Kidsoft hosts online event to support ECEC sector as return to CCS package plays out
Cloud based CCMS provider, Kidsoft, brought the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector together yesterday evening in an online event designed to explore the challenges and changes 2020 has seen to date, with a focus on the recent return to CCS funding.
Moderated by The Sector founder, Jason Roberts, a panel comprised of HR professionals, chartered accountants and customer service experts explored a range of topics including the impact of the return to Stage Three lockdowns in Victoria, the challenges in supporting families during this difficult period, and practical suggestions for service owners and managers to survive the transition back to CCS.
Over 400 registrations were received for the popular event, the first in a series of collaborative efforts by Kidsoft to enhance and add value to the ECEC space.
Managing Victorian restrictions and the cessation of JobKeeper
The first speaker, David Morphett from DJMIR Advisory Services spoke about the intensive impact of the return to lockdown conditions in Victoria, which have hit services just as they were eyeing a return to normal, in terms of occupancy and operation.
While the State is “yet to find the bottom” of the crisis, he added, there are a number of parents who are experiencing frustration with the continual change of restrictions, choosing to withdraw their children from care altogether, rather than to trust the allowable absence levels, or to navigate fluctuating levels of CCS payment and risk incurring fees.
Parents are choosing instead to keep children at home until the path forward, both in terms of restrictions and their employment, becomes clearer, and this is impacting heavily on the operation of ECEC services.
Just as the return of restrictions in Victoria is impacting parents and families, Mr Morphett said, from a national perspective, the cessation of JobKeeper for the ECEC sector, and the transitional support measures put in its place as CCS returns, is also impacting on the experience of leaders in the sector.
Once JobKeeper ends, Mr Morphett explained, so too do the stand down measures which came with it. For services who are battling lower occupancy, who have had to move staff from one room to another, who have lost staff due to visa conditions, or who have moved staff from full time employment to part time employment, this could be problematic.
The coming months will be a time during which services are constrained by conditions relating to the transitional support measures, and engaging in consultation with their teams about the best path forward to ensure ongoing viability, he added.
Supporting families, maintaining relationships
“The most important thing to do during this period is to grow an extra ear” Mr Scantlebury said, explaining the importance of balancing compliance with empathy, and of seeking to walk in the shoes of children and families who are dealing with unprecedented levels of stress.
While owners and operators are under enormous pressure themselves, in terms of managing the expectations of their teams and the demands placed on them by the shifting sands of policy and funding, families are looking to trusted voices for reassurance and stability.
People, Mr Scantlebury said, will leave services because of their circumstances, such as losing their job, but the way in which follow ups from these departures are handled will determine whether or not they return once circumstances change.
Using the example of a service following up with a family who has left in relation to unpaid fees, Mr Scantlebury preached caution.
“When it comes to families, and our relationships with them, it’s a matter of listening, empathising, and staying as close as possible.”
Communication, particularly in relation to any changes, is paramount in maintaining that close relationship, he continued, explaining that the return to restrictions in Victoria is likely to impact around Australia, with parents having questions about pick up and drop off, and how their child will be cared for and protected.
Relationships don’t begin and end with families, with both Mr Morphett and Mr Scantlebury outlining the importance of maintaining clear relationships and “lines of sight” with the educators and leaders within services also.
Mr Morphett spoke on the need for services to spend the next 12 weeks, whilst transition support measures are in play, actively consulting with their teams about the employment landscape post September, and to use this time to build a solid plan.
Mr Scantlebury touched on the need for leaders to be sensitive to the uncertainties faced by their employees, who may be operating from a baseline of anxiety, arising from circumstances in their home lives, such as a partners job loss, or the need to care for and educate their own children at home.
The educators affected by stand downs or reductions in hours, he added, are the “front line” in maintaining relationships and empathising with families, and if they feel “hard done by” or disengaged, the impact to the business could be ongoing.
“This is the toughest time to be a leader” Mr Scantlebury said. “You’ve got to manage the business, but also the people and the relationships.”
Practicalities around CCS return
While the return to lockdown restrictions in Victoria has had a social and emotional impact on those residing there, the timing of the lockdown, falling during the transition back to CCS, has proved problematic for some Victorian providers.
The final speaker of the evening, Kidsoft CFO Di Girvin, shared her advice for Victorian services, and for other services who may be struggling to navigate the change.
“Everyone had been ramping up to return to normal on Monday” she said. “There’s lots of questions from Victorian services about the capacity of CCMS software to waive the gap fee for those absences, and about the administrative burden of applying discounts day by day or week by week to those absences which relate directly to COVID.”
