Two policies collide
In 2017 Amplify covered NSW’s move beyond the Commonwealth ‘No Jab No Pay’ legislation to join Victoria and Queensland with a ‘No Jab No Play’ policy that prevents parents with a ‘conscientious objection’ to vaccinations from using that belief as an exemption to enrol their children in registered children’s services including standalone preschools.
CELA supports the intent of vaccination policies as a protection for public health which is threatened by increasing numbers of unvaccinated children breaching the community’s overall ‘herd immunity’. We have questioned, however, the use of children’s services as such a primary policy mechanism. Our main story, When two policies collide: vaccination and universal access across Australia, remains one of our most-clicked posts and has been picked up by mainstream media and both pro- and anti-vaccination groups around the world.
Why does this sector pay the price?
CELA’s concerns, raised by many members, are twofold.
- early childhood and middle years educators are placed at the forefront of a public health battle
- children’s access to regulated, safe, quality early learning is the price families are asked to pay for their beliefs
Policy mechanisms that would more directly affect adults making this choice for their children don’t seem to be explored.
Governments at federal and state level have a number of other regulatory collection points that could equally be legislated around for promoting vaccination. For example, could there be a higher Medicare levy paid by anti-vax parents? Or a percentage point added to their income tax payments? Should their state or territory driving licences or car registration cost more, or their access to public hospitals require an additional fee for the additional risk they pose particularly to the very old, the very young, and people with damaged immune systems?
These suggestions might sound absurd or draconian, but the damage done to a child’s lifelong learning prospects by being denied quality early education access is indisputable. So why is this sector such a soft target?
Is your state next?
While the national No Jab No Pay policy has been in place for some years – blocking fee subsidies for unvaccinated children unless they have a genuine medical reason for exemption – it has not been successful in preventing families willing to pay full price from enrolling their children on the grounds of their personal belief that discredited theories about vaccinations are true. Nor did the policy touch parents who would not in any case be eligible for CCB/CCR since they enrolled their children in preschools which did not offer subsidies.
No Jab No Play policies, however, block any enrolment without medical grounds.
NSW legislation is now in effect for new enrolments after 1 January 2018. Many anti-vax families were able to get around the immediate deadline by pre-enrolling their children ahead of the New Year, but the squeeze will set in during 2018 and beyond with few options now left and hefty personal fines for service providers (and medical professionals) who bend the rules. Victoria’s laws have been in place for many years, but were recently tightened to capture doctors falsely signing certificates for immune disorders, and in Queensland the laws are similar but currently leave the choice of accepting or rejecting conscientious belief exemptions up to the service provider.
Western Australia has announced similar legislation will soon be tabled, and South Australia is well into public consultation over similar laws.
Backyard services inevitable
Only a few days beyond the NSW deadline, the Sunday papers had their first examples of public Facebook posts offering ‘babysitting’ for unvaccinated children from the Northern Rivers region – along with inner city Adelaide it has the lowest vaccination rates in Australia. This, too, has been a concern for CELA’s members who have asked many times “Where will the children go?”.
Unregulated and potentially unqualified carers have always existed, of course, but the fear is that parents desperate for child care to cover working hours, or lured by the prospect of a backyard preschool setting for socialisation, may not look for the health, safety, and educational standards that are required in regulated care.
What do you think?
It’s not hard to find offers to care for unvaccinated children during the day. When CELA shared the above Sunday Telegraph story on its Facebook timeline several followers immediately pointed us to other ‘babysitting/childminding’ shout-outs like the one pictured in the header for this story (identifying details removed, although that particular post is still live and public as of today’s date).
Educators are part of the community and your views are – like the wider community – overwhelmingly in favour of vaccinations although concerned for the outcomes for children deprived of regulated services. Some examples of comments we’ve received are shared below and can be views on our Facebook link (used with permission from the writers).
This was always going to be the outcome of this legislation. I have real concerns about all these ‘underground’ services starting up.
