The end of free childcare may force many grandparents to make tough calls

Lives or livelihoods? This is the choice many grandparents may soon have to make.

grandparents looking after young grandchild

The cost of COVID-19 on incomes, economies and lives in general already runs deep.

While job losses and reduced or lost employment income may have hit younger generations hardest, retirees and those close to retirement have also seen huge losses in retirement income. Nest eggs have been decimated, further increasing reliance on the Age Pension and forcing many to work for longer.

The lockdown has also been hard on families with children, especially if one parent has lost a job or is relying on free childcare to continue bringing in an income to support the household.

So, news that the federal government will end free childcare on 12 July puts many families in a bind: to work and pay for childcare – a situation that is unaffordable for many – or walk away from work to care for a child.

“This could well act as a handbrake on the economy,” said Labor’s childcare spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth.

“If women and families are not able to access affordable childcare, how are they going to get back to work?”

In better times, many families would have relied on grandparents to look after their children in lieu of childcare.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2017 shows that 26 per cent of children in childcare are looked after by grandparents while parents are at work. This ‘free’ care is worth some $4 to $5 billion a year.

And yet, current health guidelines would strongly advise against grandparents being anywhere near kids – let alone being full-time carers.

Some families may not have a choice, which puts grandparents in an incredibly tough position. Do they put their lives at risk or say no and jeopardise their children’s livelihood?

It seems at least lower income families may be partially spared this dilemma.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan announced earlier this month that once free childcare ends on 12 July, a three-month, $708 million transition support package will be offered to the sector from 13 July.

Parents will go back to paying for childcare, with the aid of the Child Care Subsidy. The government has also said it will loosen the criteria for subsidised care.

“The government will also ease the activity test until October 4 to support eligible families whose employment has been impacted as a result of COVID-19,” said Mr Tehan.

“These families will receive up to 100 hours per fortnight of subsidised care during this period.”

For those who don’t qualify, the grandparents may again be in play.

“Parents in Australia rely more on grandparents than any other form of care today,” senior research fellow at Social Policy Research UNSW Dr Myra Hamilton told 7.30.

“So, I think the changes are going to have a big impact for a lot of families and for a lot of grandparents.

“Grandparents are in the age group which is at one of the greatest risks associated with coronavirus.

“I think families are likely to be navigating these really complex decisions.”

But is it safe for you to hug your grandkids, let alone look after them?

According to federal deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd, there are no easy answers. Rather, it is purely based on the level of risk.

He said that there are three principles to help you decide what to do.

“Take personal responsibility. Don't break any of the restrictions, maintain 1.5m distance from people outside your household and stay at home if you’re sick,” Prof. Kidd told the ABC.

He added that you should monitor your own health and how comfortable you feel, and make the decision based on where in the country you live and how much community transmission there is in your region.

People need to weigh the risks themselves, said Prof. Kidd, especially considering the people most at risk are aged over 70.

“It may be appropriate to start hugging and cuddling if you're in a state, for example, where there have been no cases of transmission for quite a number of weeks now,” he said.

“Obviously, if any of the children have any symptoms of a fever or a respiratory tract infection no matter how mild, even if it seems they've got a slight sniffle, they should be staying at home, not going to see the grandparents.

“Of course, their parents should be arranging for them to get tested to make sure they don't have COVID-19.”

When picking up children from school or childcare, grandparents should weigh the risk in accordance with cases in the community, as well as whether it is possible to follow social distancing guidelines.

“It may be more difficult, of course, with the littlies than it is with the older grandchildren,” he said, adding that the risk is lowered if there’s less community transmission.

“We have seen outbreaks occurring in the last couple of weeks in schools … so it's important that we are not putting people at risk,” he said.

“It may well be that people want to consult with a GP that they know and trust about what is safe for them to be doing at this time given the GP’s knowledge of their health and wellbeing.”

Are you in this position? Will you be able to look after your grandkids if asked?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    22nd Jun 2020
    I have started seeing the grandchildren again as the risk is very low. However I miss them and being there for them. Video calls only make the isolation feel worse. A craggy old face in the corner peering into a family having a wonderful time together through the other side of the looking glass. Horrible.
    22nd Jun 2020
    We have cared for grandkids right through the pandemic - after school care for 4 kids being prohibitive. I would like to see free/cheap care remain available for those without family assistance and also so that grandparents can go on extended holidays if they wish.
    22nd Jun 2020
    VP If your husband was like the PM you would get paid for it his lonely wife has a playmate to keep her company when he is working she gets $85,000per year and a government car life is hard at the top it just happens this playmate his her best friend and her husband works in the PMs office
    23rd Jun 2020
    Surely there is someone willing to mind the kids after school for an affordable weekly pay.
    Especially seeing so many are now unemployed especially the High School kids.

    We rely too much on Governments that are failing us.

    If two incomes can't afford a bit of childminding then something is very wrong.
    22nd Jun 2020
    Shock horror, subsidised childcare is going back to the status quo of three months ago. If people could afford it three months ago why can they not afford it now. Educating children of school age is a justifiable use of taxpayers funds, the community benefits from having an educated population. Who benefits from pre-school childcare?
    22nd Jun 2020
    I agree Eddy. If you are back to work then the situation reverts to pre-Covid. If not and you are not not working, look after your kids.
    22nd Jun 2020
    Yes. Having children at home during the pre-school years is priceless for the parents and the children. Its an era to be cherished.
    23rd Jun 2020
    Absolutely agree with you.
    24th Jun 2020
    Childcare is an example of regulating a previously deregulated system and making it far more expensive and worse service.

    The fact that so many politicians own Childcare Centres is a concern.

    What was wrong with stay at home mums earning a bit of pin money minding a working parent's child? Like we did for hundreds of years before Childcare became a money maker for wealthy investors.
    22nd Jun 2020
    If grandparents are in the age group of being at greatest risk of coronovirus then isn’t it time for studies to be started to find out why that is and take away the risk?
    23rd Jun 2020
    The free childcare argument continuing is BS. You chose to have kids. Why the hell should taxpayers support your lifestyle? Subsidised childcare is more than enough.
    Parents were extremely lucky to get months of taxpayer funded free childcare but that gravy train needs to stop.
    Your kids, your lifestyle choices, you pay for them.
    23rd Jun 2020
    That is a personal choice and one of location as well!
    Unpaid because the Centrelink Carers' Allowance is so pitifully low that it's just not worth the effort of applying!
    24th Jun 2020
    Indeed. I'm not sure how other countries care for the disabled while parents work but there has to be a way.

    In the past we had special hospitals for the disabled which were government funded so parents could work.

    We do need some sort of daily caring system to allow these families to earn a decent living.
    28th Jun 2020
    Maybe some parents will decide to look after their kids themselves, shock horror, might have to have one parent staying home, why have kids if you want someone else to babysit them for long hours? Parents need to give up their luxuries like holidays and live off one income they will get family assistance to help if it is too low of an income and enjoy their children until they go to school, it is only a few years.
    31st Jul 2020
    Labor could win a lot of friends by promising free child care for everyone to avoid claims of inequality. They could fund it by limiting negative gearing to one property per taxpayer, by reforming CGT, say reducing the discount to 25% or applying CGT to main residence valued over the median house price; or by significant reform to trusteeships; a total rort for the really wealthy.

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