Funding, support and administration

Information on funding and support available for early childhood education and care services during COVID-19, plus information on business arrangements.

Who will cover the costs of shutting services or restricting enrolment?

Funding will not be impacted where services are asked to close on Health advice such as through service specific public health orders or if the service is notified of a close contact.

Where there is no demand for face-to-face service, and the service is able to support outreach and distance education, services should continue to be in contact with families and children enrolled to check on attendance pattern.

Services are encouraged to develop online education delivery and resources to support learning and development from home and/or keeping in touch with families.

Community preschools and mobile preschools experiencing severe financial hardship can contact the department on 1800 619 113 or ecec.funding@det.nsw.edu.au.

Start Strong Pathways providers

Scheduled quarterly payments for Start Strong Pathways, will continue to be progressed to December 2021.

Where there is an adjustment to delivery mechanisms due to the impact of COVID-19, funds can only be spent on the activities provided including staff wages. Providers will be required to report on unspent funds through the acquittal process. Unspent funds may result from an adjustment in costs in response to COVID-19, and may need to be returned to the Department in accordance with the Terms and Conditions.

Aboriginal Families as Teachers and Ninganah No More providers

Scheduled payments for these programs will continue to be progressed to December 2021.

Where there is an adjustment to delivery mechanisms due to the impact of COVID-19, funds can only be spent on the activities provided including staff wages. Providers will be required to report on unspent funds through the acquittal process. Unspent funds may result from an adjustment in costs in response to COVID-19, and may need to be returned to the Department in accordance with the Terms and Conditions.

Commonwealth funded services

Commonwealth funded services, including those who receive Child Care Subsidy (CCS) should contact the Australian Government for further advice and information.

Additional information for the early childhood education and care sector in regards to COVID-19 can be found on the Australian Government’s website.

Temporary closures of community preschools and mobile preschools

For current health advice on ECE attendance visit COVID-19 and early childhood education and care. The COVID-19 guidelines for ECEC services are based on advice from NSW Health.

The October 2021 payment for community and mobile preschool services funded under Start Strong, mobile preschool contracts and/or the 2021 COVID-19 Free Preschool Funding program will be processed as scheduled. The decision to continue quarterly payments as scheduled for community preschools under Start Strong and mobile preschools on contracts is designed to support services to continue to operate during adverse circumstances, wherever that is appropriate and possible, and where continued operation is consistent with advice from Government.

To receive funding during any period of temporary closure, there is an expectation that services will continue to provide education support to children and families. This support may be determined by the circumstances of the service and the needs of families and the community. In situations of temporary closure, the department may seek information from funded services to confirm ongoing availability of funding.

For strategies for educators to support families during the prolonged absence of children or temporary service closure read Maintaining your connections with families.

Start Strong funding should be used to meet standard operating costs, such as staffing, rent/lease or other fixed costs, including during any period of temporary closure. Where possible, Start Strong funding should continue to be used to reduce costs to families as much as possible.

Financial accountabilities will remain in place for Start Strong, mobile and 2021 COVID-19 Free Preschool funding. Services will be required to demonstrate how funding has been utilised, including for any period of temporary closure.

Community preschools and mobile preschools experiencing severe financial hardship can contact the department on 1800 619 113 or ecec.funding@det.nsw.edu.au.

Preschool fees

National Regulation 168(2)(n) requires services to have policies and procedures on payment of fees and provision of a statement of fees charged by the education and care service.

These arrangements are in place between individual services and families.

For additional assistance, please contact Fair Trading NSW or by phone on 13 32 20 (8.30am to 5pm, Mon - Fri).

What is the COVID-19 Free Preschool Funding program?

Start Strong funded community preschools and mobile preschools on contract with the Department of Education have the opportunity to opt in to the initiative.

Funding is provided as a top up payment to replace a high proportion of fee income. In turn, services are required to provide at least 15 hours of fee-free preschool per week for families.

More information on the program is available:

This program will be replaced by the Start Strong Free Preschool program from January 2022.

Why is the COVID-19 Preschool funding program only offered to community and mobile preschools?

NSW is the primary funder of community and mobile preschools.

Children attending preschool programs in long day care services are eligible for funding from the Australian Government.

