2023 Start Strong for Long Day Care program guidelines

This page describes the purpose, funding information, program requirements and outcomes of the Start Strong for Long Day Care 2023 program.

1. Purpose

The Start Strong 2023 program for long day care provides funding to deliver affordable quality preschool education to children aged 4 and above who are enrolled in eligible long day care services in NSW.

From 2023, fee relief for families announced as “Affordable Preschool” in the context of the NSW Government’s Early Years Commitment will be integrated into Start Strong and provide long day care services with sustainable long-term funding to deliver more affordable preschool to eligible children.

Start Strong for long day care funding is provided for children in the year or two before school and supports enrolment of at least 600 hours per year. Evidence shows that this level of participation in a quality early childhood education program in the two years before school is associated with better outcomes for children.

Start Strong, including the now integrated Affordable Preschool initiative, promotes universal access by providing:

  • loadings for services which operate within the lower range of Socio-Economic Index for Areas (SEIFA) score of relative socio-economic disadvantage,
  • loadings for children with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background, and
  • up to $2,110 per year in fee relief for children aged 4 and above in long day care.

2. Eligibility criteria

2.1 Service eligibility criteria

Approved Providers which are listed on the Australian Government's Child Care Subsidy System (CCSS), and regulated under the National Quality Framework, may be eligible to receive Start Strong funding.

To be considered eligible for funding under Start Strong, a provider’s (referred to as an Approved Provider) service must:

  • have a service approval to operate under the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 (National Law) and either:
    • operate as a centre-based service and have checked the long day care Nature of Care field under Service Details on the National Quality Agenda IT System (NQAITS), or
    • be a Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Service (MACS) and can provide supporting documents of delivering an early childhood education program based on the Early Years Learning Framework.
  • deliver a quality early childhood education program to children aged 4 and above, that is:
  • be operating and reporting through CCSS between May 2022 and early 2023.

Newly approved services

For any new services that have commenced operating after May 2022, an eligibility process will be determined to access program funding. More information will be provided once available.

2.2 Child eligibility criteria

To be eligible for funding under Start Strong, a child will need to be:

  • at least 4 years old on, or before, 31 July 2023;
  • attending an eligible early childhood education program;
  • listed on CCSS; and
  • not yet in compulsory schooling.

Children who are 6 years old will be eligible for funding. Where required, a Certificate of Exemption from compulsory schooling must be in place.

2.2.1 Priority of access

Approved Providers are encouraged to give equal priority of access to children aged 4 and above who are:

  • from low income families
  • from Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander families
  • with disability and/or additional needs
  • with language needs
  • at risk of significant harm (from a child protection perspective).

There is no order of priority assigned to the list above.

These guidelines are intended to assist Approved Providers with making enrolment decisions, in a way that seeks to allocate places to those in the greatest need. Approved Providers may prioritise enrolments for 600 hours or more and consider the hours children are enrolled at other funded services when making enrolment decisions. However, particular community and family needs will also be relevant.

3. Funding

3.1 Calculation of funding

To support the principle of universal access and to meet commitments under the Preschool Reform Agreement and Early Years Commitment, Start Strong will provide:

  • program funding (Program Payment) scaled for enrolments above and below 600 hours, with loadings for:
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
    • Services located in areas of relative socio-economic disadvantage.
  • fee relief for families (Fee Relief Payment).

The initial Program Payment and Fee Relief Payment for eligible services is calculated based on NSW enrolment data provided by the Australian Government from the representative week of 23 May to 29 May 2022 (May 2022 Data).

Any adjustments to funding will be applied by the end of 2023 to reflect variations in enrolment numbers, using data from a representative week in early 2023. This will include children who are at least 4 years old on, or before, 31 July 2023. The dates that make up the representative week in early 2023 are yet to be determined and the department will advise the Approved Provider when it is known.

All representative weeks listed are final. The enrolment data used to calculate funding cannot be disputed or changed.

3.1.1 Program Payment

The program funding (Program Payment) is provided per enrolment for eligible children in an eligible service as per Table 1. Children who are enrolled for 600 hours or more will receive the full rate of funding, and children enrolled for fewer than 600 hours will receive 67% of the full amount (regardless of the number of hours enrolled).

