After-school care sector warns of heavy toll of pandemic11/21/2020
The federal government will consider special measures for before and after-school care services, which face financial ruin due to the coronavirus pandemic's normalisation of working from home leading to thousands of parents taking their children out of care.
Victorian services will receive special payments until the end of January next year and a study of NSW out of school hours care reveals nearly one in 10 centres is either shut or is on the brink of closure.
Students at Thornleigh West Public School’s before-school care program. The outside school hours care sector has been hit hard during the pandemic as many parents work from home.Credit:Janie Barrett
A NSW study reveals nearly one in 10 centres is either shut or is on the brink of closure.
In March, there were nearly 490,000 children in 4600 services across the country. Victorian peak body Community Child Care says barely any services are back to pre-pandemic enrolments.
"Lots of families are choosing not to use outside school hours care because there's one parent that's home and children can walk home or be picked up," executive director Julie Price said. "Because work patterns are going to shift quite a lot, outside school hours care services might have to re-look at their viability and their size."
"Most OOSH [Out of School Hours Care] services run on a 'hand to mouth' basis and rely heavily on government support through the child care subsidy," Network of Community Activities resources manager Gemma Quinn wrote in a report given to the NSW government in late September. "If OOSH as a sector were to fail the fallout to the wider community and economy would be catastrophic."
The NSW network offered financial analysis to its members in June and July.
It found nearly one in 10 services had already closed or were at risk of doing so within three months. Less than two in five services were profitable or break-even, and most of those were on the margin. Members said changes in demand had been highly unpredictable, making it hard to plan for the year ahead.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has asked his department to examine the sector as the childcare industry recovers from the pandemic.
"Following Victoria's COVID-19 second wave our government is working on ensuring the viability of OSHC services in Victoria. We are also looking at longer term patterns of usage and demand and the implications for OSHC," he said.
The pandemic's effect has varied widely depending on the demographics of the community they serve. However, the sector isn't necessarily looking for more money, pointing to an anticipated massive shortfall in educators as demand returns as a major problem and a need for business advice, especially for the many volunteer-run services.
Students attending after-school care at Ivanhoe Primary SchoolCredit:Luis Ascui
"Extra support and resourcing is needed but what I probably wouldn't say is that a one-size-fits-all kind of funding boost or something like that, I don't think that is the solution," said Kylie Brannelly, who chairs peak body National Out of School Hours Services Alliance.
"The most vulnerable services that might need more support are the community-owned services and being able to resource them through some professional support and advice I think would be very welcome."
The federal government gave Victorian OOSH services recovery payments worth 40 per cent of pre-pandemic revenue, which Ms Price said had helped most stay financially viable. The Victorian government is going to fund new services at schools that don't already have them as part of its economic recovery package. The NSW government has made a big push to expand services over the past 18 months.
Ms Price said any ongoing support should be targeted to small services in regional communities, where there might not be alternatives for parents if the care on offer folded. "The larger services will be able to sustain, they'll just be smaller than they have been in the past," she said.
The NSW network believes the most useful forms of assistance would be administrative support and a rent package, with the latter up to the state government.
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