Free childcare scheme brings both gain and pain

Supportive: Neisha Pitt with Holly (left), Ryder, Lachlan and Steven at Stepping Stones. Picture: John Veage
Supportive: Neisha Pitt with Holly (left), Ryder, Lachlan and Steven at Stepping Stones. Picture: John Veage

The operator of childcare centres at Kirrawee and Bexley says the federal government's move to make the service free will "save the industry" even though some private operators will be financially disadvantaged.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the COVID-19 relief package to prop up the sector, which has been crippled by thousands of parents keeping their children at home.

Fee-free childcare started on Monday this week, with the federal government to pay 50 per cent of a childcare centre's fee revenue or 50 per cent of the subsidy hourly rate cap, whichever is lower.

The calculation will be based on enrolment levels before the withdrawal of children started early last month.

Centres have been told to give priority to children of essential workers and those who are vulnerable, disadvantaged and previously enrolled.

Parents who maintain enrolment while the child stays at home will not have to pay fees and their place will be kept, the government says.

However, some private centre operators have complained they will be worse off and council-operated childcare centres are also disadvantaged.

"Sutherland Shire Council is working to understand the details of the package how it will apply to council operated childcare services and its implications for council," a spokesman said.

Georges River Council has closed two of its childcare centres and the future of others is in doubt.

Neisha Pitt, who operates Stepping Stones Early Learning Centres, said they would experience a short term decrease in income but welcomed the scheme "because the long term effect of the package will save our industry and assist our families".

"Some services may experience a payment decrease, especially those that would normally charge above the rate cap or those centres that have not had a decrease in numbers yet," she said.

"Our families have been really supportive so far and are not withdrawing their kids even though many are staying home. I think this is both out of loyalty and also because our centres are relatively full and they don't want to lose their place.

"However, we know that paying the gap fee is becoming a financial burden. I think, if the government hadn't have stepped in, these families would have started withdrawing their kids."