Table 1: Funding calculation – amount per enrolment

Amount per enrolment
Children enrolled for 600 hours or more $960
Children enrolled for less than 600 hours $643
Loadings

An additional 50% loading is provided per enrolment:

  • for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children; or
  • if the service is located in a geographic area (Statistical Area Level 2) with a SEIFA Decile of 1 and 2 (ranking within NSW) on the Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage 2016.

SEIFA information of the service is determined by the Australian Government using the SEIFA (Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas) Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage 2016 provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

SEIFA will be updated for 2021 data in 2023 and this new information will be used in future years.

Payments are made to Approved Providers per enrolment as per Table 2 below:

Table 2: Funding calculation – amount per enrolment including loading
Amount per enrolment including loading
Children enrolled for 600 hours or more $1,440
Children enrolled for less than 600 hours $965

Approved Providers will only receive one amount of loading per enrolment.

3.1.2 Fee Relief Payment

The fee relief funding (Fee Relief Payment) is calculated as a flat rate annual allocation of $2,110 per enrolment for eligible children in 2023.

The Fee Relief Payment may increase slightly each year in line with changes in the cost of living. The rate above includes indexation for 2023.

The Fee Relief Payment is to be offered to families as a weekly reduction to their session fee or gap fee (after the Child Care Subsidy has been applied) allocated across the service’s total number of operating weeks for the calendar year. Funding must be expended according to Section 4.1.2 Fee Relief Payment Spending Rules.

This fee relief is in addition to and will not impact Child Care Subsidy payments provided by the Australian Government.

See case studies (PDF 96KB) for examples of how to apply the fee relief.

Children that leave a service during the year

The Approved Provider must ensure that where a child leaves the service before the fee relief has been expended, that this funding is applied to the next eligible child that takes up that enrolment.

3.2 Indexation

The department will make decisions on the application of indexation to funding rates on an annual basis. If indexation is applied, the department will be guided by NSW Treasury determined rates. Any changes to the funding rates arising from indexation will be communicated via the funding notification letter emailed to Approved Providers.

3.3 Payment of funding

The Approved Provider will not be paid unless the Early Childhood Outcomes Commissioned Programs – Funding Agreement – Terms and Conditions – 1 January 2023 to 31 December 2023 (Terms and Conditions) are accepted in the Early Childhood Contract Management System (ECCMS). Approved Providers must accept the Terms and Conditions in ECCMS before 31 January 2023 or a specified date as communicated by the department.

The Program Payment and Fee Relief Payment will be paid in quarterly instalments according to the schedule below:

  1. from January – for period January to March 2023
  2. April – for period April to June 2023
  3. July – for period July to September 2023
  4. October – for period October to December 2023.

Payments of funding will be communicated to the Approved Provider of the eligible service/s in ECCMs and by email.

ECCMS is the online system used by the department to manage funding and contracting arrangements with early childhood education service providers. Funding amounts (excluding GST) are detailed in ECCMS through the ‘Payments’ tab on the Funding Specification.

4. Program requirements

4.1 Spending rules

4.1.1 Program Payment spending rules

The Approved Provider must spend the Program Payment funds allocated to each service to:

  • pay salary and wages for early childhood teachers and educators delivering the quality early childhood education program;
  • purchase functional or educational resources (excluding capital works projects) for the benefit of all children aged 4 and above;
  • develop a quality early childhood education program based on the Early Years Learning Framework (PDF 703KB), including associated staffing costs;
  • develop staff, including upgrading qualifications from a certificate to a diploma and/or a diploma to a 4-year degree and associated staffing costs, traineeships, study leave, course fees and backfilling of staff undertaking career development;
  • attract and retain early childhood teachers and educators, including advertising early childhood teacher and educator positions and bonuses for retention or recognition of length of service and experience;
  • wellbeing supports for early childhood teachers and early childhood educators; or
  • any combination of the above.

The full amount of Program Payment funding should be expended for those purposes and targeted to benefit children aged 4 and above in 2023.

The funds need to be expended during the 2023 calendar year, unless otherwise agreed to by the department.

