Lockdown update from Peter

14 April 2020

Dear member -

We watched with sadness today's announcement that four more COVID-19 deaths have occurred, all involving the elderly.

The people we've lost are not only partners, parents and siblings, but grandparents and great grandparents of the children in our care. That connection makes us sad, not only for the loss, but its impact on the families we care for.

It’s a salient reminder of at-risk groups within our community’s vulnerability and the critical need to stick with the government's plan.

Thanks for playing your part and abiding by the rules – today’s sad news aside, we’re starting to see everyone’s hard work pay off with some very encouraging numbers coming through. Our thoughts are with those who’ve lost family members, but overall, we can see the plan is working.

Let’s stay the course.

Calculating the cost of lockdown

Naturally, everyone is thinking about what the future holds.

The Treasury’s advice to the government was released today, painting a very grey picture indeed. The most likely and realistic scenario predicts between 5% and 10% unemployment. Sure, we’ve been there before - but not for some time.

It’s really important to remember the ‘26% unemployment’ number in the headlines is a scenario, not a prediction. It’s much like the 10,000 deaths figure that would occur if nothing was done. Don’t let these doom and gloom scenarios get to you, we’re taking positive action as a nation and seeing encouraging results.

But there’s no doubt we’re doing it tough. The hospitality sector, and all service businesses reliant on export or imported goods or people coming in their doors, are under massive pressure, and the longer we’re in lockdown, the greater the impact.

Moving to re-opening

We contacted Secretary of Education Iona Holsted to ensure our sector will be consulted over plans to re-open services, and childcare centres in particular. Iona has confirmed that we will be consulted with on re-opening and the various possible scenarios.

As an aside, I have little time for the recent attempts to criticise the quality of our sector and our ability to provide high levels of cleanliness and sanitisation in our facilities. We do need to continue to be vigilant and make sure our facilities meet and exceed sanitisation requirements - which most centres were doing well before anyone had heard of COVID-19. Let’s reassure parents and continue to keep kids safe.

Impact on ECE

We’ve yet to see detailed analysis of the impact on ECE – but here are some working assumptions:

  • A reduction in enrolled numbers immediately following re-opening, due to:
    • parents’ anxiety and nervousness
    • parents losing their jobs, staying home and saving on childcare costs or choosing to care for their children at home
  • Pressure on the current model of ECE delivery
  • Increasing financial pressures on ECE services already under strain, either prior to or since the lockdown

Many are comparing where we are now to the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, and thinking of the lessons we learned then – it's certainly something to bear in mind in your discussions and planning.

Supporting our community

We have been consistent in our advice to members to establish and maintain a communication strategy for staff and parents during the lockdown. Work we put into reinforcing relationships and connectedness now will pay off when we re-open the doors. This remains a vital strategy, and we recommend starting now if you haven’t already. Many centres are using Educa, Storypark, Facebook or e-mail to stay in touch – it all works, feel free to use whatever suits your centre’s whanāu.

There may also be an opportunity to think more laterally about our service delivery model. This can be challenging and is not for the faint-hearted. As people lose one job, there may be other, albeit seasonal opportunities that emerge. For example, orchards are screaming for pickers. Are we ready to support the needs of parents exploring those opportunities and keep playing a vital role at the heart of our communities as we re-build?

Challenges on challenges

As lockdown began, the Ministry of Education moved to engage three large home-based services to provide care for the children of essential workers. While the manner in which that engagement occurred left a bit to be desired (see our media release at the time), and the national coverage is not as good as first hoped, the idea had merit. As the home-based sector moves to qualify all educators, the opportunities for that part of the ECE sector to compete with centres will increase. Are we ready for that shift in our sector’s operating environment?

On top of a decade of funding cuts, increasing costs and tough times, this latest challenge may seem incredibly unfair. But post-lockdown reality is coming fast and it won’t be easy as we emerge from the COVID-19 bubble. It will be tough for many of us, and we need to start planning for responding to these challenges now.

Thanks for reading – there’s obviously a number of issues we’re working through now as a sector and we’ll continue to do all we can to support you. Let us know how you’re coping and what’s on your mind.

Thanks,

Peter

CEO, the ECC

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