Last updated 29/5/2020

The early childhood education and care sector (ECEC), along with the rest of the community, is experiencing the impacts of the COVID-19 virus. It is already a significant challenge to the families, early childhood educators and providers of early childhood education and care services.

Early Childhood Australia (ECA) is advocating to the government, on behalf of the ECEC sector, and our plan is to identify information useful to early learning services, as you navigate these challenging circumstances and review your contingency plans. Scroll down for news, government updates and links. For information, resources and support to share with families or to assist your educational practice, your team or early learning service click here.

Latest

Friday 29 May: ECA has developed, with Be You, a new Member Summary on strategies to manage mental health and wellbeing in early childhood, in relation to the impact of the pandemic. Click here to find the ECA Member Summary: Mental Health and Wellbeing. And click here to find the updated ECA Member Summary: Health and Hygiene, with new information from SafeWork Australia clarifying physical distancing in early childhood education and care settings.

Thursday 28 May: ECA updated the ECA Member Summary on the ECEC Relief Package, which provides information to help services navigate the Relief Package and get access to the financial support available. Read the summary here and find ECA’s full Submission (4 May) here.

Friday 22 May: Click here for the newest ECA FAQ no. 26 Do I need to implement physical distancing measures in early education facilities?  Click here for updates to ECA FAQs (1, 3).

Thursday 21 May: Click here for updates to ECA FAQs (6, 11, 18 and 25). And read ECA’s latest media release here ‘Some relief in sight for early learning services, as minister changes ECEC Relief Package’

Wednesday 20 May: Find a video interview with Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Amanda Rishworth discussing funding for the early childhood sector and the Greens release a statement calling for ‘a fair and decent wage’ for educators and for government to recognise early childhood education and care as ‘an essential service’ that should be ‘available to anyone who needs it, not just those who can afford it’.

Tuesday 19 May: NSW announces schools return to face-to-face teaching from 25 May. Click here for the latest update on state and territory Term 2 school operations.

Tuesday 12 May: The NSW Department of Education released a guide for early childhood education and care services on preventing the spread of COVID-19. The United Workers Union has developed an infographic with ECEC JobKeeper Standards outlined, click here to learn more.

Friday 8 May: The Prime Minister released a roadmap with a three-step framework to a Covidsafe Australia, clarifying that states and territories will move at different times based on local conditions. Find it here. And the Queensland government released this infographic: Roadmap to easing restrictions in that state, (find it here), while the Tasmania government released its updates school term dates—click here.

Friday 24 April: To find the ECA Member Summary: Health and Hygiene click here, and an earlier ECA Member Summary on the Relief Package here. Federal Minister Dan Tehan says 1.5 m social distancing rules do not apply to schools, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announces clarification of JobKeeper rules and eligibility for charities, religious institutions and larger entities including where a ‘special purpose entity’ employs staff e.g. for early childhood services, within a larger business and Anglicare Australia and Uniting Australia welcome the Treasurer’s announcement and the opening up of the JobKeeper scheme to more charities across Australia.

ECA Member Summaries

ECA has developed three Member Summaries: one, covering the government’s relief package, another on health and hygiene measures and a third Member Summary released Friday 29 May covering mental  health and wellbeing for early childhood educators and their directors, manager, principals and leaders. 

  1. Find the ECA Member Summary: Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package (current to 28 May 2020) here.
  2. Find the ECA Member Summary: Health and Hygiene (current to 29 May 2020) here.
  3. Find the ECA Member Summary: Mental Health and Wellbeing (current to 29 May 2020) is available here.

Public schools: Term 2 2020 (updated 20 May 2020) 

We have put together an overview of Term 2 for public schools and preschools/kindergartens operating within the public school system. If you need further information on school closure and updates, we recommend you go to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment website.

ACT – Remote learning will be delivered for the first three weeks of Term 2. Parents and carers are asked to keep their children at home if they can. Some schools will be open for children who cannot learn at home. From 18 May, students will begin to return to school: preschool, kindergarten and Years 1, 2, 7, 11 and 12 from 18 May; Years 3, 4 and 10 from 25 May; and all remaining students (Years 5, 6, 8 and 9) from  2 June.

NSW – Remote learning will be delivered for the first two weeks of Term 2. Parents and carers are asked to keep their children at home if they can. All schools remain open for children who cannot learn at home. From 11 May, students will begin to return to the classroom, initially for one day per week. All students will return to school full-time on 25 May.

NT – Schools will be open and operating as normal in Term 2.

QLD – Remote learning will be delivered for the first three weeks of Term 2. Parents and carers are asked to keep their children at home if they can. All schools remain open for children who cannot learn at home. On 11 May, students in kinder, prep and Years 1, 11 and 12 will return to school. On 25 May, all remaining students (Years 2-10) will return to school.

