‘30-day germ-free’ childcare as shutdown talks emerge
Childcares facing shutdown over the coronavirus epidemic are in talks with government bodies about relaxing the carer ratios.
It comes as one childcare provider is importing a heavy duty sanitiser that keeps surfaces clear of viruses for 30 days and has also cancelled excursions and guest speakers.
Strict childcare ratios across the country mean there are educator-to-child ratios relating to number of children and the kind of qualifications the carers hold. This may be relaxed, given the significant workforce issues the sector already faces is set to worsen.
A report from Early Childhood Australia said Australia is already facing series shortage of qualified early childhood teachers, with a need for an additional 5800 teachers each year until 2023.
News Corp Australia understands each of the state and territories are in discussions with their regulatory authorities regarding relaxing those ratios.
"I think there just needs to be a commonsense approach mechanism in place for services to potentially deal with that situation," Australian Childcare Alliance president Paul Mondo said.
"There are ways of relaxing (the ratios) without putting the children at risk but that needs to be in consultation."
There are also workforce issues at a school level with the Australian school system's heavy reliance on casual teachers. Australian edtech platform Schrole helps schools search for supply teachers and has already recorded a 50 per cent spike in the number of schools seeking casual teachers.
"We have been overwhelmed and had to extend our resources to cope with additional demand," CEO Rob Graham said.
"We think what is happening is people are thinking 'well I am sick I won't come into work and risk it."
The huge ranks of casual teachers are also facing a loss of income if schools close.
"If their school, preschool or TAFE is closed due to an economy-wide lockdown, these workers will also be left without certainty of income," AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said.
Childcares are also reporting a growing number of parents are already keeping their children home and Opposition spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth said it was important to maintain quality standards if the ratios were relaxed.
"The ratio are there for a reason and with the workforce shortages that needs to be worked through," she said.
Gary Carroll, Chief Executive of G8 Education, which run a large network of childcares across Australia, said the centres were taking additional steps to protect families, including a heavy duty sanitiser that protects surfaces for 30 days.
"We are also looking to cease visits from external parties like our music and sports programs. "We will augment those with internal programs. And we are ceasing excursions into neighbouring communities," he said.
The Federal Government this week announced that grants were available for childcare providers to help cover business costs, including wages, if services were significantly impacted.
"Families receiving the Child Care Subsidy can use up to 42 absence days per child, per financial year, for any reason without requiring supporting evidence - which would cover those in self-isolation.
"Where the 42 days have been used, additional absences are available due to being ill from COVID-19 or where self-isolation is supported by a medical certificate," Minister for Education Dan Tehan said.