The silence where ECD centres are concerned is very loud

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More than 30 000 ECDs face permanent closure due to the Covid-19 lockdown which was implemented in March 2020.

The closure of Early Childhood Development centres (ECDs) does not only affect its owners but the whole community at large.

Despite the slow lifting of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, many of these centres are still unable to open without financial support from the government. 

About 176 000 jobs are at risk of being lost due to lack of PPEs, and a lack of funds to pay teachers, housekeepers or security personnel, as well as normal running costs such as rented space, water, gym equipment, printers and many other related expenses.

Many parents rely on these ECD centres for their children’s safety, as they work daily to support their families. Due to the closure of ECDs, thousands of children are at a high risk of starvation, crime and abuse.

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Some ECDs may close and children will be at high risk. Supplied/ McQuillan.

Parent24 talked to Thembela Plaatje, the long time owner of a day care centre, to learn more about the impact lockdown has had on families and businesses.

Plaatje’s day-care is based in Johannesburg and she employs three staff members. She told us that at the beginning of the lockdown she had to pay her staff members out of her own pocket.

"I have three staff members. I had to pay them from my savings during the lockdown and I was left with almost nothing. I never thought lockdown would affect me this much," she said.

From being a business owner to bankruptcy

Plaatje shares with us that after paying her staff members, she was completely bankrupt.

If her friends had not stepped in to help buy her the essentials such as food, she would have been one of the many who are affected by hunger in South Africa. 

"You can imagine from being a business owner, where you can manage your finances to being bankrupt with nothing in your account, and that time you must feed a family of four. It was not easy," she said.

Our hopes were lifted for nothing

Thembela tells us that during Level 5 lockdown, as ECD owners they were asked to fill out some forms by people who promised to help them financially, but they did not deliver on their promises and no money given in the end.

Possibility to shut down the business

"I have no idea if my business will recover. Right now, it is down to zero. I do not know if it will ever be sustainable again," she says.

She added, "There is no proof and that frustrates me. I do not know what the future holds for my business." 

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The ECD centres are calling for help. Supplied/Jennifer McQuillan.

It’s hard for children to maintain social distancing even now we have opened, she says, but children find it very hard to maintain social distancing.

"Children move from one place to another, which makes it hard to compliance with lockdown regulations." 

She told us that it is not easy because some parents are very sceptical about sending their children back to school, even though schools have opened.

"Corona is here, because there is nothing we can do; we will just hang in there," she says.

Financial aid misdirected 

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu announced that the President’s economic stimulus package will be allocating R1.3 billion towards the employment of 36 000 youth as compliance monitors in Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres and partial care facilities. 

This announcement was not well received by ECD owners, who feel that the  money should be redirected to help ECDs that are at risk of shutting down, and those who have no money to be operational yet due to the impact of the lockdown.

Members of the C-19 people's coalition have started a petition which is going to be sent to the Department of Social Development (DSD) and Minister, Lindiwe Zulu.

Still waiting for a response 

Parent24 talked to Jennifer McQuillan, a Gauteng spokesperson for the C-19 People’s Coalition, ECD Owner, and co-founder of ECD Owners of SA which runs the campaign HELP SA ECDS RE-OPEN on Facebook.

She explains that a petition was signed and sent to Minister, Lindiwe Zulu on the 14 August.

"We signed this petition because other sectors have received funding, for example, the transport industry," she says.

Later, she says, "we sent emails requesting support for ECDs at 8:00 on Sunday, the 16 August 2020 to Minister Lindiwe Zulu, but again we received no response." 

McQuillan tells us that as the owners of Early Childhood Development centres (ECDs) and teachers they decided to embark on a nationwide peaceful protest from 17 to 21 August.

Sadly, Jennifer tells us that there has not been any response or acknowledgement of the protest from the DSD or the Minister Zulu.

McQuillan told us that she is heavily involved with helping ECDs and that through their group on Facebook, she and two other founders of the ECD SA group on Facebook have managed to get about 1 200 litres of sanitizer out to 205 ECD centres in Johannesburg.

"We also got some free sanitizer donated by another ECD Centre too (24 litres) and they give these to ECD owners for free. The group has been very instrumental in us helping each other as ECD owners, with training and making our centres sustainable," she adds.

There is still a long way to go for the ECD centres, and many have closed with some practitioners leaving the sector to look for jobs elsewhere.

The lack of direction from the DSD, and general silence around ECD centres from the start of the pandemic, is concerning. 

This means that thousands of children are without adequate child care, and the knock-on effect of this could be devastating for many children, and families. 

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