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Livia Gamble

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COVID-19 and childcare: do I still have to pay a gap?

There’s a lot of talk about coronavirus and schools, but not a lot has been said about daycare centres.

This week the Federal Government said the current expert medical advice is that the child care sector remains open except where individual services have been directed to close by health authorities.

However, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian also encouraged parents to keep children at home.

Understandably, many parents are confused about what they should do – keep their kids home or continue to send them to childcare.

“I still have to go into work”

We asked the Tell Me Baby community what they are currently doing with their children and the responses varied depending on individual circumstances.

Many said they feel lucky enough to be able to take their children out of childcare and look after them at home, but others said they are still working full time and have no other choice. 

“I still have to go into work and even though my partner can [work from home] he is crazy busy and can’t look after our daughter as well,” one parent wrote on Facebook. “We have zero family in Aus so have no option but to send her. The minute something changes, we will pull her out as I believe the less kids at school and daycare the safer it is for those with no other options.”

Another said: “I’ve kept my son home, but I’m a stay at home mum. Taking my son out when I’m able to do so will cause less risk to the children who NEED to be there for our nurses, doctors, retail employees etc.

“Our son is still going. Once all of this is over we need the care so can’t risk losing his spot. We are both still at work full time. We will be leaving him in care till we aren’t at work or it closes,” another explained.

Speaking to the ABC, Early Childhood Australia (ECA) chief executive Samantha Page said the message could have been delivered a little differently. 

“I think it would have been better if we said the families that can keep children at home, then, by all means, do that, but there are many who can’t and we need to make sure the services are still there for those families and they have confidence in the services that are still operating,” she said.

New legislation

A big question for many parents who might be thinking about keeping their children home from daycare is do I still have to pay?

Education Minister Dan Tehan introduced new legislation on Monday regarding childcare services. The changes include:

  • making sure childcare centres forced to close because of COVID-19 continue to receive the childcare subsidy.
  • waiving the current obligation of childcare services to make families pay the gap if they are forced to close.
  • increasing the number of days from 42 to 62 that a child can be absent without a medical certificate before losing the subsidy.

“We are making changes to ensure Australian families will continue to receive financial support through the Child Care Subsidy if their children can’t attend child care because of COVID-19,” said the Education Minister. 

“By paying the Child Care Subsidy to services that are forced to close temporarily, we are providing financial support to businesses to pay their staff and remain viable so they can re-open when it is safe to do so.”

Do I still have to pay a gap?

Although the new changes mean centres don’t have to charge a gap, some centres might not be able to absorb that extra cost. 

Early Childhood Australia (ECA) chief executive Samantha Page told the ABC, “Services will be allowed to waive the fee, but then their revenue will be down by that percentage, so that is going to put jobs at risk — unless there is more support coming.

“Parents in temporary financial hardship can apply for the full fee to be covered by the childcare subsidy, so we encourage parents to do that if they have lost work and household income.”

How to apply for temporary financial hardship

Families who have experienced a loss of income can apply for temporary financial hardship which, in most cases, will cover 100% of fees for up to 13 weeks. Supporting documentation is required, which could be a letter from an employer or a statutory declaration from the individual outlining the nature of the temporary hardship event.

For more information, visit the Australia Government Services Australia website.

Make the best decisions for you

At the end of the day, this situation is out of your control, and you have to do what is best for you and your family.

“It’s difficult to provide blanket advice,” said Samantha, “but communicate with your service, tell them what you are worried about and let them help you with that.”

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