The Australian Government provides a range of funding and supports to services, including Long Day Care through the Child Care Subsidy (CCS).

Both the NSW and Australian Governments are continuing our work to maintain participation rates for early childhood education.

This work is vitally important, especially considering the funding linked to enrolments under the Universal Access National Partnership.

What is Start Strong Free Preschool?

This program will replace the current COVID-19 Free Preschool Funding program from January 2022.

Community and mobile preschools opting in to the program will be provided with additional funding, paid on top of the current annual Start Strong funding allocation.

In return they will be required to provide at least 600 hours of free preschool per year (which is approximately 15 hrs or 2 days per week in the majority of preschool settings) to three-to-five-year old children enrolled in the service.

More information on the program is available on the Department’s website.

Disability and Inclusion Program COVID-19 Adjustments: High Learning Support Needs Variation Application Requirements

My service receives High Learning Support Needs (HLSN) funding however some funded children are not attending due to COVID-19. Do I need to submit an extended absence variation application?

An extended absence occurs when a child is absent from a service for more than five weeks at a time.

You do not need to submit an extended absence variation where:

  • a child is absent for 5 weeks or more between 1 July – 30 September 2021 and,
  • an online or remote preschool program or other activities identified in the HLSN program spending rules are being undertaken.

You should submit an extended absence variation where:

  • a child is absent for 5 weeks or more between 1 July – 30 September 2021 and,
  • an online or remote preschool program or other approved activities are not being provided or,
  • additional staff employed using HLSN funding, for the purpose of increasing the staff to child ratio, are not currently working. HLSN funding cannot be redirected to offset general staff ratio costs determined by licencing arrangements.

When do I need to submit a decrease in hours variation?

A decrease in hours variation should not be submitted where:

  • a child’s enrolment remains the same but they are temporarily attending for less hours between 1 July and 30 September 2021 due to COVID-19 and,
  • an online or remote preschool program or other activities identified in the HLSN program spending rules are being provided or,
  • the support hours needed to deliver a remote/online preschool program are less than the approved support hours. Excess hours can be used to provide additional support hours when the child returns or funding for these hours can be documented as a surplus in the service’s yearly financial accountability statement.

A decrease in hours variation should be submitted where:

  • a child’s enrolment is formally decreased or,
  • a child’s enrolment remains the same but they are temporarily attending for less hours between 1 July and 30 September 2021 due to COVID-19 and,
  • an online or remote preschool program or other approved activities are not being provided.

Do I still need to submit a variation application if a child leaves the service?

Where a child is no longer enrolled at the service, a “child has left” variation application must be completed within two weeks of the service being notified.

How can HLSN funding be used to provide a preschool program for an absent child?

In line the with HLSN program spending rules outlined in the Disability and Inclusion Program guidelines, HLSN funding can be used for:

  • activities directly related to the development and review of the child’s individual learning plan (ILP)
  • delivery of a preschool program/ILP, including where this is delivered online or implemented by a parent using resources prepared by the preschool
  • collaboration with specialist providers working with the child
  • engagement with Sector Capacity Building program providers on matters related to the child
  • professional development related to the child’s disability and/or their participation in the preschool program
  • development of individualised teaching resources to be utilised on the child’s return
  • phone contact with family/carers at home.

Can I redirect unspent HLSN funding for one child to other children?

No. HLSN funding must be used to support the individual child it was provided for. This includes the alternative activities listed above.

Can I use unspent HLSN funding to purchase resources for children with disability and additional needs?

No. HLSN funding must be spent in line with the HLSN program spending rules. Specialised equipment can be applied for under the Minor Capital Works program.

Disability and Inclusion Program: COVID-19 adjustments for Sector Capacity Building (SCB) Program providers

What should I do if one of my preschools is temporarily closed due to COVID-19?

If support hours are not able to be provided due to a preschool being temporarily closed, these supports should be redirected to a service who is able to engage with the SCB program.

Providers can use this time to plan and develop resources identified in the Preschool Profiles in preparation for when the preschool reopens.

How can SCB supports be provided during this time?

Where COVID-19 restrictions are in place, SCB support hours can be provided online and/or via telephone and email.