SA – Schools will be open and operating as normal in Term 2. Remote learning will be available for children who are kept at home.

TAS – Remote learning will be delivered for the first four weeks of Term 2. Parents and carers are asked to keep their children at home if they can. All schools remain open for children who cannot learn at home. From 25 May, students will begin to return to school: all primary school students (Years K-6) and Years 11 and 12 from 25 May; and all remaining students (Years 7-10) from 9 June.

VIC – Remote learning will be delivered for the first six weeks of Term 2. Parents and carers are asked to keep their children at home if they can. All schools remain open for children who cannot learn at home. From 26 May, students will begin to return to school: all Prep, Year 1, Year 2, Year 11 and Year 12 from 26 May; and all remaining students (Years 3-10) from 9 June.

WA – All schools will be open in Term 2, but parents may choose to keep their children at home and use remote learning.

ECA’s statement on encouraging vulnerable groups in ECEC to protect themselves here, and find blogs and educator resources here.

Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) (update: Tues 5 May)

The Federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment has regular updates on its website, including the latest FAQS and information on government measures that affect the early childhood education and care sector and schools. Click here to find more :

  • Find updates for Family Day Care from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE), updates to FAQs for all early childhood services (15 April) on new government measures and a Departmental pre-recorded information session dealing with frequently asked questions.
  • Thanks to recent changes, more early education and care services will have access to higher levels of Relief Package funding. On 30 April, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) announced the following changes to funding levels and eligibility:
    • Providers that are part of non-government schools and large charities/not-for-profit organisations that are not eligible for JobKeeper will receive a higher base payment under the Relief Package. There is no need to lodge an application—DESE staff will contact you if they require further information about your circumstances.
    • For Family Day Care and In Home Care educators who don’t qualify for JobKeeper (because you don’t have an ABN), DESE will approve applications for Exceptional Circumstance Supplementary Payments, as long as you apply for an ABN by 1 June 2020
  • Click here for further information and updated FAQs from DESE and here for the media release.

Resources for support of continuity of care for ECEC services:

  • Community Child Care Fund (CCCF) special circumstances grant opportunities: Education.gov.au/CCCFspecialcircs – NB applications closed as of  9:00am 3 April 2020. 
  • CCCF Special circumstances@dese.gov.au
  • Support for businesses (does not include NFP): Business.gov.au
  • Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws:  Fairwork.gov.au

Official government contacts and websites for services and providers:

Federal government JobKeeper payment

The Australian Government JobKeeper payment of $1,500 per fortnight enables eligible employers to keep paying their staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The JobKeeper payment will be made to private businesses and not-for-profit enterprises. The JobKeeper payment can be used to pay:

  • full-time and part-time staff;
  • sole traders; and
  • casual staff who have been with their employer for 12 months or more.

Stay up-to-date and learn about eligibility and other details of JobKeeper from The Treasury – click here – or from the Australian Taxation Office here.

Get the ECA FAQs on COVID-19 

Note: Early Childhood Australia (ECA) has assembled the following information from official Australian Government sources and continue to update our FAQs based on informaiton from teh Department of Educaiton Skills and Employment. We recommend that all early childhood education and care services continue to monitor information on the Australian Government’s health and education websites, plus information from local health authorities

1. What is happening to the Child Care Subsidy? (updated 22/5/20)

The Child Care Subsidy (CCS) was suspended on 6 April 2020, when the Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package began operating. This means that CCS and ACCS will not be paid for at least 12 weeks. Instead of receiving CCS and payments from families, early education and care services are receiving payments under the Relief Package. The Relief Package is scheduled to run until 28 June 2020, with the possibility of a three-month extension.

Payments under the Relief Package have been set at ‘50 per cent of services’ fee revenue or 50 per cent of the existing hourly rate cap, whichever is lower, for sessions of care in the fortnight preceding 2 March 2020’.

For vacation care programs, the Relief Package payment has been ‘calculated on the equivalent to the average weekly amount for the September-October 2019 school holidays’.

The government has stated that the Relief Package should be used in conjunction with the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, for services that are eligible. Services that are not eligible for JobKeeper, or that cannot receive JobKeeper for all educators, should contact the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

Services can apply for more funding from the Exceptional Circumstance Supplementary Payments scheme, announced on 9 April 2020. Information about the Supplementary Payments can be found in this departmental document.

Since the Relief Package began, the government has announced several adjustments to enable services to receive additional funding. On 20 May 2020, the Minister for Education announced an additional $12.8 million for In Home Care providers and for some services with educators not eligible for JobKeeper. Information on how to apply for this new funding is on the Department of Education, Skills and Employment website.

