The funding guarantees $460 for each eligible child enrolled in a funded kindergarten program. Eligible kindergarten services outside of these areas will be offered at $230 a child.
About 14,000 children across about 400 services will receive free sessional kinder.
“We are making sure kindergartens across metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire can support children to continue attending kinder and receive a vital early childhood education during this difficult period, without parents worrying about fees,” Education Minister James Merlino said.
“This funding will mean sessional kindergarten providers in these areas stay financially viable.”
A survey of 2800 families by parents’ group The Parenthood found a “snap back” to normal fees would mean 34 per cent of parents would need to reduce their work days or remove their children from care altogether.
Sarah McCann-Bartlett, chief executive of the Australian HR Institute, said Victorian parents will probably withdraw their children from kinder again as the state’s coronavirus infection rate soars, leaving centres at risk of closure.
Some families may be eligible for a waived gap fee under an adjustment announced last week by federal Education Minister Dan Tehan but the umbrella scheme will cease.
“If we see the loss of childcare centres in Victoria as a result of less government support we will see increased stress within the family unit as parents deal with work and childcare simultaneously,” said Ms McCann-Bartlett.
“The [federal] government has said there will be some other support but we don’t know what that looks like.”
Ms McCann-Bartlett said if childcare centres falter and close it could mean that demand outstrips supply after the pandemic, leading to price rises that would exclude already disadvantaged families and reduce their work opportunities, especially for mothers.
“This will create greater inequality as those parents on lower incomes are priced out of the market,” she said.
Sue Morphett, president of Chief Executive Women, said retaining a strong childcare system via extending free childcare was vital to enable women on the frontline of the virus effort to continue to work, and to take up any extra shifts they are offered “without the burden of expensive childcare”.
“We need women to be able to access childcare so they can contribute to our economic recovery and to the management of the pandemic,” she said.
“Frontlines are predominantly staffed by women [in hospital, caring and education roles] … we should keep free childcare in place and support the sector so it doesn’t buckle and families can keep on keeping on.”
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Wendy Tuohy is a Sunday Age senior writer.