Childcare centres are expected to write off parents' fees even if they have contracts requiring parents to pay fees when their children don't attend.

All early childhood services have been ordered to shut because of the coronavirus by tonight, except for children of workers in essential services who have been given until Wednesday night to make other childcare arrangements.

Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said most centres got about 70 per cent of their revenue from state funding, and Education Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed that all state funding would continue as usual even though there will be no children to look after.

The other 30 per cent of their revenue comes from parents' fees, and some centres have contracts requiring parents to pay those fees even if their child is absent - a clause designed to reduce revenue fluctuations when children are ill or absent for other reasons.

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Reynolds said each centre would make its own decision but he expected most to disregard those clauses in the circumstances.

"Most services will probably elect to say we are not going to pursue the fees because it would frankly be a bit dopey to do so," he said.

Peter Reynolds:
Peter Reynolds: "Most services will probably elect to say we are not going to pursue the fees because it would frankly be a bit dopey to do so." Photo / Supplied

He said a lot of services were closing tonight because they did not have any children of workers in essential sectors such as healthcare and food supply.

"Most services will just be on the phone trying to get hold of their parents," he said.

"There is still a bit of confusion around the timing of the closure. There's comment that they can stay open for 48 hours to support the children of essential service workers.

"Some of them are talking about those essential service workers being able to access childcare beyond that point. We are just a little bit confused and I am putting a query in to the ministry on that."

He said early childhood services should be able to apply for the wage subsidies that are available for all businesses affected by the virus, and some also had business interruption insurance.

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The Ministry of Education has launched two new websites to support parents who will now be at home with their children, Learning from Home in English language and Ki te Ao Mārama in te reo Māori.

Meanwhile a Child Forum survey of 2455 early childhood service owners and teachers, sent out online on Friday, has found that the vast majority of people in the sector did not believe they could protect children from coronavirus if the centres had stayed open.

Results showed:

• Staying at least one metre apart from each other is centres was impossible (92.5 per cent) or "kind of possible but not achievable" (5 per cent).

• Making sure people stay home from their service if they begin to feel unwell was impossible (38 per cent) or kind of possible but not achievable (43 per cent). Only 19 per cent said this was achievable.

• Ensuring every person regularly and thoroughly washed and dried their hands was impossible (21 per cent) or kind of possible but not achievable (42 per cent)

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• Ensuring people avoided touching their eyes, nose and mouth was impossible (90 per cent) or kind of possible but not achievable (9 per cent)

• Enabling staff to work remotely or away from the service was impossible (74 per cent) or partly possible (20 per cent).

• Providing distance education to children was impossible (78 per cent) or only partly possible (16 per cent).

"People are in denial!" one person wrote. "Still putting sunscreen on faces, changing nappies? How can you have social distance while completing these tasks? Teaching requires human contact and connection .. .we cannot provide this while being a metre away."

Babies at Evolve's Active Explorers centre at Highbrook: parents probably won't have to pay fees while centres are closed. Photo / Michael Craig
Babies at Evolve's Active Explorers centre at Highbrook: parents probably won't have to pay fees while centres are closed. Photo / Michael Craig

Another said: "We are not able to stop children being children. On Friday, I was pooed on, a child spat into my mouth, and as I was going over hand washing technique two children were sucking each other's toes."

Over half (52 per cent) felt that all early childhood services should be closed now. An additional 32 per cent said "perhaps" services should not remain open. Only 16 per cent said services should remain open for children well enough to attend.

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In the case of a community outbreak, the percentage that felt that all services should be closed increased to 77 per cent and 15 per cent said that "perhaps" services should not remain open. Only 8 per cent felt services should not be closed, mainly to reduce the financial effects on centres and to support parents working in essential services or providing respite care for children.