2. Where do I find the details of the Relief Package for the sector?

Details of the Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package can be found on the Department of Education, Skills and Employment website, including FAQs. Follow these links for information, including:

  • eligibility for the Relief Package
  • waiving gap fees
  • enrolment priorities.

3. The new Relief Package isn’t enough to cover our costs – what do we do? (updated 22/05/20)

ECA is aware that 50 per cent of regular fees will not be enough for services to maintain their usual operations, including staffing levels. ECA encourages services that have not experienced a significant fall in enrolments and attendance since March to contact the Department of Education, Skills and Employment regarding the Exceptional Circumstance Supplementary Payment.

The government has stated that the Relief Package should be used in conjunction with the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. However, not all early childhood education and care services are eligible for JobKeeper. On 30 April 2020, DESE announced that some services not eligible for JobKeeper would receive extra funding under the Relief Package

  • Providers that are part of non-government schools and large charities/not-for-profit organisations that are not eligible for JobKeeperwill receive a higher base payment under the Relief Package. There is no need to lodge an application – DESE staff will contact these services if they require further information about their circumstances.
  • For Family Day Care and In Home Care educators who don’t qualify for JobKeeper (because they don’t have an ABN), DESE will approve applications for Exceptional Circumstance Supplementary Payments, as long as educators apply for an ABN by 1 June 2020.

Some providers that cannot receive JobKeeper payments will miss out on additional support: services owned by state, territory or local government are not eligible for Exceptional Circumstance Supplementary Payments. Some state governments have announced separate support measures for council-run early childhood education and care services.

On 20 May 2020, the Minister for Education announcedan additional $12 million for some services with educators not eligible for JobKeeper. Information on how to apply for this new funding is on the Department of Education, Skills and Employment website.

Payments under the JobKeeper scheme began in the first week in May, and are made monthly in arrears.

See the Treasury website for full eligibility requirements and details. You can register for the JobKeeper payments with the Australian Taxation Office. \

Small business and NFP grants

On 22 March 2020, the Australian Government announced additional support measures for small businesses and not for profit organisations with annual turnover less than $50 million. These businesses and organisation will automatically receive grants of $20,000-$100,000, paid in two instalments by the Australian Taxation Office (from late April and late July 2020). Payments will be equal in value to the amount of salary and wages withheld by the employer at the time of payment (with a minimum payment each time of $10,000).

Other business measures

There are also measures that: subsidise trainees’ wages; increase the instant asset write-off threshold; and accelerate depreciation deductions. You can find details on the Treasury website.

 State and territory measures

All state and territory governments have also announced support packages for businesses and individuals. Please check your state or territory government’s website for details.

4. I am a Family Day Care educator – how can I survive on 50 per cent of the CCS hourly fee? (updated 01/05/2020)

If you are part of an FDC scheme, please contact your scheme office to let them know your circumstances. Each Approved Provider (such as an FDC scheme) is receiving funding under the Relief Package, and may also apply for more than 50 per cent funding if its enrolments have not suffered a significant fall. In these circumstances, you should consider making an application for the Exceptional Circumstance Supplementary Payment.

FDC schemes and educators may also be eligible to apply for the JobKeeper wage subsidy. For FDC educators who are not eligible for JobKeeper, DESE is also providing additional funding. On 30 April 2020, DESE announced that FDC and In Home Care educators who do not qualify for JobKeeper (because they do not have an ABN) will qualify for Exceptional Circumstance Supplementary Payments, as long as educators apply for an ABN by 1 June 2020. DESE has an FAQ sheet for FDC educators.

If you work for a council-run FDC scheme in NSW, your service will be provided with additional funding. On 9 April 2020, the NSW Government announced that it would support 260 council-run early childhood education and care services that are not eligible for the JobKeeper payments, for a period of up to six months.

5. Does the Relief Package apply to preschools/kindergartens?

No. See our separate FAQ on the support measures available for preschools and kindergartens.

6. Should we be taking new enrolments or giving families extra days? (Updated 21/5/2020)

Services receiving Relief Package funding are required to have ‘at least one active enrolment’ and also to ‘prioritise care to essential workers, vulnerable and disadvantaged children and previously enrolled children’.

The government has not provided a definition of ‘essential worker’, but the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that anyone with a job is currently considered an essential worker:

‘If you have a job in this economy, then that is an essential job’ – PM Scott Morrison, 2 April 2020.

Early education and care services have been encouraged by the government to contact families who had cancelled enrolments, to offer them the chance to re-enrol. No gap fee will be charged from 6 April 2020 (and the gap fee can be waived in arrears, from 23 March 2020).

However, the decision on whether to take new enrolments, or to give existing families additional sessions of care, is one for each service to consider. This will depend on your overall income (including JobKeeper and Exceptional Circumstance payments) and your staffing levels, among other factors.

