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ECEC front line – we thank you

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In an early April press release, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the importance of our sector during COVID, saying “… [ECEC] services are vital for so many parents so they can provide for their family, and children need as much familiarity and continuity as we can help provide at this unsettling time.”

In the same press release, Education Minister Dan Tehan recognised the preschool sector’s “importance to a student’s formal education.”

Yet, our sector is often overlooked and undervalued when it comes to acknowledging the efforts of frontline workers during COVID.

Through our 1800 support line, Amplify blog and social media, we have connected with our members and the wider sector during COVID, hearing the challenging stories of what has been an incredibly rocky road.

“CELA is incredibly proud of how our small and community based services have shone throughout this pandemic,” says CELA CEO Michele Carnegie. “These services have managed multiple complex issues and at times financial hardship, all in the interest of continuing to provide continuity of education and care for children and families.”

As we move into the recovery phase, we acknowledge the vital work that early educators have done throughout the pandemic and share recognition and thanks from the families of some of our member services. We also highlight what needs to be done moving forward to ensure a healthy and sustainable sector.

Unwavering support with open arms and a smile

While many organisations shut their doors as the pandemic accelerated, early education organisations were required to stay open to support other essential workers, with many facing dire financial consequences as families removed children in droves.

Supervisors and directors in small and community services around Australia made quick and fair judgement calls every single day to preserve the health and safety of children and team members whilst supporting families and children’s needs, preserving educators jobs and doing what they could to remain viable.

Educators continued to turn up with open arms and a smile for the families who needed them and innovated to provide online learning options and take-home packs for those who were staying at home.

“I spoke with a member who said one of the things her team was not prepared for was managing the fear that some children felt and displayed in their play and communication.  Educators need to be commended for what they have done in this respect and be provided with ongoing support to ensure they are well equipped to deal with children’s current and future responses to the pandemic and the economic fallout.”

Nathalie Dupavillon, member and operational support specialist

We thank you.

While others in the front line including shop assistants, posties and delivery people were able to continue their roles in relative safety by wearing face masks and implementing social distancing, this was not an option for you.

Nappies needed changing, tears needed to be wiped away and worried children needed cuddles.

During a phone call with a director, she told me that her greatest fear would be to have a case in her centre – she said she could never forgive herself if she let her families or children down by not ensuring their safety. I could hear so much stress in her voice. I told her she was doing everything in her power to keep families safe, through the implementation of sound procedures. This call emphasised the extreme passion and care that many educators and directors put into their work and how stressful that responsibility is at a time like this.”

Nicole Jenkins, CELA regional learning & development coordinator

We thank you.

While others in the front line such as nurses and doctors were given special time slots at supermarkets to enable them to stock up on essential goods during panic buying, our sector was left in the lurch.

Our small and community services went above and beyond to source the items needed to continue to care for children, sometimes spending hours outside of your rostered time to ensure that nobody went without.

“I spoke with educators who were finding it impossible to track down the food they needed to provide quality meals for the children in their care. Some were begging with supermarket assistants to let them in early, others were having to drive for hours to numerous supermarkets during their own time to source the staples they needed when reactions were in place. The effort that these educators put in to keep children fed and looked after should be commended.”

Aline Majado, CELA learning and development operations manager.

We thank you.

While many other sectors remain within the relatively stable bubble of JobKeeper, this safety net has been pulled from ECEC.

For some this will not be an issue, for others, it may create enormous challenges. As with earlier funding changes, our small and community service leaders roll up their sleeves yet again to do what they can to ensure that doors remain open to support their team and their families.

“Leaders and directors have had so many balls to juggle navigating the funding landscape as well as being there to guide educators, families and management, and remain strong in the face of uncertainty. This leadership is key to teams continuing to function well and families being kept informed and feeling connected to the service. These are the leaders that services need and they should be celebrated.”

Louise Black, CELA learning & development specialist

We thank you.

The COVID threat has decreased, but our challenges remain

We know that educators need to be well and safe to provide high-quality programs for children, families, themselves and the organisations that employ them.

According to a research study titled ‘Managing educator well-being in challenging times’ conducted by the Early Childhood Educator Wellbeing Project, most senior managers in ECEC perceived a rise in educators’ mental health issues in recent times, particularly for educators who work with families experiencing stressful situations. This is likely to increase as the economic and mental health fallout from the pandemic ripples through our community in the coming months.

