Crèches in need of help

Children during playtime at Masikhule.

More than 50 Mitchell’s Plain early childhood development (ECD) centre principals have written letters to President Cyril Ramaphosa to ask for financial support to survive the national lockdown, which includes the closure of institutions of learning.

The lockdown – which is now entering its sixth week – and a phased-in approach to start up economic activity, form part of government’s response to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eastridge principal Sandra Roman said as the employer of Little Stars Daycare, they have applied for relief funds from the government, including the unemployment insurance fund (UIF) but they do not know when it would be paid out.

“Employers are not allowed to pay UIF, which disqualifies us (principals/ ECD centre owners) from receiving from the UIF.”

Little Stars, including many other ECD centres, do not receive funding from the government and do not qualify for the loans available from the government or banks.

“Some requirements are also not possible for the centres.

“We also nurture and educate the future leaders and provide employment to those in need.”

In her letter, Ms Roman writes: “Parents can ill afford to pay school fees during the lockdown, which is the main reason we do not receive an income. The loss of income is affecting us in a major negative way. We also have debts and need to provide for our families. This is the only source of income for most educares,” she said.

Ms Roman said she fully understands the risks involved should ECD centres be allowed to operate but that parents and the government should not forget those, who are “most crucial to the little ones”.

“We provide quality ECD in a safe, warm environment from 6.30am until 5pm with pupils who face different learning challenges daily,” she said.

Ms Roman is a member of the Mitchell’s Plain Educare Forum (MPEF), which forms part of the umbrella body of the South African Congress for Early Childhood Development (SACECD), that has encouraged principals to pen individual letters.

SACECD Western Cape secretary Karrimah Jacobs, former MPEF chairwoman and owner of a Colorado Park ECD centre, also sent a letter to Mr Ramaphosa dated Wednesday April 22.

She writes about her 13-year old” baby” VisionKidz.com, which faces closure within the next two months because “passion is not enough to run an ECD centre”.

“I do not receive an ECD subsidy from the Department of Social Development (DSD) and this is not because of a lack of trying.”

She goes on to list that the government categorised ECD as representing civil society but during the lockdown they were considered a “small business”.

She has also applied to the UIF but all to no avail.

“I need help desperately! “SMMEs loan payments are all good and well. However, a loan needs to be repaid, and I have no guarantee that this is possible,” reads her letter.

Fifty-one letters came from Mitchell’s Plain principals; 157 from the Western Cape; and 3 952 nationally

Last month the congress compiled a report headed “The Plight of the ECD workforce – an urgent call for relief in the wake of Covid-19”, which they hope to submit to the president’s office.

It was compiled by non-profit organisation BRIDGE, which drives collaboration and cooperation among stakeholders in education to increase collective impact on the system; ilifa labantwana, which works to secure an equal start for all children living in South Africa; the National ECD Alliance (NECDA); the Nelson Mandela Foundation; Smartstart, including 4 000 member operators; SACECD with 21 000 ECD centres; and endorsed by several other organisations in the sector.

Days leading up to the national Covid-19 lockdown on Friday March 27, the Department of Social Development instructed ECD operators to close to prevent the spread and acceleration of infections.

“A bouquet of relief schemes have been introduced to support small businesses and citizens to cushion the loss of income that has accompanied the lockdown measures. However, in order to access this support, individuals and businesses need to be ‘part of the system’ and be registered with the Companies Intellectual Properties Commission (CIPC), Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) or South African Revenue Services (SARS).

“Because the majority of ECD operators catering to the poorest children in South Africa operate in a quasi-informal manner, we recognised the possible severe and detrimental impact that the pandemic might have on ECD providers,” reads the report.

They then conducted a rapid survey to understand these impacts, and received responses from 3 952 ECD operators between Friday April 10 and Monday April 13.

According to these findings 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 registered with UIF; 13% of the operators were CIPC registered; and 45% SARS registered.

The 21-page document reports three scenarios:

BLOB A 75% reduction in fee income, where an ECD centre provides for 50 children, each paying R450 per month (above the median fee of R350), employing six staff members at an average of R2 000 per month (below minimum wage of R3 500); a reduction in attendance after lockdown will result in loss of R9 200 per month. In another version of this scenario, if all 50 children return to the programme, but only 25% are able to pay fees, the monthly loss would be R 15 800.

BLOB A 50% reduction in fee income – here the loss would be R6 000 per month.

“A 50% reduction in fee payment with stable attendance would result in loss of R10 500 per month,” reads the report.

BLOB A centre receives a subsidy – according to survey responses the average fee charged by centres that receive ECD subsidy is R250.

“We assume that centres receiving a subsidy are able to pay a higher average salary at R3 000 per month.

“The analysis shows that this centre, if it received the subsidy for all 50 children after lockdown despite a 75% reduction in attendance, it would not incur a loss of R2 100.

“This indicates that, if payment of ECD subsidies continues during and after the lockdown, it will provide some protection to programmes from the anticipated economic downturn,” read the report.

A week before the lockdown started MPEF hosted their monthly meeting at Westridge Gardens (“Educare staff face salary cuts”, Plainsman, March 25), where principals raised having to take pay cuts.

Last week the Plainsman caught up with forum chairwoman Valda Phillips, who said there were so many “uncertainties and no one helps”.

“Our biggest issue in our field of work is parents refusing to pay the fees, which is the only income to sustain our centres; and now we have the added challenge that parents cannot afford to pay fees.”

The forum supports the ECD centres with information on how to apply for funds and even at this time encourages them to register their ECDs and to be compliant with all regulations such as UIF and other departments.

Joshua Covenant Chigome, spokesman for Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez, told the Plainsman in response to a media enquiry they continued to fund ECDs despite the lockdown.

All funded ECDs remained close as per the national directive but food provision had been reactivated; they forwarded stimulation materials to parents, including sign language, via the social service organisations; and that the department had a centralised communication system with regards to any requests for food parcels. For these, residents can call 080 022 0250 or email SDCustomerCare@westerncape.gov.za and their call will be logged and assessed against criteria.

The details of those who qualify will be provided to the five food relief organisations to issue parcels. This application must be made on an individual household level.

Mr Chigome said ECD facilities were autonomous bodies and the contractual relationship was between the parent and the management committees or boards of the individual facilities. “Decisions regarding staff remuneration are made by management committees or boards,” he said.

He said the department was bound by the regulations declared by Mr Ramaphosa. “This in all practicality means that as soon as the president declares that ECD facilities can reopen, DSD will implement this instruction,” he said.