7. Which parents qualify for free places in our service?

Sessions of care are now free for all parents and carers. There will be no means testing and no activity test for the duration of the Relief Package.

8. What should I do if a child at my service develops a high temperature?

Educators should attend to sick children in the usual way. Follow your regular policies on managing illness. Unwell children should remain at home until their symptoms resolve.

As an additional measure, you may wish to inform all parents and carers of the typical symptoms of COVID-19 infection:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing.

9. What if a child at our service is diagnosed with COVID-19?

If you believe that a child or staff member at your service is a confirmed case of COVID-19, you must do two things:

Your Department of Health will instruct you on next steps. Any decision on whether to close your service temporarily should be made in consultation with health officials.

10. If a parent is diagnosed with COVID-19, do we have to close our service?

No. However, any member of that parent’s household should be denied entry to the service within 14 days of exposure (including the 24 hours before the case became symptomatic).

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee recommended on 3 April 2020 that anyone who has been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days should not be permitted entry to an early childhood education and care service. This applies to children, families, staff and any other visitors.

If a parent or carer using your service is diagnosed with COVID-19, their ‘close contacts’ will be advised by health authorities to begin immediate self-isolation. A ‘close contact’ is someone who has been face to face for at least 15 minutes, or been in the same closed space for at least 2 hours, as someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, while that person was infectious (including the 24 hours before their symptoms appeared).

Anyone who believes they have had direct close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 should contact their local Department of Health. Health officials will provide further advice.

11. Will early learning and care services be shut down by the government? (Updated 21/5/20)

At this stage, no.

The Australian Government has consistently described early childhood education and care services as ‘essential services’ and is encouraging them to continue operating.

On 23 March 2020, the Australian Government advised that ‘the child care sector remains open except where individual services have been directed to close by health authorities’.

12. In a forced closure, who will pay our educators? (Updated 21/5/20)

On 3 April 2020, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment advised that, ‘if your service is directed to close on public health advice or other valid health and safety reasons’, you will still receive payments under the new Relief Package. If your service is receiving JobKeeper wage subsidies, these will continue to be paid during a temporary forced shutdown.

13. I have older staff and staff with underlying medical conditions. How do I protect them?

On 30 March, the National Cabinet issued the following advice regarding employees at higher risk of illness from COVID-19:

‘National Cabinet endorsed the AHPPC [Australian Health Protection Principal Committee] advice on vulnerable people in the workplace, specifically that the following people are, or are likely to be, at higher risk of serious illness if they are infected with the virus:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • People 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions. Conditions included in the definition of ‘chronic medical conditions’ will be refined as more evidence emerges.
  • People 70 years and older
  • People with compromised immune systems (see Department of Health website).
  • ‘National Cabinet noted that the new AHPPC advice on the higher risk categories for people 65 years and older with chronic conditions had changed based on more up to date medical advice.

‘In addition, National Cabinet endorsed the AHPPC advice that:

  • Where vulnerable workers undertake essential work, a risk assessment must be undertaken.
  • Risk needs to be assessed and mitigated with consideration of the characteristics of the worker, the workplace and the work. This includes ensuring vulnerable people are redeployed to noncustomer based roles where possible. Where risk cannot be appropriately mitigated, employers and employees should consider alternate arrangements to accommodate a workplace absence.
  • Special provisions apply to essential workers who are at higher risk of serious illness and, where the risk cannot be sufficiently mitigated, should not work in high risk settings.
  • Excluding healthcare settings where appropriate PPE and precautions are adhered to, the
  • AHPPC considers that, given the transmission characteristics of the virus, the following settings are at higher risk of outbreaks of coronavirus – correctional and detention facilities and group residential settings.

Employers have a legal obligation to try to protect their staff from COVID-19. According to Safe Work Australia, all employers ‘must identify risks at the workplace, and do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate those risks, or where this is not reasonably practicable, to minimise those risks.’

In relation to COVID-19, Safe Work Australia says that ‘You will not be able to completely eliminate the risk of workers contracting COVID-19 while carrying out work. However you must do all that is reasonably practicable to minimise that risk.’ You can find advice on how to do this on the Safe Work Australia website.

14. What hygiene and cleaning measures do we need to adopt? (updated 23/04/2020)

Keep practising good hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene. This means:

  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing with a tissue, or cough into your elbow.
  • Dispose of the tissue into a bin and then wash your hands afterwards.
  • Wash your hands regularly, especially after using the toilet and before eating.

Soap and hand sanitiser are both effective at killing the COVID-19 virus, provided you clean hands thoroughly.