Where it is determined by both the preschool and the SCB provider that face to face delivery is essential, services should remain vigilant to the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Essential visits should be conducted in line with NSW Health COVID-19 Guidelines.

Can I request an extension on deliverables?

The next reporting period for the SCB program is due on 26 November 2021. The reporting template for the final report should document all support hours from term 3 and 4 until 31 December 2021. Milestone payments are contingent on the completion of this report.

An extension of the due date for final reports may be provided in certain circumstances but an extension of the service delivery period will not be provided as the program concludes on 31 December 2021.

Our provision of the SCB program has been impacted by staff on leave during this time, can we make up the support provided on their return?

Yes. The department acknowledges the importance of maintaining staffing arrangements and encourages providers to implement any reasonable adjustments to ensure the program is sustainable during these times.

Our budget is in surplus as we have not been travelling to preschools, what should we do?

Funding can be redirected to preschools engaging in SCB support. Unspent funds may need to be returned to the Department in accordance with the Terms and Conditions.

What funding is available for other service types?

The Australian Government provides a range of funding and supports to services, including Long Day Care, Out of School Hours Care and Family Day Care providers, through the Child Care Subsidy (CCS).

Families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic can also access additional Child Care Subsidy from the Australian Government. Additional information for the early childhood education and care sector in regards to COVID-19 can be found on the Australian Government’s website.

I am a parent/guardian and would like more information about the COVID-19 Free Preschool Funding program

There are approximately 740 community and mobile preschools in NSW who are eligible to receive funding under this program. These services are primarily funded by the NSW Government to deliver preschool to children aged 3 and above. View a list of services on Choosing a quality service.

Community and mobile preschools receive funding from the Government but are operated independently, and are responsible for making their own decisions in consultation with their communities. This includes setting fees, managing enrolment, staffing decisions and determining other operational arrangements such as the days and times the service operates.

Under this program, funding is provided as a top up payment in addition to other funding the service usually receives from the NSW Government to support the operation of the preschool. The purpose of this funding is to replace a high proportion of fee income.

In return for receiving this additional funding, services are required to provide at least 15 hours of fee-free preschool per week for families who have eligible children enrolled in the service. This is because research shows that participation for 15 hours per week, or 600 hours per year, in a quality early childhood education program in the year before school provides enduring benefits to children well beyond primary school.

Preschools can provide more than 15 hours for free if they choose (for example if current children are enrolled more than 15 hours, they wish to continue this pattern and the service has sufficient funding to do this) or they may charge a fee for any hours of enrolment above 15 hours if they consider this necessary based on the context of their service.

This is an opt-in funding program. That means that it is not compulsory, and providers who are eligible to receive funding will make a decision about whether they choose to receive this funding. You should contact preschools directly for information on their participation in the program and enrolment availability.

Preschools set their own fees, and as a result, fees vary widely. Generally speaking, fees in lower socioeconomic areas tend to be lower, while fees in higher socioeconomic areas are higher.

The amount of funding provided to each service will be based on the characteristics of the service and the children attending the service.

Services in lower socioeconomic areas will receive one hundred per cent of the calculated fee income for 2021. One hundred per cent of the calculated fee income will also be provided for all equity children, that is children from families with low income, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children with a disability or additional need. This will be done regardless of the socioeconomic profile of the area the service is in. For services in higher socioeconomic areas, a minimum of 80% of calculated fee income will be provided to services.

It is important to ensure that funding is provided equitably, and is focused on those families and communities most in need.

Children attending preschool programs in long day care services are eligible for funding from the Australian Government. The Australian Government provides a range of funding and supports to services, including Long Day Care through the Child Care Subsidy (CCS). These services are not eligible to receive funding through this program.

The COVID-19 Free Preschool funding program is temporary funding that eligible mobile and community preschools are able to access in recognition of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How does COVID-19 impact leave entitlements?

Information regarding the impact of coronavirus on leave entitlements is available on Fair Work Ombudsman website.

If you have questions relating to staffing issues you can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for further information.

Does any business insurance cover COVID-19-related temporary closures?

We are not able to provide advice on business insurance. You should contact your insurer or the Insurance Council of Australia for further information.

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