Through our phone lines and email, we have heard that many of you are still feeling very overwhelmed and uncertain. There is no guarantee that we will not have a second wave of COVID, and the safety of children and educators still weighs heavily on many leaders.

Despite many families returning to ECEC, a significant number of educators are still not working the hours they previously secured and are struggling to cope financially.

“We’re concerned that some educators, such as long term casuals, had been counting on receiving JobKeeper until the end of September, and may find themselves earning far less after 13 July unless enrolments increase,” says CELA research and policy advisor Megan O’Connell. “These are workers with their own families to support. It is not fair that the ECEC workforce that physically attended work and was applauded for keeping the economy going, while others had the luxury of working safely from home, has been the first to have JobKeeper removed.”

Pay parity remains an issue

While being deemed a vital key to the country’s survival during the pandemic and economic prospects during recovery, there are still no signs of pay rates improving in the near future.

Skills shortage will only increase

Even before the pandemic, reports indicated that 1 in 5 early educators were planning to leave the profession in the next 12 months because of low pay, feeling undervalued and increasing time spent on paperwork (The Conversation). We are yet to see how the pandemic experience will affect this sentiment, but we can’t imagine the number planning to leave the profession will have decreased.

“The existing skills shortage will likely accelerate over coming months, due to extended border closures and a lack of casual staff in the form of English Language Students who were supposed to have arrived in Australia to start their ECEC certificate III,” says CELA CEO Michele Carnegie. “We are also concerned that some international colleges may close because they are no longer viable.”

Return to CCS and cessation of JobKeeper leaves future uncertain

The impact of the resumption of Child Care Subsidy and cessation of JobKeeper on services will depend on service circumstances but is likely to add stress through additional administration and the economic impact on families.

“In some areas parents may have lost employment and may seek to remove children from care, remote working options may have extended families ability to balance work and care” says Ms Carnegie.

“Services may be challenged to attract families in the context of fee recommencement to a sufficient degree to become viable by the end of the six week transition period to CCS. The future remains uncertain for many.”

What needs to be done now:

Early education and care has always been a vital support for children and families, it is now an imperative part of our nation’s recovery.

In order to ensure that services can continue to offer the quality education and care our nation’s children need, we call on the government to:

  • Undertake immediate monitoring of CCS funded service viability as a result of the return to CCS and the cessation of JobKeeper.
  • Closely monitor financial vulnerability resulting from families not being able to access ACCS quickly enough to avoid a drop in participation.
  • Monitor the number of families withdrawing children through other reasons related to unaffordability and enable services to grant ACCS to families in financial hardship.
  • Provide support for children who were already identified as vulnerable, as well as for those who have newly been identified as part of this cohort.
  • Provide support for educators in newly vulnerable hotspots to help them to recognise vulnerable children and communicate with their families in an appropriate way.
  • Ensure that ECEC services are properly resourced to deal with future outbreaks and closures to enable them to ensure continuity of quality face to face or remote learning.

CELA is also calling for the Government to demonstrate its respect for the sector and invest in a long term strategy to build, reward and retain this vital workforce.

 

Families across Australia are indebted to their early childhood service for staying open, for making them feel safe, and for continuing to provide quality programs for children in a safe environment so that families could continue to work. Some states have had the brilliant foresight to implement fee free preschool for two terms which has enabled these services to get on with teaching without the need to worry about funding.

“We call on the government to take another look at the sector and put a plan in place to acknowledge its value to society,” concludes Ms Carnegie. “As a result of the pandemic, parents have a new degree of clarity around who is really essential to their lives, and will no doubt consider these sentiments when the next election rolls around.”

Feedback from families to some of our member services:

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Further reading:

Beyond Blue and Early Childhood Australia have developed resources recognising that educators looking after young children are playing an important role during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The resources cover: Educator self-care; Working with families; How to help children feel safe during times of change; Helping children explore their emotions; and, What to do when children and young people need extra support.


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CELA has been supporting the professional needs of the early and middle childhood sector for over 40 years. We trained over 4,500 sector professionals in 2019.

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