AN Aveley family with children with complex needs and foster children say they are worse off under the federal government’s new child care package.
Jenna Hitchcock is a full-time parent, who cares for seven children, three of whom are foster children.
Some of the children have complex care needs, requiring specialist help including from psychologists, neurologists, paediatricians, and speech therapists.
Under the previous child care scheme, Mrs Hitchcock was able to access a subsidy so she could place her children in care while taking others to their specialist appointments.
Under the new package, Mrs Hitchcock failed the new activity test, which requires both parents to be working, studying or volunteering for at least four hours a week to qualify for any government-subsidised care and lost all access to subsidised care for her biological children.
But her two younger foster children have access through a top up payment – the additional child care subsidy – available for families who require practical help to support their children’s safety and wellbeing, including where formal foster care arrangements are in place.
“My husband has had to stay home from work now, unable to re-enter the workforce, so his career and long-term employment and employability is taking a hit too,’’ she said.
“In order (for the children) to access these therapies, he needs to stay at home, but this is just not viable for much longer.
“This whole situation puts a huge financial strain on our family right now.’’
She said they were getting by but she worried about the future.
“Right now I’m thinking what is this going to do to his resume?
“What happens after two, three years after he’s taken this time off work to help care for our family?
“I have five kids that aren’t at school – with day care, I could manage anywhere from two to five appointments a week, whereas now I’d be lucky to manage one appointment.
“Most intervention therapies are a weekly or fortnightly basis, and you can’t rely on family to help out with that many kids that frequently.’’
A Department of Education and Training spokeswoman said without the specific details of the family’s circumstances the department could not provide advice on what their level of entitlement would be.
“The family can call Centrelink on 136 150 if they wish to discuss their individual circumstances,’’ she said.
A fact sheet available at education.gov.au/node/50716 says in exceptional circumstances families can make an application to Centrelink that it would be unreasonable for them in their circumstances to satisfy the activity test.
“Centrelink will consider these applications and may make a case-by-case determination of the hours of subsidised care families will be entitled to, which could be more than 100 hours of subsidised care per fortnight,’’ the fact sheet said.
But Mrs Hitchcock said she had been told she did not qualify for any subsidy.
Labor candidate for Pearce Kim Travers said about 100,000 families were yet to sign up to the government’s new system, meaning even more families were losing out.
“This isn’t good enough – Australia needs a child care system that works for all Australians, not just those Mr Turnbull deems worthy,’’ she said.
“We need to value early childhood educators, and support parents and carers who are not in a position to be able to meet the requirements Turnbull’s new scheme is suddenly imposing.’’
By Anita McInnes