The childcare sector has been plunged into uncertainty as the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop.
On Thursday, the PM made a pretty big announcement to try and save the sector — that child care will be free.
But what does that actually mean in practice, who is eligible and how’s it going to work?
Here’s what we know so far.
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What was announced?
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced at a press conference that for parents who still need child care right now, it will be free.
To make that happen, Australia’s childcare sector will receive a $1.6 billion boost over the next three months, with the Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package to officially start from April 6.
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“Child care and early childhood education is critical,” Mr Morrison said.
“Particularly for those Australians who rely on it so they can go to work every day, particularly those who are working in the such critical areas.”
As part of the latest announcement, support will be provided to Australia’s 13,000 childcare centres to ensure they remain open.
Mr Morrison said the arrangements were to protect more livelihoods during the pandemic.
The Federal Government maintains that it’s safe for kids to go to childcare during the pandemic. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
“I don’t want a parent to have to choose between feeding their kids and having their kids looked after, or having their education being provided,” he said.
“This virus is going to take enough from Australians without putting Australian parents in that position of having to choose between the economic wellbeing of their family or the care and support and education of their children.
“I won’t cop a situation where a parent is put in that place with their kids.”
The scheme was developed to complement JobKeeper, helping centres pay the wages of early childhood educators even though enrolments have dropped off, and the funding will go straight to the centres from next week.
Tweet @ChildcareAus Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that child care will be free for parents who still need it
Who is eligible to receive free child care?
Education Minister Dan Tehan clarified that parents who are currently sending their kids to child care will be able to do so for free.
“We want as many people being able to work as we possibly can, and we want them to be able to access child care as they need to make sure that their children are being looked after while they’re working” he said on Afternoon Briefing on Thursday.
“We need all our nation’s workers there, helping us deal with this global pandemic.
“What we want to be able to make sure is that their children are being looked after while they help us flatten the curve.”
Video: Dan Tehan outlines changes to childcare arrangements
Mr Tehan explained that centres should prioritise enrolments for the parents who need it most — parents still working, parents who are struggling to provide safe care for their kids at home, vulnerable children, and then parents who have already taken their kids out of childcare.
“There is a clear priority list that we want centres to take into account,” he said.
“The most important of those are those essential workers and the vulnerable children.”
Can families who unenrolled their kids hold their spot or re-enrol?
As part of the deal, childcare centres who receive the payments must try to re-enrol children who have recently been taken out of child care.
Mr Tehan said to help with that, the Government will waive the gap fee for returning parents, backdated to March 23.
“The hope is that now all parents who need will get the care they want, and those who have sought to disengage from the childcare sector will re-engage with the sector,” he said.
This also depends on spaces available and what your family’s current work situation is.
“We want people to understand that the priority will be given to those who need to be working,” Mr Tehan said.
“The priority will be given to those who can’t care for their children.”
Tweet @PatsKarvelas IF YOU TOLD ME 2 MONTHS AGO THAT CHILDCARE WOULD BE FREE MY HEAD WOULD HAVE BLOWN OFF
If families have coped without care so far, do they still have to pay?
Mr Tehan clarified that if a centre has spaces open, parents who hadn’t previously had their kids in child care can enrol them for free.
“We will be putting in place a childcare finder apparatus to make sure you can contact the Department of Education and we will try and assist and help you, but of course there has to be room available at a centre for you to be able to access it,” he said.
“Obviously preference has been given to those who are currently working and using childcare for those children who are vulnerable and those who already have enrolments.
“But where we can help and assist, others who now need child care to help us fight the pandemic, then we’ll be doing what we can to try and find places for those families.”
Tweet @AnnastaciaMP I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that childcare will be free for children of essential workers
Why is Goodstart Early Learning different?
The free child care plan is linked with the JobKeeper scheme — which applies differently to businesses who have over $1 billion revenue.
Goodstart Early Learning employees were not previously eligible for JobKeeper payments for that reason.
Mr Tehan said discussions are continuing with the company, but it’s not clear at this stage whether they will or won’t be able to access the latest rounds of assistance.
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“Obviously, they will benefit from what we have announced today, which puts a baseline into their funding,” Mr Tehan said during the announcement.
“I am not saying that exemptions will be made, I am saying that we will continue to liaise and discuss these issues through with them.”
Goodstart Early Learning Advocacy Manager John Cherry also spoke on Afternoon Briefing soon after the announcement, and said discussions with the Government had been positive so far.
“The frustration for us is we suspect we’re going to miss out on qualifying for JobKeeper because we’re a slightly larger organisation and just tipped over the threshold that requires us to show a 50 per cent reduction in turnover,” he said.
“We had to let 3,000 casual workers go last week because we had no certainty about funding.
“Today we still have no certainty … I really wish we had. I really would have liked to have been in a better position to provide certainty for our 60,000 families and 16,000 staff.”
Goodstart Early Learning confirmed on their Facebook page on Thursday evening that children enrolled at any of their centres were eligible for free care if parents were working, searching for work or studying.
It’s not known at this stage exactly how parents will transition back to paying for child care after the pandemic. ( AAP/Paul Braven, file)
What happens when the pandemic ends?
It’s the question all of Australia and most of the world is asking (and not just about child care).
Mr Tehan said the arrangements will be in place up until June 30 with a review after one month, with plans for a further three months after the end of the financial year.
It’s unclear at this stage exactly how the system will revert back after the pandemic ends, but Mr Tehan indicated that it’s unlikely the free child care arrangement would be permanent.
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“Our desire, our want, is to get us through this pandemic and then we would like things to go back to normal,” he said.
“That would be when we would look at reintroducing the system that we currently have in place.
“Obviously for the next six months, while we’re dealing with the pandemic, we want those workers who are out there helping us get through the pandemic to be able to get the support they need through free child care.”
Tweet @samanthamaiden PM stresses this free childcare deal is temporary
Money aside, is it safe for my kids to be in childcare right now?
The Government’s current advice remains that childcare centres should remain open, as made clear by Thursday’s announcement, and that it’s safe for kids to be there.
“There is no health risk to children going to school or going to child care,” Mr Morrison said.
“That has been the clear and consistent advice that the government has received.”
While most states are now on school holidays or have gone pupil-free this week, schools are expected to remain open next term (subject to medical advice).
Many schools are transitioning to online learning, but the Prime Minister has previously said that no students will be turned away when school resumes after Easter.
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