Under-resourced childcares admit they have had to drop education programs. Picture: Tim Hunter
Under-resourced childcares admit they have had to drop education programs. Picture: Tim Hunter

Childcare crisis to hit class of 2021

The childcare crisis could have serious repercussions for the COVID-kids class of 2021 who head into school next year with massive disruptions to learning vital preschool skills.

The end of free childcare has prompted experts to raise concerns about preschoolers who have had their early education interrupted and in some cases may have to pull out of care.

It comes as under-resourced childcares admit they have had to drop education programs in order to keep up cleaning protocols and some of the big childcares chains have put a 60 per cent cap on enrolments, forcing families to scale down their days.

That was the case for Michelle Mulder's daughter Zoe who is in her last year of childcare where she was learning the essential skills she needed before starting school next year.

She was told by their day care centre that Zoe would have to scale down her days as they didn't have the resources.

With both her and her husband working full-time she was forced to disrupt her daughter and secure a position at another centre.

"She adored her carers and having to make that decision seven months out from her starting school was really disruptive. But her school readiness was a really important consideration for us."

Michelle Mulder and her old daughter Zoe Jinnette. Picture: Tim Hunter
Michelle Mulder and her old daughter Zoe Jinnette. Picture: Tim Hunter

Ms Mulder said she rung around the local centres but many of them were having the same issue and she needed somewhere Zoe could meet children she might go to school with next year.

"Those kids need that interaction and know how to function in the classroom."

Australian childcare centre chain MindChamps have picked up more than 500 days from children who had been turned away from other centres and Zoe was able to continue her school readiness program at their local Northern Beaches centre in NSW.

MindChamps' owner David Chiem said the chain were out of pocket but were inundated with parents needing care and didn't want to turn anyone away.

Small business owner Tom Adam is also worried what the end of free childcare will mean for his four-year-old son due to go to school next year.

"Now with two terms of preschool left, I'm really worried about the fact that we need to find thousands of dollars to pay for childcare starting in July - when my own business has until September to do our best to recover our revenue to the point where I can even consider paying myself."

MindChamps Centre kids (L-R) Sunrise Rayamajhi, 4, Margaret Henry, 5, Zoe Jinnette, 4, Luella Harris, 4, and Karanvir Hundal, 4. Picture: Tim Hunter
MindChamps Centre kids (L-R) Sunrise Rayamajhi, 4, Margaret Henry, 5, Zoe Jinnette, 4, Luella Harris, 4, and Karanvir Hundal, 4. Picture: Tim Hunter

While federal and state governments offer limited free preschool Mr Adam said he wasn't able to secure a position at his centre unless he was able to pay the fees, which is difficult while his martial arts business suffered during the pandemic.

"I'm really worried that I'll have to pull him out and I am concerned about the impact it will have on him as he approaches school."

The Parenthood have reported that their data shows 34 per cent of parents will need to reduce days or remove their children altogether when out-of-pocket fees return in July and Early Childhood Australia CEO Sam Page said preschoolers would be adversely affected if parents are forced to scale down their hours or pull them out.

Ms Page said now was the critical time for educators to be supporting children and working on those readiness skills they need to go to 'big school' next year.

"We are running out of time to get on top of those things right through to significant issue like speech delay or signs children have additional learning needs right through to the support that needs to be I place before children transition to school. Otherwise the school has to play catch up."

State and federal governments have mechanisms in place to ensure that every child has access to some form of preschool and a spokesman for the federal department of education said that when free childcare ends next month "there will also be capacity for special consideration to make sure children can access preschool."

But UNICEF's director of Australian programs Nicole Breeze, who are lobbying for disadvantaged families to be provided with free early learning, said they were expecting a lot of families would have to reduce hours across the board, including for four-year-olds.

"We know one in five are already starting school developmentally vulnerable and there has been massive disruption for those four-year-olds - what are the implications for that as those children enter their year of formal schooling next year?"

Opposition early childhood spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth early education, particularly for four-year-olds, must be affordable and accessible for families during and after the pandemic "to ensure children starting primary school in 2021 do not start behind."

Originally published as Childcare crisis to hit class of 2021


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