In addition, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee recommends the following hygiene and cleaning measures for early education and care services:

  • enhanced personal hygiene for children, staff and parents
    • make sure liquid soap and running water, or alcohol-based hand sanitiser is available at the entrance of the facility and throughout
  • full adherence to the NHMRC childcare cleaning guidelines, and in addition:
    • clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces at least daily (e.g. play gyms, tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, sinks)
    • wash and launder play items and toys including washable plush toys as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely.

Some state and territory governments are also providing detailed guidance on cleaning measures for all workplaces. Please check your state or territory health department website for any more detailed guidance

15. How often should children be cleaning their hands?

There is no firm advice on this. Health experts say that people should wash their hands ‘often’, either with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitiser.

16. Is it safe for my early education and care service to be operating?

According to the health experts advising governments in Australia, early education and care services ‘are essential services’ and should keep operating, ‘but with risk mitigation measures in place’.

On 3 April 2020, the national health group dealing with COVID-19 (the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee) released an official statement on COVID-19 in children and management of Early Childhood and Learning Centres (ECLC) in relation to the community transmission of COVID‑19.

The committee recommends that, in order to stay safe, early education and care services should adopt the following measures:

  • exclusion of unwell staff, children and visitors
  • reduce mixing of children by separating cohorts (including the staggering of meal and play times)
  • enhanced personal hygiene for children, staff and parents
    • make sure liquid soap and running water, or alcohol-based hand sanitiser is available at the entrance of the facility and throughout
  • full adherence to the NHMRC childcare cleaning guidelines, in addition:
    • clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces at least daily (e.g. play gyms, tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, sinks)
    • wash and launder play items and toys including washable plush toys as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely
  • excursions other than to local parks should be discouraged, public playground equipment should not be used
  • influenza vaccination for children, staff and parents.

The following visitors and staff (including visiting workers) should not be permitted to enter services:

  • Those who have returned from overseas in the last 14 days.
  • Those who have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
    • A contact is defined as anyone who has been in contact with a known case, including the 24 hours before the case became symptomatic.
  • Those with fever or symptoms of acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath) symptoms.

Alternative care arrangements should be considered for those children highly vulnerable to adverse outcomes should they be infected with COVID-19. AHPPC recommends parents seek medical advice for these children.

17. What happens to my educators if I have to close my service?

If you are instructed by health authorities to close your service, you will continue to receive Relief Package payments (and any supplementary payments you are granted) for the duration of the closure. You will also continue to receive JobKeeper payments for your staff (if you are eligible and registered for JobKeeper).

If you take the decision to cease operating, your educators and other staff may be eligible for the JobSeeker payment, which is being offered by the Australian Government at a new, higher rate.

On 22 March 2020, the Government announced a boost to income support payments (including the JobSeeker Payment) of $550 per fortnight, creating a maximum payment of $1100 per fortnight (depending on eligibility). The Government has also waived the waiting period and the assets test for the JobSeeker Payment.

In addition, all individuals and sole traders will have access to $10,000 from their superannuation account in the period April-June 2020, and a further $10,000 in the period July-September 2020. Note that, once withdrawn, this superannuation will not be replenished by the Government.

You can find further information on these support payments at the Treasury website.

18. Can I still take the children at my service on walking visits to the local park? (Updated 21/05/2020)

On 3 April 2020, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee advised that excursions to local parks could continue, although public playground equipment should not be used. However, some state and territory governments have now re-opened public playgrounds, so access to playgrounds will differ around the country.

You can contact your local Regulatory Authority to seek advice on excursions.

19. What is the incubation period for COVID-19, when does someone become infectious and when do symptoms start?

The ‘incubation period’ is the time between being exposed to the virus and the start of symptoms. According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 has an incubation period of 1-14 days, with the most common incubation period being five days.

People are considered to be infectious once they develop symptoms, and for the 24 hours before they develop symptoms.

COVID-19 spreads through small droplets from the nose or mouth of an infected person, which are expelled through coughing or exhaling.

20. We have run out of soap. What do we do?

Please contact your local Regulatory Authority to ask for help in sourcing cleaning supplies, including soap.

The NSW Department of Health advises that there are alternatives to soap that work just as well. These include:

  • Body wash
  • Shampoo
  • Combined body wash/shampoo.

21. What support is there for preschools and kindergartens?

State and territory governments are developing support measures for preschools and kindergartens. You should stay in touch with your local Department of Education for information on current support mechanisms.

Preschools and kindergartens may be eligible for the JobKeeper wage subsidy. See our FAQs relating to JobKeeper. ECA is lobbying the Australian Government to make access to JobKeeper available to all early education and care services.

There are also general business support measures that you might be able to access.

Current support measures for preschools/kindergartens in particular states include:

NSW: The Department of Education will maintain Start Strong payments for community preschools through to 30 December 2020 based on information provided in the August 2019 Annual Preschool Census.  This will support funding continuity and viability for services impacted by COVID -19 such as through reduced enrolments.

