So being paid 50 percent of the capped rate keeps that payment very, very low for those off-peak times which is, of course, a concern, when everybody else would be getting paid a higher rate," Ms Vallence said.

That concern is shared by FDC operator Jane Saxton, who operates a childcare and child education service from her home in Beenleigh, south of Brisbane.

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Ms Saxton said she could not afford to keep going if she was forced to take a 50 percent pay cut.

"Our calculations may be incorrect, we're desperately hoping they are," she said.

"People on social media are saying calm down, your calculations are incorrect, and I'd love to see them show me that it's incorrect.

"[But the maximum rate] is capped no matter what the hours are with this package."

Peak body says it's in talks with Government

The peak body for the sector, Family Day Care Australia (FDCA), said it was discussing the concerns with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

"The Department have acknowledged that elements of the package are not immediately aligned to the family day care model," FDCA said on its Facebook page.

"They [the Department] have also made a strong commitment to working with FDCA and the sector to address the challenges and ultimately, to enable the sector to continue to play its vital role in supporting children and families through this crisis."

In a separate post, the FDCA said it acknowledged the announcement may, in the short-term, result in lower income for FDC operators.

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"For the absolute majority of educators and service providers, your colleagues, [the] announcement is a critical lifeline that will protect their livelihoods in increasingly uncertain times," it wrote.

"While we understand that for some this may, in the short-term, result in lower income, it is however a temporary arrangement to see the sector through the duration of this crisis and to ensure that we are here to support frontline and essential workers and the economic rebuild after COVID-19."

Who is really paying for 'free' childcare?

A Sydney mum who sends one of her children to FDC, Jemma, told the ABC she wished to keep paying her FDC provider full fees so she was not financially worse off, but couldn't under the new stipulations.

"All the families who currently send their kids to the family day care service … we understand they want to continue paying her for the very highly professional services that she provides and none of us want her to be out of pocket for that," she said.

"Her only choice is to provide her services for a reduced amount, and she can't ask us, and we can't give her any fees to top her up to the normal amount she'd be getting, which is the normal amount we'd be paying.

"I guess we've just been left with a feeling of who is really paying for this free childcare?

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"It was announced as 'the Government is providing free childcare', but at least for family day care it seems that burden is falling to her, for her to choose whether to provide free child care without any public recognition of that."

The Government has been contacted for comment.

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