Victorian parents have been left in limbo during government negotiations on child care, with one centre warning providers and families could face hefty penalties if they don’t follow new rules on ‘essential workers’.
“What I find really irritating is how poor the communication from the government has been,” said one parent, Lauren.
The federal government has been locked in childcare discussions with its Victorian counterparts since Stage 4 lockdowns were announced.
Childcare centres are on the list of services to be shut to the general public from Wednesday night.
Only the children of ‘permitted workers’, or kids who cannot stay home, will be accommodated.
G8 Education, which runs more than 470 centres across the country including dozens in Melbourne, told parents in an email on Tuesday that it understood only “those workers to be issued a permit by the Victorian government” would be allowed to bring their kids to child care.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday the federal government was seeking “some further clarity” from Daniel Andrews on the definition of an “essential worker”.
“It’s very important that we keep these facilities open so they’re available to people who will need them and there are a number of ways we can do that … We’re very committed to ensuring those facilities remain available,” the PM said.
On Tuesday, Mr Andrews said “it’s not settled yet” but that he and the PM have “had a bunch of texts back and forth”.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan later advised new arrangements for Victorian child care would be announced on Wednesday, but parents and centres are scratching their heads about how it will work.
Mr Tehan said “all options are on the table” as it considers how to ensure the childcare system can operate, adding he wants a solution that provides “immediate relief” while keeping the sector “viable”.
It’s understood the federal government will reveal a package to ensure no centres close, spots are available for children of frontline workers and jobs are protected.
The announcement will be just hours before changes come into effect.
“Both parents/guardians need to be ‘permitted workers’ and require providing the relevant documentation to the service if they send their child/ren during this period,” one childcare provider, which runs four centres across Melbourne, told parents in an email on Tuesday.
The provider warned of a “hefty penalty” if service providers or families failed to meet the requirement.
Other centres warned parents they would likely need to provide evidence of ‘essential worker’ status.
“It is their expectation that … you will be required to meet the ‘on-site work’ criteria as noted on the attached government-directed list,” one provider, running three centres in Melbourne’s south, told parents.
Another centre told families “care will not be available for parents who are not undertaking permitted work or for parents who are working from home”.
The centre also told parents they would not have to pay if they kept their child home.
“The service will continue to charge the gap fee in order to meet the childcare subsidy obligations and then waive the gap fee payable by families if your child is not in attendance,” they said.
But the three-day wait for information on childcare arrangements is leaving some parents annoyed and distressed.
Matt, a dad from the Melbourne suburb of Hughesdale, called it “very tough”.
Both he and his wife are teachers. They are hosting classes at home and having to “tag team going online” while looking after a six-month-old baby, with their two-year-old in child care.
“It is frustrating, but myself and my wife both understand that there are some pretty major issues to iron out and it’s for the good of the state,” he told The New Daily.
“It’s just a very tough juggle.”
Lauren, from Northcote, said she was upset at the lack of communication from authorities so far.
“The centre itself is doing the best it can with the information it’s been given … it feels a little like child care has been forgotten about because it’s not part of the education system. The messages from the government weren’t clear at all,” she told The New Daily.
Mr Andrews signalled on Monday that he expected the federal government to extend further support for Victorian families.
“There is an acknowledgement … the runs are on the board, if you like, in that there was a direct intervention by the Commonwealth government to support this sector,” he said.