'It will be difficult': families and centres divided on the end of free childcare

Photo: Sydney mum Laura Freeman and her family (Supplied)
Photo: Sydney mum Laura Freeman and her family (Supplied) 

With the government's free childcare scheme set to end on 12 July, families around Australia are preparing to see fees taken out of already stretched budgets amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On 13 July the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) will return, along with a Transition Payment to replace JobKeeper, which ends on 20 July for those in the early learning sector.

The measures, which were announced in April, were slated to benefit almost one million families and approximately 13,000 facilities around the country. But while free childcare for essential workers was a welcome relief to many, the scheme has been riddled with problems for both centres and parents.

Sydney Mum Laura Freeman tells Essential Baby that free childcare has been wonderful for her family and the end of the scheme will have a big financial impact.

"We had to find a childcare that would take our kids," she says, adding that the ones in her local area, in Sydney's eastern suburbs weren't taking enrolments and she was heading back to work after maternity leave. The only one with vacancies was in the CBD - at a cost of $175 per day. 

"It will be financially difficult. I had to delay work by a month (another month of no money) while we looked and got the kids settled," she said.

Ms Freeman's work hours have been cut amid the coronavirus which has impacted her salary.And with her kids, who are four and 15 months old, at a childcare more expensive than they had planned, it will stretch their budget over the coming months.

"My mum has gifted us some money which is being put towards childcare," she says, adding, "we can't send our son to school fast enough."

According to Brisbane mum-of-two Lisa*, while her family has benefited financially from the scheme, she is relieved it's ending.

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"Neither my husband or I lost our jobs and our kids continued to go to daycare four days a week throughout COVID-19 as we both had to work and were unable to keep them home," she tells Essential Baby. "So we were effectively getting a service for free that we were still in a position to pay for."

"It's been awful watching our daycare and staff suffer and worry, and we would have been happy to continue paying and support the centre," she admits, adding that they weren't even allowed to make a donation.  

"I don't believe impact of the scheme on childcare centres, particularly smaller and new centres, was properly thought out by the government. Despite the fact we saved some much-needed money, I'm happy the free childcare is coming to an cid:f6d0bc31-6026-4f01-8078-7013b083055c

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Insight Early Learning Throsby (@insightearlylearningthrosby) on

Donna Bush, the Managing director of Insight Early Learning, which has centres in NSW, ACT, Darwin and Western Australia tells Essential Baby that they welcome the return to the Childcare Subsidy System.

"The free child care for us as a business had varying results," she says, adding that they had to reduce staff hours to equal the dwindling need from their parent base, while maximising care for essential workers.

"The ECEC Relief Package delivered a lifeline at a time of great need for our sector, at a time when some centres were on the verge of collapse through worried families withdrawing their children or out of their own sudden unemployment," Ms Bush says. "However, as the COVID crisis is reigned in and more and more children are returned to their early learning centre, the Relief Package is no longer working for services and families.

"For us moving back to the Child Care Subsidy scheme where parents pay the gap fee means that we as service providers can move ahead to operate at full capacity, offering the vital placement that their families need."

The news comes as the Federal Government announced on Wednesday that all services located in areas subject to stage three restrictions in Melbourne can waive parent gap fees if children are unable to attend childcare centres because of COVID-19 reasons.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan told 9News, "Our government wants to ensure that childcare services remain open for workers and vulnerable families who need those services."

The Government will also ease the activity test until 4 October to support eligible families whose employment has been impacted as a result of COVID-19. Families will receive up to 100 hours per fortnight of subsidised care during this period.

*not her real name