For mobile preschools on contracts, funding arrangements remain in place as outlined in your funding agreement through to 30 June 2020. Mobile preschool contracts will then be extended to 31 December 2020 to support funding continuity and viability.

On 9 April 2020, the NSW Government announced that it would also (a) cover the parents’ portion of preschool fees in 700 State-funded community preschools and 38 mobile services; and (b) support 260 council childcare centres that are not eligible for the JobKeeper payments, for a period of up to six months.

Victoria: The Department of Education will continue to provide all existing streams of kindergarten funding: Early Years Management; School Readiness Funding; Kindergarten Inclusion Support; and Preschool Field Officer funding. If services have to close due to coronavirus (COVID-19), service providers will still receive this funding.

In addition, the Victorian Government announced on 5 April 2020 extra funding for sessional kindergartens for Term 2. Each sessional provider in Victoria will receive ‘approximately $485’ for each child enrolled, and parents will not pay any fees in Term 2. This applies to community-based, local government and school providers.

QLD: Community kindergartens and state delivered kindergartens in Queensland observed student-free days from 30 March to 3 April 2020, although they remained open for the children of essential workers and children experiencing vulnerability. The student-free days were designed to allow teachers ‘time to prepare for increased online learning or alternative options if they are needed in term 2’.

The Department of Education had earlier advised that it will continue to pay for the delivery of kindergarten through the Queensland Kindergarten Funding Scheme until the end of December 2020. These funds will be based on semester one forecast. The Department will also be providing additional funding, as an extension of the existing QKFS model to supplement workforce costs. This payment was to be released immediately to kindergartens.

On 12 April, the Queensland government announced $17 million support package for community kindergartens struggling with falling enrolments from the global COVID-19 pandemic. More information can be found here. 

22. What has happened the Community Child Care Fund (CCCF) Special Circumstances grants?

The CCCF Special Circumstances grants are no longer available to services affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 3 April 2020 (the day after the Relief Package was announced), the Department of Education, Skills and Employment advised that ‘while applications already received for CCCF Special Circumstances for COVID-19 related matters will be considered, no further applications will be taken from 9am on 3 April 2020’.

23. If a child doesn’t attend on their final day of enrolment, will our service be paid CCS?

CCS payments will only be made until 5 April 2020; from that date, Relief Package payments will replace CCS payments, and sessions of care will be free for all families.

The requirement for children to attend care on their final day of enrolment in order to qualify for CCS has been changed. The Department of Education, Skills and Employment advised on 3 April 2020 that, ‘If a child is absent on their last day of enrolment in the period between 23 March 2020 and 28 June 2020 the child care subsidy amount which has been paid to the service will not be recovered from the service or the family’.

24. We haven’t been operating for 12 months/Our turnover was artificially high last year – can we get JobKeeper payments? (Updated 23/04/2020)

To be eligible for JobKeeper wage subsidy payments, businesses generally need to demonstrate a fall in turnover of 30 per cent (or 50 per cent) over the course of one month, compared with the same one-month period in the previous year (eg from March 2019 to March 2020). For ACNC-registered charities (other than universities and schools, which are not eligible), the required fall in turnover is 15 per cent.

However, the Australian Tax Commissioner has discretion to grant JobKeeper payments to other businesses, too. The Australian Government advises that:

‘Where a business was not in operation a year earlier, or where their turnover a year earlier was not representative of their usual or average turnover, (for example, because there was a large interim acquisition, they were newly established, were scaling up, or their turnover is typically highly variable), the Tax Commissioner will have discretion to consider additional information that the business can provide to establish that they have been adversely affected by the impacts of the Coronavirus.

‘The Tax Commissioner will also have discretion to set out alternative tests that would establish eligibility in specific circumstances (for example, eligibility may be established as soon as a business ceases or significantly curtails its operations). There will be some tolerance where employers, in good faith, estimate a 30 per cent or more or 50 per cent or more fall in turnover but actually experience a slightly smaller fall.’

If you believe that your service may qualify for JobKeeper, or if you would like further guidance from the Australian Taxation Office, you should register and apply.

25. My state/territory government is relaxing restrictions on social and business activity. What does this mean for early education and care services? (updated 21/05/2020)

State and territory governments have begun lifting restrictions on economic and social activity, in response to progress in limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

On 8 May 2020, the Australian Government released a plan for the further relaxation of restrictions. The lifting of restrictions includes a return to face-to-face learning in schools and a return to workplaces for many Australians who have been based at home. The pace of change in restrictions will be determined by state and territory governments, and will differ around the country.

26.Do I need to implement physical distancing measures in early education facilities? (added 22/05/2020)

SafeWork Australia has shared a helpful piece of advice on whether the ‘four square metre rule’ applies to early childhood education settings.