Dumbing down the Industry to Babysitting again! aside from the serious health implications…wonder where everyone stands if there is an accident in the home?
Not allowing equal access to quality education is discrimination! White schools only, meant black schools started. Non vaccinated children deserve equal rights! This is fear mongering and I don’t like it!
I am so pro vaccination! But I agree with you! The poor kids are being discriminated because of their parents choices.
I don’t really want my kid to be exposed to controllable diseases though – I don’t think it’s too much to ask for people to vaccinate their kids. I wonder if the children will care when they are sick or have made their little siblings extremely sick because of their parents’ choices? This is to PROTECT their rights to be safe and healthy!
There is opposition however:
I have been an educator for 20 years now and no one is more of a threat of spreading communicable diseases now that they were before. It’s not the business of education to care whether a child is vaccinated or not. This is a medical responsibility. Let all children have equal access to quality education. An unvaccinated child can’t attend preschool, but a child undiagnosed with a behavioural need, who is a danger to either themselves or others, is fine? Again, nonsense.
Hurrah a voice of reason in the childcare wilderness ! Thank you – there are so few of us who think this way.
What to do?
We asked the NSW Regulatory Authority and ACECQA for their views on the use of early learning as leverage for vaccination – was it appropriate? Was it counter-productive when universal access to quality early education is an agreed national goal?
ACECQA advised this wasn’t a topic on which it would comment. The NSW Regulatory Authority provided the comprehensive response below, but refrained from commenting on the overlap of health policies onto educational aims. We thank them for taking the time to capture their position.
The NSW Regulatory Authority has responsibility for ensuring that services are compliant with the Education and Care Services National Law and Regulations.
Services that fall within the definition of an education and care services, either under the National Law or the NSW Children (Education and Care Services) Supplementary Provisions Act, and that operate without approval, are operating illegally. The Department will act to close unapproved services and may consider commencing prosecution proceedings. There are penalties of up to $100,000 for operating an education and care service without an approval.
The NSW Public Health Act prescribes the vaccination requirements for children attending and education and care service in NSW. For services that enrol a child that does not meet the vaccination requirements, Directors of services can face a penalty of up to $5500.
From 1 January 2018 children who have not been immunised due to their parent’s vaccine conscientious objection cannot be enrolled in childcare. This aligns NSW with the Australian Government’s No Jab, No Pay measure.
Amendments to the NSW Public Health Act regarding vaccination status and child care enrolments are an initiative of the NSW Government. The NSW Department of Education is not responsible for public health reform. All enquiries regarding the changes to the Public Health Act should be referred to the NSW Department of Health.
The NSW Government supports vaccination of children as safe and highly effective in preventing the transmission of disease. NSW already has high immunisation rates at one, two and five years, including very high rates among Aboriginal children.
Under the NSW Public Health Act, a child must be appropriately immunised for their age to be enrolled in an education and care service. Only children who have a valid medical reason not to be vaccinated, or those on a recognised vaccination catch-up schedule, are exempt.
Together with the National Law, the Public Health Act will help ensure the health, safety and well-being of children when they attend early childhood education and care services.
It’s important for the community to understand that before leaving a child with a childcare service, parents should give careful consideration as to whether that service can ensure the health, safety and well-being of their child and provide quality education outcomes. This includes having a valid service approval to operate in NSW, the appropriate insurance and that the educators are qualified and have a valid Working with Children Check.
Parents should know that if they use an illegal service or make personal arrangements, that all of the checks and balances to protect children and ensure their health, safety and wellbeing, will not be in place.
If members of the community suspect that a service is operating illegally, we encourage them to call the NSW Regulatory Authority on 1800 619 113.
Meet the author
Bec Lloyd is the founder and managing director of Bec & Call Communication, providing professional writing, editing and strategy services to the school and early childhood education sector since 2014. In 2018 she launched UnYucky mindset and menus for happier family mealtimes. Formerly the communications lead at ACECQA and BOS (now NESA), Bec is a journo and mother of three who produces Amplify for us at Community Early Learning Australia.