The great daycare debate. Schools might close, but what about childcare? Should parents pay if the day care centre is shut?

t's a really confusing time for so many parents right now. It feels a little like we're getting mixed messages... while the Prime Minister continues to insist that schools are open and safe for our kids, various state leaders have now decided otherwise. It's very hard to know what to do and what will happen - things change day by day. 

But while schools are one thing, daycares are another. For one thing, they're mostly not government-run and for another, they cost a bomb to attend. In various parts of the world, they are already shut or being asked to close in the coming days to help flatten the curve. Is this where Australia is heading? Perhaps. 

One parent has taken to Mumsnet to ask, "Is my childminder being unreasonable to ask for 50 percent of fees whilst closed to retain my child's place?" 

"I think it's fair"

Most people agreed that if she could, the mum should pay the fee. "I think that’s fair, otherwise she will go out of business." 

Another agreed, "I think 50% is fair. Don't you want the childminder to still be there when this is all over?" while plenty suggested we all had a moral obligation to help each other out as much as possible - if we still can.

"If you are still being paid, you need to pay your childminder full wage," one said, adding, "Don’t make a profit from this situation. You will want the place when things return to normal. Unless your own finances are compromised, it’s unfair to do anything else."

Let's face it, this is going to be a time of adjustment for everyone. Image: iStock 

"Everyone needs to do their part"

Some suggested it was worth having the conversation. "I think it’s open to negotiation, to be honest. Everyone needs to do their best to maintain as normal an economy as possible. If you are still getting paid as normal, morally, I would pay your childcare," one said, adding, "If your pay has been affected, open a negotiation as to what you can reasonably afford."

This is a good suggestion, and if your child isn't in regular childcare - ie, being looked after by a nanny or an au pair - it's an important thing to think about. Everyone is going to struggle the next few weeks and months and we all need to try and support one another, especially casual workers. 

The daycare issue

What to do about daycare is a conversation many parents are likely to be having this week. If schools close, what about daycares? For many parents, schools are (mostly) free, daycares are not. While most daycares have indicated they will (obviously) not charge if they are not open, for the moment, there is no directive to shut them. 

We love our daycares and we want them to still be there when this whole thing blows over. But at the moment, Australian parents are only allowed to have their kids out of daycare for up to 42 days per calendar year without losing their childcare subsidy. If kids are in five days a week, that equates to a little over two months - and there's every indication this situation will go on at least that long. Do we keep paying or do we just withdraw them, lose the place and hope we can put them back in again in six months time? 

Centrelink will allow for special circumstances - and you're encouraged to chat with them about whether or not you qualify, for example, if you or a family member are immunosuppressed or you live with elderly grandparents and you can't take the risk of a germy little toddler bringing home the virus. But until we get some answers, we're still looking at potentially paying hundreds of dollars a week for childcare we're not using. 

Countless families affected

Sydney-based mum of one, Anna is a freelancer photographer and her husband is a restaurateur. Like many other Australian families they face losing their toddler's place at childcare as a result of the coronavirus: 

"I almost cancelled his daycare enrollment this morning," Anna said, "I can't afford it. But I'm just waiting to see what the government does because I'm hoping they just close them all so we don't have to decide."

I personally have made the decision to keep my son home from daycare as of today and it breaks my heart. I love his daycare. I love the staff, I love the community and I know I can't replicate what he learns there.

But I also fall into the high-risk category - immunosuppressed and with aging parents who are his secondary caregivers. So I can't take the chance. But I will continue to pay as long as I'm able. Because I don't want the staff to lose their jobs and I don't want him to lose his place. 

But I don't know, logistically or financially if that can work, full-time. I do know I'd love some assurance from the government that they have a plan for daycares - for the parents, for the kids and for the wonderful staff who look after our babies and who deserve to be looked after as well in this really challenging time. 



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