Yes, in relation to adults. 

You must so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure all adults have 4 square metres of space each and maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres between each adult in all areas of the facility. This includes staff facilities such as kitchens and break rooms and in play rooms.

You do not need to count or include children in implementing physical distancing measures. However, you may find that separating children into small groups throughout the facility and utilising both indoor and outdoor spaces during the day will make it easier for workers (and other adults) to maintain their distance from one another. 

Deciding what physical distancing measures are reasonably practicable to implement in your facility will depend on all the circumstances including the safety, educational and wellbeing needs of children. 

You can find out more information here on the SafeWork Australia website.

What ECA says

ECA Member Summaries

We have produced three summaries of key information. One is about the government’s new ECEC Relief Package. The second is an overview by ECA for early childhood services, educators, children, families and extended family. It outlines important information from government sources to consider in your current practices and other resources including state and territory guides on COVID-19 in early learning settings and schools. A third summary covers many of the issues that early childhood educators and leaders are observing and responding to in their settings as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of children, families, educators and other staff. All summaries were updated and are in the week ending COB Friday 29 May 2020. Click the links below to find each summary.

Usually we make documents such as these available only to members but it might be useful to individuals and organisations across the early childhood education and care sector who are navigating the package and trying to access available support. The summaries do not imply endorsement of the government’s relief package. All readers are reminded to refer to official government sources for more definitive guidance or seek legal, financial, health or employment advice specific to their circumstances.

ECA recognises that there are significant differences between service types and governance models across the early childhood education and care sector including diversity in fee schedules, revenue mix and staffing profiles. The ECA summary is broad and general in nature and it cannot cover the individual circumstances of every member. It is a starting point for managers and directors preparing advice for their governing body, and for owners, operators and sole traders considering their options.

  1. ECA Member Summary: Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package (current to 28 May 2020).
  2. ECA Member Summary: Health and Hygiene (current to 29 May 2020).
  3. ECA Member Summary: Mental Health and Wellbeing (current to 29 May 2020).

ECA encourages vulnerable groups to protect themselves

ECA is watching developments closely on government health advice and announcements on COVID-19. Based on the government announcements last night (Sunday 29 March), ECA encourages people in vulnerable groups to consider carefully whether they should be working in face-to-face roles in early childhood settings.

We encourage you to discuss arrangements, leave or alternative work from home options—e.g. programming, planning, communicating with families online—with your manager, director or Co-ordination Unit. Governments around Australia are recommending that several groups should ‘self-isolate at home to the maximum extent practicable’, including:

  • People of any age with an existing chronic health problem, including but not limited to, diabetes, heart, respiratory conditions or suppressed immune systems
  • People living with household members who have any of these risk factors should consider their arrangements
  • Indigenous people aged over 50 should stay home wherever possible for their own protection
  • People aged over 60 with pre-existing conditions (not limited to those above).
  • Please consider this carefully, work out the best options for yourself and discuss with your employer or Co-ordination Unit advisor.

Find a Federal Department of Health list of groups most at risk of infection or most at risk of serious consequences if infected here: bit.ly/3bEczui.

Updates on all COVID-19 government announcements can be found here:
www.australia.gov.au.

ECA Webcasts

ECA is regularly holding webcasts and Facebook live sessions to provide up-to-date information about COVID-19 and related government announcements. Due to the rapidly changing situation, the information provided in the live webcasts may not be current. Therefore, ECA will remove webcasts from our Facebook feeds when they are no longer relevant.

The webcasts below are still available but no longer provide current information.

Viewers are encouraged to get third-party professional advice before making decisions about business operations.

ECA advocacy for the sector

ECA has been constantly in contact with Australian governments around the country and with educators, services and sector leaders calling for more realistic and sustainable measures from the Federal government to support the safety and wellbeing of educators and children as well as secure jobs and financial viability now and for the future.

Together with other peaks, we wrote to the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Education when the COVID-19 virus was first identified as a looming threat to the sector. Our letter underlined the critical importance of the early childhood sector to young children, families, and the Australian community and economy. We called for ‘robust funding mechanisms’ to maintain sector financial viability and ensure children continue their access to early learning. Part of our advocating measures are to ensure affected families are not disadvantaged if a service is required to close due to COVID-19 or if a family needs to self-isolate.

In one week alone ECA secured 166 media items that focus on the issues we’ve been raising and achieved a reach of 56 million. This includes 100 radio items featuring ECA’s CEO, Samantha Page, advocating for the sector. Some examples of media coverage achieved through the early child sector, ECA or featuring comments and interviews with CEO Samantha Page include:

We continue to provide feedback and advocate to the Minister for Education, Skills and Employment, Dan Tehan, to ensure that the needs of the early childhood sector, families and children are understood when devising measures to respond to the impacts of COVID-19 across the community.