While Kidsoft is agile and has been able to rapidly respond to these challenges, not all providers have had the same experience.
Owners and managers, Ms Girvin continued, are also dealing with families who are concerned about allowable absences, as Mr Morphett outlined earlier. Occupancy levels are “plunging” as families choose the easier option of cancelling their enrolment, rather than navigating the allowable absences path.
For those outside Victoria, Ms Girvin said, it was important to remain aware of the practicalities of moving not only from a “free childcare” model back to CCS, but also of straddling a new financial year.
“It feels like we’ve been on this holiday since 6 April, in terms of functions we haven’t had to worry about or complete (to be compliant) but come Monday, we really need to look at those things which might impact our FY2020 results”.
Dealing with overdue attendances, and submitting variations in attendances up until 6 April are just two of the areas where Ms Girvin said people may have been “caught short” when free childcare was announced.
“We recommend overdue attendances are dealt with early in the piece, particularly before reports are submitted to accountants” she continued.
To round off the discussion, Mr Roberts posed some questions to the panel, put forward by peer vote from those attending the session.
One important question related to Family Day Care (FDC), with an audience member asking “Do you see FDC becoming the forefront of ECEC because of their smaller ratios and more flexible time scales, for families?”
“I think FDC is so important, particularly in regional areas” Mr Morphett explained, outlining that many rural and regional communities lack the consistent numbers to sustain a long day care model.
“A lot of parents feel more comfortable placing children in FDC when they are younger. It doesn’t receive as much support as it deserves, particularly in those regional areas. I’m hopeful to see that expand in the future” he said.
Mr Roberts thanked the panel and audience for their participation. To view the remarks made by all three speakers, please see here. Answers to questions which were not able to be answered during the session can be found below. Please note there are a few that will be added in the coming days, so please check back if your questions hasn’t been listed.
For those who were unable to attend, but who are interested in learning more from Kidsoft or any of the other panellists please click here.
CCS Estimations are already in Kidsoft and are displaying for bookings from Monday 13th July 2020. If you run a customer account statement from the 13th July you will see these. As long as the Guardians have an active payment schedule, the schedules will run as per your normal payment cycle.
Victorian services can put standard service and child level discounts back in. For services in the affected areas of Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire if a child is absent for COVID-related reasons they can then waive the gap fee using the % of gap fee Discount. Additionally, for any service that is forced to close on public health advice, as a result of COVID-19, they can also waive families’ out of pocket fees using the % of gap fee Discount as the Ministers Rule has been extended from 30 June 2020 until 31 December 2020.
Yes, that is correct. The Minister’s Rule that permits services to waive families’ out of pocket fees in the event their service is forced to close on public health advice, as a result of COVID-19, will be extended from 30 June 2020 until 31 December 2020. Services using Kidsoft would use the % Gap Fee Discount to carry out this function.
The 62 initial allowable absence days per child ceased on 30 June 2020. There will be 42 initial allowable absence days in the 2020/21 financial year. Additional absence days can be claimed for COVID-19 related reasons without the need for medical evidence and are not counted towards their 42 initial days up until 31 December 2020.
We have never experienced such a time where so many of our communities have been impacted by something so serious. If you think back to the recent bushfires, I would imagine that if certain families lost their homes then there would have been tremendous levels of support and empathy extended to them. I feel we need to operate with that same mindset, to be open hearted and ensure that our families (and our staff) feel supported. How do we do that? Communicate, listen, focus on the parent’s experiences outside of the service. People can tell when you care about them so just by ensuring that this is front of mind on a daily basis will help to maintain/build engagement.
*Sky Blue CXS will soon be providing a free webinar to provide an introduction to some best practices in creating better centre experiences so feel free to connect with HERE to be included in the first round of the education series.
Written by Freya Lucas, The Sector for Kidsoft
Freya is the Editor at The Sector. She has over 20 years experience in education and care services, with her previous roles as an early childhood teacher, primary teacher, and ECEC operations manager giving her a unique insight into the ECEC sector at all levels. Freya’s career has seen her work in private in-home care, primary schools, long day care, outside school hours care, in addition to tuition and library information and management settings. Freya’s key role at The Sector is to cover the latest ECEC news and provide insight and analysis into sector issues and developments. Freya is engaged with two sons aged 10 and 15. Freya has fond memories of the time her boys’ spent in the early education space.