Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled an early childhood education and care relief package Thursday that aims to temporarily make child care free for parents in need in Australia. Under the plan, the Australian government hopes to not only ease the burden on parents working in essential services — such as health care workers and grocery store clerks — but also help facilities within the child care sector keep their doors open throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"Relief is on its way for around a million Australian families and thousands of early learning educators and carers," Morrison said in a statement released by his office. "These services are vital for so many parents so they can provide for their family, and children need as much familiarity and continuity as we can help provide at this unsettling time." To date, Australia has reported more than 11,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
While speaking to reporters about the relief package on Thursday, Morrison stressed that, while Australians were being urged to stay home, child care remained an essential service for parents working in jobs deemed critical during the coronavirus outbreak. According to Morrison's office, priority will be given to working parents, vulnerable or disadvantaged children who need early education now more than ever, and parents who have pre-existing enrollment at a child care facility.
As part of the relief package, Australia's government is expected to provide the country's early childhood education and care sector with $1.6 billion AUD over the course of three months. In exchange, those centers and facilities cannot charge families for provided care.
In a press release issued by his office, Morrison described the plan as "building a bridge" to see valuable services like child care through to the other side of the pandemic. With schools and businesses closing or shifting to a work-from-home model as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, child care centers in Australia have seen noticeable drops in enrollment and revenue. On Thursday, Morrison stressed the importance of supporting such facilities through the current crisis "so they can continue to play their valuable role in our workforce and education systems and so Australia can bounce back strongly."
The relief package will also enable parents who pulled their children from child care, and subsequently stopped their payments, to re-enroll without a gap fee. "If you have terminated your enrollment since Feb. 17, then I encourage you to get back in contact with your center and re-start your arrangements," Dan Tehan, Australia's education minister, said in a statement. "Re-starting your enrollment will not require you to send your child to child care and it certainly won't require you to pay a gap fee. Re-starting your enrollment will, however, hold your place for that point in time when things start to normalize, and you are ready to take your child back to their center."
Australia's move toward free child care, however, isn't likely to become permanent, at least for now. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's ABC News, Morrison's child care plan will be reviewed in a month, at which time a three-month extension will be considered.
"Our desire, our want, is to get us through this pandemic and then we would like things to go back to normal," Tehan said, according to ABC News. "Obviously for the next six months, while we're dealing with the pandemic, we want those workers who are out there helping us get through the pandemic to be able to get the support they need through free child care."
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