Victorian coronavirus restrictions could see Melbourne childcare centres open with nobody to care for

Victorian coronavirus restrictions could see Melbourne childcare centres open with nobody to care for

Felicia Cheah isn’t sure if she will have any children attending her childcare centre in Doncaster on Thursday, but thinks she may need to open her doors even if no-one turns up.

The support funding her centre receives from the Federal Government is tied to it remaining open, but Ms Cheah believes it is unlikely any of the families who are her customers will fit the criteria of being “permitted workers” under Melbourne’s stage 4 lockdown rules.

“I am in shock. What am I meant to do with my staff?” Ms Cheah said.

Thousands of parents, children and childcare providers around the city are in the dark with only a day to go before new rules come into effect.

Under the terms, the Victorian Government has said only vulnerable children and those whose parents are permitted workers can attend childcare. Everyone else will have to stay at home.

But the Government is yet to provide specific definitions of who a permitted worker is, what will happen to childcare fees and places, and for couples, what the rules are if one parent is a permitted worker and the other is not.

Premier Daniel Andrews said he would be seeking to provide “further clarity” this week.

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“I don’t want to give people false hope. There will be a lot of people who normally send their kids to childcare that will not be able to do that,” he said.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said babysitters and nannies “might” be able to provide support to parents, but authorities are urging at-home care to be kept to a minimum.

Many in the sector are hoping to receive further support from the Commonwealth after JobKeeper payments were stopped in their industry in July.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan was reportedly set to announce details of a rescue package for childcare operators on Wednesday.

Childcare providers ‘breaking down’ at prospect of six-week lockdown

Daniela Kavoukas, a policy advisor at the Community Child Care Association who also manages a childcare centre, said many business owners and staff were in fear for their future.

Daniela Kavoukas smiles as she stands in a quiet suburban street.
Daniela Kavoukas says lots of childcare centres believe they will not be able to survive the six-week lockdown.(ABC News: Kristian Silva)

“I’ve spoken to numerous services throughout community childcare that are saying they won’t be able to make it through September,” Ms Kavoukas said.

“There’s been so many phone calls and people breaking down on the phone to us talking about what that’s going to mean for them.

“We’d like to know who was on the permitted list so that we can start to plan for Thursday morning and who’s going to be able to access services. Until we have that information. There’s a lot of nervous families out there waiting.”

Flemington mother Caitlyn Robertson said it was highly unlikely she would meet any criteria to be defined as a permitted worker and was preparing to keep her five-year-old daughter Norah home from Thursday.

Caitlyn holds her smiling daughter Norah and a pink bear, in a urban residential street in Melbourne.
Caitlyn Robertson is preparing to look after Norah at home with plenty of craft, cuddles and books.(ABC News: Kristian Silva)

On Tuesday, she dropped Norah off at their local childcare centre for one final day of kindergarten and so she could say bye to her friends and teachers.

“We’ll probably end up doing lots of craft projects in between work assignments and lots of reading books and lots of cuddles,” Ms Robertson said.

But Ms Robertson said managing her part-time job while looking after her daughter’s needs would be “tricky”.

“We’ll just have to manage as best we can, I think. I hope employers are going to be understanding of the fact that working parents are juggling both their responsibilities over this stressful and anxious time.”

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