The industries that all Australians are relying on during the COVID-19 pandemic can only operate at their best with support from early childhood education services.
The early childhood education sector is a lifeline for employers, communities, and families in every part of Australia. In this time of uncertainty, this sector must continue to provide the stability and care that families need to flourish.
All Australians will be impacted by this pandemic. Some will adopt new ways of operating day-to-day, some will face job insecurity and financial strain, and some will be expected to work harder than usual to ensure we have continued access to essential services.
Providing quality early learning is providing families with assurance that their children are receiving the care and nurture they need to thrive during and after a destabilising experience. It is giving certainty during a time full of uncertainty, to the most important people in our lives.
The early childhood education system must remain equipped to help families return to work once the threat of COVID-19 has passed
Australia needs a strong early learning sector to underpin the workforce that will revitalise our economy. Parents and carers will play a crucial role in steering our nation back to prosperity, and they will rely on the early learning sector to support them.
The early childhood education system will take much longer to recover than many industries if allowed to fracture or temporarily fall away. This is due to having some of the highest regulatory and compliance requirements out of any Australian service industry.
Now is the time to steady the foundations of the early childhood education system, so it can effectively contribute to the rebuilding of all industries, all across Australia.
Child stability and support is most important in times of uncertainty in their homes and communities.
The early childhood education sector plays a vital role in providing safe and supportive environments to children and families in times of disruption and potential distress.
Early learning providers have long played dual roles of providing important education and development for children, as well as ensuring their well-being and safety.
For children experiencing disadvantage, early learning centres could be the only place where they receive basic essentials like nutritious meals, hygiene education and caring interactions with adults and other children.
Early childhood education providers are well-equipped to provide safe, hygienic spaces for children to learn and grow. Alternative carers without steady means to provide safe and hygienic spaces could face risks to their health if relied upon to care for children.
Grandparents and elderly carers face added risks if they need to take children outside of isolated environments, as they are most likely to experience heightened health issues from COVID-19.
To continue operating, the early childhood education sector needs a boost.
Early learning providers rely on an uncertain funding model to deliver their services. Parents pay for children to attend centres, then receive a subsidy from the government to alleviate costs. This is unlike schools, which receive allocated government funds to continue operations regardless of whether or not students attend.
Many families who are facing employment uncertainty or being required to stay at home are limiting or withdrawing children from early learning services. There is a recent trend showing attendance numbers have fallen by up to 30% for some providers since January. This means services are missing out on the funding they need to remain in operation.
If centres are forced to close, there will be no support for the families who are relying on the services that they provide to get through this period of global instability. This will also risk weakening our system, leaving us unprepared to support families to return to work and reignite the economy once this period of instability is over.
While many industries are in the midst of workforce restructures, others are ramping up efforts to deliver essential services that our entire society is depending on during this unprecedented crisis. We owe the families in these industries sustained support.
Jane Hunt is CEO and Lisa Chung is Chair of The Front Project, an independent national enterprise working to create positive change in Australia’s early childhood education system. thefrontproject.org.au