Eskay Kids owner Sharon Kneen. Picture: Cordell Richardson
Eskay Kids owner Sharon Kneen. Picture: Cordell Richardson

Child care centres will have to close unless lifeline given

THE childcare industry is urging the Federal Government to throw it a "lifeline" to keep doors open amid the coronavirus crisis.

Early learning service operators are warning if action isn't taken, centres will be forced to close, with no one able to take care of the children of workers on the frontline of the pandemic.

Australian Childcare Alliance Queensland wants the government to waive the gap fees that parents must usually pay, at no additional cost to taxpayers, and continue to fund businesses with the Child Care Subsidy.

The peak body for early learning services represents more than 850 services, employing 13,500 educators, who educate and care for around 180,000 children.

According to ACA Qld, 30 per cent of parents who rely on these services work in healthcare and emergency services.

President Majella Fitzsimmons said there had been a "dramatic" withdrawal of children from Queensland centres over the past week.

"If they close this week, too many healthcare and emergency workers will be forced out of the health frontline, which is simply unacceptable," she said.

The government's JobKeeper subsidy was welcomed by the industry but it will not keep the doors of many child care centres open, with some on the brink of imminent collapse.

Sharon Kneen owns and operates three centres in Karana Downs, Springfield and Capalaba under the Eskay Kids banner.

The opening of another in Wanora, just outside Fernvale, was postponed due to the pandemic.

"We've had our numbers drop dramatically," she said.

"We're just having children of essential workers in the services. There are single parents who need some assistance as well. It's a tricky situation at the moment.

"We had 16 children on Monday at one of our services. Ordinarily we would have had upwards of 60."

Due to a slow start to last year, Mrs Kneen said she was not entitled to the JobKeeper subsidy as she had not experienced a 30 per cent reduction in turnover from 2019.

"What we've been trying to do is work with our families who are able to maintain their enrolment and, even though they're not attending, they're maintaining their enrolment and they're paying their gap and the government are paying the Child Care Subsidy," she said.

"That's how we've been managing to keep our income at the moment.

"But families will only be able to sustain that for however long they can."

She said there is a "desperate need" for the government to waive gap fees for parents.

"There's not a lot of margin in child care centres because our staffing costs are so, so high," she said.

"While we have rather large turnover sometimes, we also have very, very high expenses.

Blair MP Shayne Neumann backed the demands from ACA Qld.

"Effectively, the government won't be spending any more money," he said.

"They'll just keep paying the Child Care Subsidy It's a lifeline for the centres to continue. It means they can keep connected to the kids and the families.

"If they don't do that then perhaps hundreds of Queensland doctors and nurses will be forced from front lines in the battle against COVID-19."

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