How lockdown has impacted childcare centres in South Africa

68% were worried that they would not be able to reopen
68% were worried that they would not be able to reopen

When government announced the closure of schools in March, many parents were left concerned as to what to do with their kids while they went to work. 

Then it soon became apparent that the directive included day care centres, creches and Early Childhood Development centres (ECDs) across the country, and parents really began to panic.

However, the 21 day lockdown soon followed, keeping the majority of parents at home with their children. As this was extended by another 2 weeks, parents started to complain about having to pay fees to these businesses, when they weren't rendering a service.

As unfair or difficult as it may seem to continue to pay for a service that one is not receiving, it is important to understand that these businesses continue to have overheads and salaries to pay, and if they are to re-open after this, they need the fees to survive.

A call for government relief

A collaboration between BRIDGE, Ilifa Labantwana, National ECD Alliance (NECDA), Nelson Mandela Foundation, Smartstart and the South African Congress for Early Childhood Development has revealed just how hard-hit this industry has been.

Together they are calling on government for relief, and have produced a proposal that requests government to appropriately assist the ECD workforce during "this precarious time of Covid-19".

The group conducted a survey to understand how lockdown would impact the industry, and received responses from 3 952 ECD operators between the 10th and 13th of April.

They say the scale of responses in this short time frame reflects the urgency of the situation, but the results speak for themselves. 

The stats paint a grim picture

The document details the impact that the lockdown has had on the industry, and the stats are frightening:

99% of operators reported that caregivers have stopped paying fees owing to the lockdown

83% of operators have not been able to pay the full salaries of staff over the lockdown period

96% of them reported that their income was not enough to pay their operating costs

68% were worried that they would not be able to reopen

35% of the ECD workforce in the survey was UIF registered

13% of operators were CIPC registered

45% SARS registered

Subsistence entrepreneurs

One reason for the call for relief, the document explains, is because ECD programmes are largely provided by NPOs and subsistence entrepreneurs or micro-social enterprises – most of whom are black women.

"The provision of services has largely been driven by demand, with services emerging in response to community needs. Those that serve the poorest communities are often small and informal, operating out of private homes or rented venues and consisting of only a few staff members earning subsistence stipends, typically without formal employment contracts or benefits." 

We can’t survive

One reader wrote to us asking for information on this issue. He shared that his wife runs a daycare from home with less than twenty children.

"It’s her only income that she gets to pay our rent, electricity, water and sanitation," he told Parent24.

"We can’t survive without this income and we don’t know if the parents will still keep on with their payments if the Covid-19 will extend for a further few months. The government don’t give any answers about daycares because they think it’s not an essential service."

Childcare centres are to remain closed

We reached out to Joshua Chigome, spokesperson for the Minister of Social Development, for feedback, but all he could tell us was that "childcare centres are to remain closed for the duration of the lockdown, or until further notice from the National President." 

As the lockdown and further responses to the Covid-19 pandemic unfold, it is perhaps best if parents and teachers come to an agreement based on each family's needs and ability to support the centre through this crisis.

Playing their part

According to Adv. Willie van der Merwe at LAW FOR ALL, it is important to remember that the daycare and playschools don't really have much choice in the matter, and they have to follow the Government's instructions.

"But, they are also playing their part to help curb the spread of Covid-19," he told us.

"The school has overheads such as salaries, rent, etc. If all parents stopped paying, it could cripple the school and parents won't have the option of sending their child back when the situation improves.

Parents and schools need to come together and try to meet each other half-way, he advised. 

The Consumer Protection Act

"Legally speaking, it all depends on the terms of the agreement between the school and parents. If the contract provides for special circumstances where parent's don't have to pay, it could be possible that parents aren't liable."

"Also, depending on what has been agreed, and protections in the Consumer Protection Act, parents can decide to cancel the contract by giving sufficient notice."

These are trying times for all South Africans. Still, we need to look beyond legal battles and come together as citizens to find solutions that are in everybody' interests.

"Perhaps, now more than ever!" he added. 

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