COVID-19 Support for the early childhood sector
Published on Tuesday, 07 April 2020
Last updated on Tuesday, 30 November 2021
COVID-19 has had a serious impact on the early childhood education and care sector, and the government has implemented a series of support packages to help services stay viable and able to provide child care to families in the midst of an unpredictable and ongoing pandemic.
The government’s Relief Package ran from April to July 2020, its Transition Package provided support until September 2020, and its Recovery Package continued until the end of January 2021.
Although these support packages no longer apply, and the JobKeeper Payment ended in March 2021, the Australian Government has confirmed that COVID-19 support measures for child care will continue until 30 June 2022. There is additional support around absences, gap fee waivers and enrolments.
Business continuity payments have also been provided to eligible services in COVID-19 hotspots, and there is other support and information available to services and families.
Here’s the detail.
Allowable absence days
Ordinarily, families can get up to 42 allowable absence days per child, per financial year, enabling the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) to be paid for days their child would normally be at care, but are away.
For the 2021/2022 financial year, though, an extra 10 allowable absences can be accessed by all Australian families. This brings each child’s allowable absences up to 52 days.
These absence days can be used for any reason, and they’re applied automatically.
The 10 extra days are on top of any additional allowable absences a child may have received (e.g. due to an extended lockdown in NSW, Victoria, or the ACT in 2021).
The Australian Government explains that if a state or territory restricts access to child care in a region for more than seven days, more absences will be given.
Gap fee waivers
Generally, families who get the CCS must make a co-contribution to their child care fees under the Family Assistance Law, and pay the gap between their service’s actual fee and the CCS amount.
However, in light of COVID-19, a service can choose to waive the gap fee and receive the CCS for a child who doesn’t attend care because:
- They, or a member of their immediate household, have been directed to isolate because of COVID-19. This applies from 9 November 2021 and it applies for the duration of the isolation period specified in the health advice.
- The service, or a room within the service, is closed due to COVID-19 on advice from its state or territory government. This applies from 1 October 2021 for the duration of the closure outlined in the advice, and it includes situations where:
- A Family Day Care or In Home Care educator can’t provide their usual service because they, or a member of their immediate household, is isolating or quarantining, or
- An Outside School Hours Care service operating on a school campus has to close when the school is directed to close.
- Services can also continue to waive gap fees for children not attending care where a state or territory restricts access to child care in a region because of COVID-19. This applies from the first day of the restrictions, ‘with any duration of time being eligible.’
Gap fee waiving is a business decision for individual services, and if they waive gap fees services have to:
- Keep a record of the advice by their state or territory authority advising that they close, and
- Correctly reflect the waived gap fees in the fee statements given to parents.
Where possible, services should also look at evidence from families who have to isolate (e.g. an app notification or SMS) and keep this on record.
To get help processing gap fee waivers, services need to contact their third-party software provider.
Under the Family Assistance Law, enrolments end when a child doesn’t physically attend child care for 14 weeks, however, in the case of extended lockdowns support has been available to maintain enrolments.
Services and families in COVID-19 hotspots for 10 weeks or more (i.e. in Greater Sydney and Melbourne) have received support to stop enrolments from automatically ending.
There’s also been support around ending enrolments after lockdown.
Although the government doesn’t normally pay CCS for any days after the last day a child physically attends their service when their enrolment ends, it’s made an allowance for COVID-19.
The government has paid CCS for absences after a child’s last physical attendance for up to 28 days after a COVID-19 hotspot (of more than seven days) has ended.
This applied to enrolments that ended after lockdowns in NSW, Victoria and the ACT, and child care providers had to take action to avoid a debt on behalf of families.
Business continuity payments
Lengthy COVID-19 lockdowns have put a lot of financial pressure on child care services, and from 23 August 2021, eligible services in a COVID-19 hotspot received the business continuity payment (or viability support payment) under the Viability Support Package.
The purpose of this payment was to help maintain the viability of services and retain staff to ensure that every family who needed child care could access it.
Eligible centre-based day care, family day care and In Home Care services received 25 per cent of their pre-lockdown revenue, Outside School Hours Care got 40 per cent, and the payment was contingent on services:
- Having reasonable expectations that attendance would drop by 50 per cent
- Not getting other Commonwealth Government-funded business supports
- Waiving gap fees for children not attending
- Maintaining staffing levels, and
- Agreeing to a fee freeze while getting the payment.
All in all, child care services around the nation have received different COVID-19 support at different times, and this frequently updated Department of Education, Skills and Employment table shows the current and previous pandemic-related support available to services by region and date (covering additional allowable absences, gap fee waivers and business continuity payments).
Further COVID-19 support for businesses and individuals
Federal, state and territory governments understand that the pandemic has affected people’s livelihoods and lives, and there is financial support is available to eligible businesses and individuals:
- The Community Child Care Fund Special Circumstances Grant helps services stay open in the face of an unforeseen event or circumstance (including a pandemic).
- The COVID-19 Disaster Payment is a lump sum support payment that helps workers who can’t earn an income because of a lockdown, hotspot or movement restrictions.
- The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment helps people who can’t earn an income because they have to self-isolate or quarantine, or care for someone with COVID-19.
- The Additional Child Care Subsidy Temporary Financial Hardship Subsidy helps families who’ve experienced temporary financial hardship because of a recent event, like COVID-19, which has substantially reduced their ability to pay child care fees.
State and territory governments provide varying COVID-19 support to individuals and businesses, and you can learn about what’s on offer at these links:
- New South Wales: COVID-19 Support Package, including the Test and Isolate Support Payment, payroll tax support and extra mental health support
- Victoria: Financial and other support for COVID-19, payroll tax relief and the COVIDSafe Deep Cleaning Rebate
- Northern Territory: Grants for business and not-for-profits
- Australian Capital Territory: Financial and other support
- Queensland: Essential COVID-19 information and the Queensland COVID-19 cleaning rebate
- South Australia: Financial support and information for businesses
- Tasmania: Business support, grants and loans
- Western Australia: COVID-19 updates for business
Staying up-to-date with COVID-19
There are high vaccination rates in many places and it’s hoped that the pandemic will become more manageable as time goes by, but the situation remains unpredictable and it’s important to stay up-to-date with COVID-19 news and information:
- For current government announcements and details of support available to the early childhood sector, click here.
- To identify current COVID-19 restrictions in your area, click here.
- To get information about COVID-19 and vaccines, call the 24/7 National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080. There’s also information about COVID-19 vaccines here, and you can see vaccine requirements for businesses in each state and territory here. Services Australia’s eKits explain how employees and families can get proof of their COVID-19 vaccinations.
- Regularly updated information about COVID-19 is also available here to help child care providers make informed decisions about managing COVID-19 related risks.