When Julie Lynch was told on Tuesday that a child at Hawthorn Early Years had tested positive to COVID-19, she moved quickly to close down her childcare centre.
By 3.15pm, parents had collected their children and the centre shut its doors.
Hawthorn Early Years closed after a child tested positive to coronavirus.Credit:Wayne Taylor
All staff working in the junior program the infected child attends, and all families with a child there, were directed into 14-day quarantine.
Ms Lynch doesn’t know when her community-run centre on Glenferrie Road will reopen; that will depend on the advice of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is dealing with a ballooning backlog of contact tracing tasks.
Meanwhile, the non-profit centre is losing thousands of dollars a day. Ms Lynch said that with no indication when her centre would reopen, nor how many families would return when it does, it was too soon to tally the full financial hit.
"With JobKeeper now gone and no revenue coming in other than what we will still get from the childcare subsidy, it leaves us running at a loss every day," Ms Lynch said.
JobKeeper payments were cut from the childcare sector in mid-July, and the fees parents normally pay at Hawthorn Early Years have been suspended while it is closed.
It also had to spend $6000 on a deep clean following the coronavirus case.
Ms Lynch believes her centre, which has 155 children enrolled, will weather the financial hit of its enforced COVID-19 closure but she fears many smaller places in the same situation could fold.
"Service closures like this mean some of them will struggle to reopen, particularly depending on the extent of the time they are closed," she said.
Julie Price, executive director of the Community Child Care Association, said she hoped every centre would at least have a few children in attendance under Victoria's new stage four restrictions, so they could keep receiving essential Commonwealth funding and remain viable.
"If services shut there's no JobKeeper, they'll have no income, there's no way that they won't not be standing staff down at the least," Ms Price said.
Dozens of early learning centres in Victoria are already closed, either because of links with infected people or as a precaution.
Ms Price said it was possible some of those centres would not reopen unless the federal government increased its financial support.
Deep cleaning costs were in some cases too onerous, Ms Price said.
"You can imagine cleaning every piece of Lego and every book, all the sand play equipment, every bucket and spade, everything that’s in an early childhood centre – that’s just massive," she said.
Amanda Rishworth, Labor’s early childhood education spokeswoman, said federal Education Minister Dan Tehan should guarantee support for any centre hit by a coronavirus infection, including contributing to deep cleaning costs.
"Minister Tehan must ensure community childcare centres stay viable through the pandemic, or we risk wiping community centres from the sector," Ms Rishworth said.
The Department of Education, Skills and Employment said childcare services were being supported through a $708 million transition package to make the switch back to childcare subsidies after free childcare ended on July 12.
The Morrison government has also said childcare centres can waive the gap fee parents pay when their child is absent for COVID-19-related reasons, in a bid to cut family costs and prevent more families withdrawing children.
But some centres have chosen to continue charging the gap fee.
The Age has seen correspondence from one community-run centre in Kew telling parents they must pay gap fees if their child is absent.
"As a not-for-profit centre we are unfortunately not in a position to waive gap fees during this July-August period," the facility wrote last month.
"The factors that have informed our decision are that a number of the financial assistance government programs offered earlier in the year to childcare centres are no longer available."
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