Desperate childcares offering free babysitting for ‘support’
Exclusive: Parents are feeling intimidated by desperate childcares who are offering free babysitting and casual spots in exchange for donations to pay their staff, as services say the federal government's free childcare system is driving them to the brink of collapse.
News Corp Australia has found a number of childcares across the country have launched fundraising appeals with some targets as high as $78,000, saying they cannot pay their staff or guarantee childcare spots.
But childcares say the 'free childcare' package from the federal government is decimating them, with many saying they will close in weeks.
One centre, Kidzville in Marrickville, has a GoFundMe page with a $10,000 target which says "we need your help to keep our staff employed!".
It also said: "We will open up casual spots for all families who provide support for us - more information to come. We will once this pandemic is over - offer 3 babysitting evenings free of charge."
Another centre, Gingerbread Kindergarten in Sydney's east has a GoFundMe page with a target of $78,000 that was set up by the centre on behalf of parents who wanted to donate to "ensure the centre remains open and educators keep their jobs".
"With the announcement of the Free Child Care Package, Gingerbread has been hit very hard financially," the page reads.
In Victoria a number of centres are fundraising, including One World for Children in North Geelong who have a fundraising page with a target of $50,000, saying this is what the centre has calculated will be needed "over this coming term and June school holidays to continue supporting our families by providing our full range of services, as well as continuing to offer our program for our school age children."
Avenues Montessori Children's House, Bowen Hills in Queensland has a page set up by parents asking for money towards gift cards to donate to staff and Becana Devencorn set up a fundraiser for her staff at Sky Tree childcare on the Gold Coast saying the government funding isn't enough.
"More than 50 per cent of my families are begging to pay me, they want to pay and they can't understand why they can't," she said.
"We only have three staff that are eligible for JobKeeper and we are at 50 per cent of funding."
Another parent from a different centre, who declined to be named, said they have also been asked to pay an additional $60 a week for food and nappies or supply the exact same meal the service is providing that day.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said a condition of services receiving payments is families are not charged for care.
"This includes in-kind payment arrangements. Under the Relief Package, centres must not adjust their service offer. This means a service cannot introduce a new charge for supplies such as nappies and food," he said.
But centres say they have no choice with the free childcare package meaning they are expected to provide spots - while only bringing in half the income.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated that the free childcare scheme is not sustainable long term and that the program was being assessed.
With childcare worker jobs on the federal government's skilled visa list, many childcare workers are not eligible for JobKeeper due to their visas and the Government's Exceptional Circumstances payment requires centres to accept a family for a spot before they have been approved.
One childcare insider told News Corp[ the majority of applications were being denied, leaving services short.
Samantha Page, CEO of Early Childhood Australia, said 30 per cent of services were about to close when the government's rescue package came in.
"It was a response to that and it did keep services open but going forward it is inadequate as it is too low - especially now with families encouraged to go back to school. We are seeing demand increase and it will increase quickly."
This has been the case for Jenny Madden, Centre director at St Catherine's Early Education Centre in North Melbourne, where parents set up a fundraiser with a target of $15,000. It has already raised $11,000 and Ms Madden said the money was badly needed.
A non-profit centre, Ms Madden said they are yet to receive any JobKeeper payments and the money from the Government rescue package barely covers wages.
"We can't go on much longer, I have barely slept. I worry about the children, the parents and my staff - I have had to cut back their wages. Parents who are working are contacting me asking what they can do. It is such an uncertain time."
Opposition spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth said the policy had not been properly funded.
"This is a stark example of the lengths providers and families are being forced to go to in order to keep centres open," she said.
Australian Early Childhood SA spokeswoman Kate Ryan said she was not aware of any SA centres asking for donations.
Australian Childcare Alliance SA spokesman Kerry Mahony has issued a warning to local centres considering the desperate measures.
"It is not keeping with the (Commonwealth) requirements," he said.
"We understand the dilemma … some are really hurting.
"We have approached and are discussing with the Commonwealth increasing that subsidy to 60 per cent of that February base period."
Mr Mahony said that would address the problem of breaking even.
"It may not get them back to 100 per cent of the capacity but it will allow them to take on more kids," he said.
Originally published as Desperate childcares offering free babysitting for 'support'