Statement on ECA’s role

Early Childhood Australia has received a lot of comments since the government announced its radical new package for the early childhood education and care sector last week. We’ve also been the subject of much speculation about our role.

While ECA has been constantly advocating on behalf of the sector, we were not invited by the Minister to design the package. ECA did not receive any advance warning about the measures and had no knowledge of the content until the package was announced.

More than a month ago we began talking to the Federal Government about the importance of strong support measures for the sector. We pushed for decisive, urgent action in the face of the sector’s imminent collapse.

We will continue to advocate for the sector’s ongoing viability and for the health and safety of educators and young children. We will also seek more explicit support and directives on safe practices during the pandemic.

We will continue to call for transparent government decision-making and clear messages too.

We appreciate the messages of support from some of you and are glad to see so many writing directly to governments, ministers and members of parliament about their concerns. It’s vital that the government and your parliamentary representatives understand the impact of ‘closed door’ decision-making.

You are also welcome to send your modelling and examples to us at policy@earlychildhood.org.au to inform our ongoing advocacy to government.

The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to affect our sector and the community for many more months. There is a lot of work ahead and many questions to be answered.

Thank you for your dedication and professionalism in such difficult and uncertain times.

About the government’s decision

On Thursday 2 April Samantha Page CEO of ECA welcomed steps by the government to act on the uncertainty facing the early childhood education and care sector. The Prime Minister announced a support package that ECA hopes will provide greater certainty for the early childhood sector and which ‘tackles many of the big issues services and families have been grappling with for a month’. But we recognise that while the package is good news for some in the sector, the details are still unclear to many and others will not benefit from the announcement. (You can see ECA’s media release (2 April) here).

  • Please note: the DESE has updated its website to provide more details on the the government’s announcements and how they will operate. You can find the site here. DESE has also now provided information specific to Family Day Care, which you can find here.

Key points from the government’s announcement: 

  • The Federal government will pay 50% of each service’s fee revenue up to the existing hourly rate cap based on the fortnight leading up to 2 March and funding will apply from Monday 6 April.
  • It seems that eligible early childhood services may be able to access both the Job Keeper system as well as funding for service delivery announced today.
  • For full details see the government’s media release and the Department’s site. The new payment scheme is temporary (three months) to be reviewed after one month.
  • Services may now waive gap fees for families who keep children home, and this measure can be backdated to 23 March.
  • ECA knows today’s package will not help everyone. We are concerned about the health and safety of early childhood educators and the children in their care and will urge governments to do all they can to support health and safety.

Staying up-to-date

Early childhood services can stay informed with fact sheets and updates from the Commonwealth Department of Education, Skills and Employment the Department of Health and the World Health Organization. You can also read the government’s business package announcement here.

As the situation evolves, we will seek ways to provide information and support to the sector, over the next weeks and months.

  • You can revisit this page to check for updates
  • Members will receive regular Member Updates on the impacts of the pandemic
  • Subscribe to ECA’s fortnightly e-newsletter WebWatch which will feature updates on ECA’s COVID-19 response
  • Visit ECA’s blog site, The Spoke
  • You can subscribe here to both WebWatch and The Spoke or choose a weekly summary of ECA member COVID-19 updates, which we are making available to non-members for a short time during this crisis.

What are others saying

Women’s Agenda (18 May) reports on a campaign by The Parenthood, (a not-for-profit organisation representing the views of parents and primary caregivers) which urges the government to ‘urgently address some of the problems that have emerged with the COVID19 [ECEC Relief] package’. Read it here. The risks of a “premature” snap back that would be ‘unaffordable for many parents in the harsh economic environment’ are discussed in this article here (17 May).

Earlier, an article (12 May) covered the ECA submission to the Federal Government’s review of the ECEC Relief package and a recent opinion piece here examined the impacts of the pandemic on the early childhood sector and families (5 May 2020). Or read Lisa Bryant’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April, here.

In a speech on 11 May, ‘Australia beyond the Coronavirus’, Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, described early childhood education as one of ‘the basics of life’ that ‘should be nurtured and made affordable.’

On 22 April Labor’s Shadow Minister, Amanda Rishworth, released a media release about the impact of new government measures. Click here to read her release. In an earlier media release (25 March) Ms Rishworth urged the government to act more quickly to protect the early education sector (28 March) and called on the the Federal Minister to act to save the sector.

In March 2020 the Greens called for protection of the early childhood sector and in a further statement on Wednesday 20 May Senator Mehreen Faruqi urged  government to recognise the ‘essential’ nature of early childhood education and care, the need for a fair and decent sector wage and access for all who need it, not only those who can afford it.