One of the key elements of the Government’s Child Care Package was the ending of direct government funding to Budget Based Funded (BBF) services. These services, mostly supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, often operated in challenging regional and remote areas, providing community-specific and individual services.
The Government decided that these services would be required to transition to funding through the new Child Care Subsidy, and contracted PricewaterhouseCoopers to support this transition. Throughout this time, SNAICC – National Voice for Our Children raised a number of concerns regarding how this transition might affect children and families.
With NAIDOC Week being celebrated around the country, and the new system now in its second week, The Framework discussed how BBF services have coped with the big changes and the transition with Judith McKay-Tempest from SNAICC.
The Framework: How has the transition to the Child Care Subsidy been for BBF services overall?
Judith McKay-Tempest: Transitioning into the new system has been challenging for both families and service providers. Services have experienced technical difficulties with online systems, raising the question of software/equipment readiness, especially in remote areas. Unclear information about how the system works has also been cause for concern.
There are worries raised regarding Centrelink being unable/unavailable to assist families with getting the right information and registering into the new system, passing the additional task onto service providers. The additional administrative workload, meeting deadlines required, upskilling of staff, technology failing and inadequate allocated budget also leave many services feeling unprepared for the changes.
Has there been a particular impact on families?
We’ve seen cases of families cancelling enrolment, leaving the centre or children having reduced access.
Service providers are concerned that with the eligibility requirements, increase in fees, out-of-pocket expenses, and more complicated paperwork, families will be more reluctant to enrol their children into early childhood education and care, or that this will result in children having reduced access to services.
What has been the experience for children and families experiencing vulnerability?
We are concerned there is not enough support for families experiencing vulnerability and those living in remote areas. Services for community and families do not understand the changes and the new system, or are not able to access the right information and or do not trust the system.
There is a lack of ongoing support for families to maintain paperwork and requirements, especially in low socioeconomic and remote areas. Centrelink may not be prepared to support families, and the absence of facilities and equipment, such as computers, may hinder families from gaining access to the online system. We’ve also heard concerns about families being able to consistently meet requirements, and that children in need of most support will fall further behind.
Do services feel they had enough support to transition?
This varies in all jurisdictions. Some services felt that they were not consulted about the changes, some felt there was not enough lead time to transition. We were told by some services that the information provided was unclear.
Is SNAICC confident that these services can sustainably operate under the Subsidy into the future?
There are real concerns over the survival of services under the new system, as some may not be able to keep up with changes in policy, training of staff, loss of funding and possibly not having enough enrolments to cover costs. There are still a lot questions we don’t have answers to. Will services be able to sustain themselves when the 5-year Community Child Care Fund is finished? Will families be able to maintain paying fees through Centrelink?
There is a fear that services will be forced to become more business minded than community-focused. It may be difficult to maintain service identities, stay true to organisational values and support families experiencing vulnerability.
How would SNAICC like to see these services better supported?
As part of the identified strategies in addressing concerns about transitioning into the new system, SNAICC will remain in close communication with services to effectively monitor the changes and impact. In particularly, we will be following up with service providers across Australia to complete a survey that gathers information related to transitioning into the new system.
After the survey is completed, we will be identifying priority themes and providing them to the Department of Education. We may also develop more detailed case studies highlighting the impacts of the changes.
We will also continue regular discussions with both services, and share our findings and recommendations with the Department.
Thank you to Judith Tempest-McKay, Early Years Training Coordinator for SNAICC – National Voice for our Children, for her time.