Can somebody tell me why we have such a dichotomy in Australia whereby parents love their babies and young children with a passion but on a national policy basis their needs and the needs of those that care for them are continually overlooked?
Having assessed the evidence that Covid appears to be a relatively mild illness in children, it appears as if our commonwealth and state and territory governments have just never checked in to see how the services that care for them – our early education and care (childcare) services – are going.
How are they going? The good news is that so far children are surviving. Despite almost 88,000 children under the age of nine having caught Covid in Australia so far, there have only been two deaths.
But when it comes to the services that care and educate our youngest children, our long daycare services, preschools, family daycare services and out-of-school hours care services, and the educators and teachers that staff these services, the news is less good. Since the very start of the pandemic the capacity of these services to stay afloat has been seriously at risk.
Governments have continually put in short-term financial aid to parents and services to keep their doors open. But then they withdraw it. Because it was only ever a range of temporary patches over a gaping wound.
So here we are with Covid ripping through the country and we have education and care services, and the people that are staffing them, once again going under.
Financially they can’t survive without further support if they have to keep waiving parents’ fees because the parents are keeping their children home out of fear or because they have to shut down because too many of their staff have Covid or are close contacts.
Every solution to this problem has been brought in on a temporary basis only because, I don’t know, you can’t keep making things free, can you? Even if your economy and your health system desperately need childcare centres to keep their doors open.
The people who manage these services are frantically trying to ensure that they keep the children and babies in their care safe. They must under the National Quality Framework they operate under. Quality Area 2 of this framework demands that services safeguard children’s health and safety, minimise risks and protect children from harm and infection.
This is what they are required to always do, even when we aren’t in the middle of a pandemic.
But in some states like NSW they have been told that staff no longer have to isolate if there is a positive case in their centre. Even if they have spent 10 hours in the same room or with the positive child in their laps! How can anyone ignore that this puts children and other staff at high risk of catching this blasted virus?
But no, apparently you can only catch Covid in homes. Not in a centre where hundreds of children spend the hours when they are not in their own homes. One director told me this week that apparently the government believes Covid is left in the car park of their centre and isn’t allowed through the front door.
The directors and managers of the centres also have to juggle staff absences due to positive Covid cases and close contact exposures outside of the centres. But unlike, say, restaurants, they can’t just close their doors if they don’t have enough staff to operate without having an impact on a load of other employees who need the care to turn up for their own jobs.
Young human beings can’t just be left without adult care – unfortunately for the economy. Ask the parents of the 500 odd centres that have had to close so far how they feel about suddenly being left without care.
And then the directors and managers have all the normal issues, like struggling to find food to feed the children in their care given bare supermarket shelves, the need to find RATS on the private market to test their staff, and high-quality masks for the educators that children climb over and hug on a daily basis.
Every day they are sent updated information about how they are supposed to operate from the government departments that regulate and fund them. The one thing this information avalanche lacks is clear guidance and support.
You hear a lot in the media about school education and whether children should return to school now or later. You hear a lot about the rollout of the vaccination program for children aged from five to 12. You hear about ventilation in schools, or the lack thereof.
But you don’t hear much about children under five who are, after all, unable to be vaccinated at all. You don’t hear much about what is happening in the centres that are desperately trying to keep these children safe. You don’t hear much about how our early childhood educators and teachers are faring. You don’t hear much about the RATS that were promised to these centres by governments that haven’t yet arrived.
You don’t hear much about how the women (97% of the staff are in fact women) who provide care and education to our youngest children and who manage these centres, for wages that are among the lowest in Australia, are coping.
But maybe you should because the answer is “not very well”.
We used to have a world where women and children were protected. Apparently that went out about the same time as coughing in public did.