“I’m torn all day, every day,” Ms Jean said. “We need more support. We’re stressed, we’re tired.
“Every time a family calls and asks me to babysit, I need to not be homeless but at the same time I wish they [the government] would call a lockdown already because I don’t think we should have children together and at such close contact.”
Like many, Ms Jean is struggling to understand why it’s OK to send a three-year-old to childcare but not an older child to a Victorian school. “How come schools are closed?” Ms Jean asked.
She said workers should be paid danger money for continuing to care for children, and the government should guarantee that educators will be paid during a shutdown and have their job when the crisis fades.
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he was “assessing the circumstances in all settings everyday” and he had not heard of clusters of coronavirus cases in schools or childcare centres internationally.
“So that’s reassuring. But we’ll continue to keep an eye on it and we’ll continue to assess it,” Dr Sutton said.
However, he said ill children needed to be kept home. “Everyone should practice the distancing that they can.”
The federal government increased its support of childcare centres by announcing on Wednesday that children would be able to miss up to 62 days of care this financial year – an increase of 20 days – without losing the Child Care Subsidy.
The government has also waived the current obligation of childcare centres to make families pay the gap, or any out-of-pocket fees, if they are forced to close on public health advice.
Education Minister Dan Tehan reiterated that the “expert medical advice is that the childcare sector remains open except where individual services have been directed to close by health authorities”.
“The health and safety of all Australians is our number one priority, and that includes the 1.3 million children in childcare, and 200,000 staff working in the childcare sector.”
But the United Workers Union said “hygiene and safety must be improved and increased in centres or they should be shut down to protect young children and educators”.
The union called for temperature checks on arrival, each centre to have enough personal protective equipment – such as soap and disposable gloves – to last at least 48 hours, high traffic areas to be cleaned every two hours, additional cleaning staff, more hand washing, and staggered starting and finishing times.
Madeleine Heffernan edits The Age’s Monday education page
Benjamin is a state political reporter