4.1.2 Fee Relief Payment spending rules

The Approved Provider must use the Fee Relief Payment funds to provide fee relief to the families of eligible children at least 4 years old on, or before, 31 July 2023.

The Fee Relief Payment must be applied as a weekly reduction to a family’s gap fees across the total service operating weeks for the calendar year.

Where a family’s gap fees have been reduced to zero in a regular billing period, the Approved Provider must first spend the funds to cover any additional charges imposed on the eligible children, such as levies. The Approved Provider may plan for and then use any remaining funds from Term 4 in line with Section 4.1.1 Program Payment spending rules. These funds must be expended before the end of 2023.

Families who receive the Child Care Subsidy are required to make a co-contribution to their child care fees under Family Assistance Law. They do this by paying the difference between the Approved Provider’s fee and the Child Care Subsidy amount (gap fee). The Fee Relief Payment reduces the gap fee and/or additional charges. Any outstanding gap fees or additional charges after the Child Care Subsidy and Fee Relief Payment have been applied must be paid by the family.

In line with the affordability objectives of the program:

  • Approved Providers are not permitted to increase their service’s fees to offset the benefit of the Fee Relief Payment, and
  • before fee relief or any other subsidies (for example, the Child Care Subsidy) is applied, the fee for children in the same cohort must be the same irrespective of eligibility for fee relief at the service.

If an Approved Provider does either of these things, this may be considered to be an Event of Default under the Terms and Conditions. In circumstances where it is necessary to adjust fees, such as due to reasonable increases in operating costs, Approved Providers must retain evidence to support the fee increase.

The department will be monitoring daily fees and additional charges, through the annual reporting and compliance processes.

Documenting fee relief

The Approved Provider must demonstrate and communicate the fee reduction from Fee Relief Payments to families through regular statements, which attribute the fee relief to the NSW Government.

The Approved Provider must advise parents when the Fee Relief Payment will commence and the frequency at which it will be applied, and that it does not impact their Child Care Subsidy payment.

The fee pass through must also be demonstrated as part of the annual reporting process to the department.

Further information on the technical specifications of invoicing requirements and reporting is available for download (PDF 147KB).

Children enrolled at multiple services

Where a child is enrolled in more than one service (e.g. at a preschool or another long day care service), they can only access the Fee Relief Payment from one service.

Families must complete a declaration form provided under Section 4.5 Declaration and consent forms to nominate which service they will access the fee relief from.

The department will conduct compliance checks as part of its auditing process. Approved Providers are required to retain declaration forms for this purpose as per Section 4.7 Financial Accountability.

The Approved Provider of the nominated service must pass on the fee relief in the form of a regular reduction to fees in accordance with Section 4.1.2 Fee Relief Payment spending rules.

If an Approved Provider receives the Fee Relief Payment for a child whose family declares they will not claim fee relief from their service, the Approved Provider must retain the Fee Relief Payment and return it to the department. This will be managed via an adjustment period in late 2023.

4.2 Transition to School Statement

Completion of the Transition to School Statement is a mandatory requirement under Start Strong for children in the year before they commence Kindergarten.

The Transition to School Statement provides a snapshot of a child’s strengths, interests, needs and approaches to learning to support their effective transition to Kindergarten. A positive transition from early childhood education and care to Kindergarten helps improve children’s educational and social outcomes.

The child’s early childhood teacher or educator must complete the Transition to School Statement and provide it to the child’s parents/carers and new school before the commencement of the school year. This is to facilitate learning continuity and to help link the Early Years Learning Framework to the Early Stage 1 Syllabus.

Teachers and educators can complete the Transition to School Digital Statement via the department’s digital platform as the preferred method. Where access is not possible, the PDF version can be completed. Copies of Transition to School Statements must be retained for funding compliance purposes.

More information on the importance of the Transition to School Statement and supporting resources are available on the Transition to School webpage.

4.3 Quality uplift

A key objective of Start Strong is to support quality uplift and ensure children have access to high quality preschool programs that drive improved outcomes.

Over the course of the program, the department will work with Approved Providers of services rated as Working Towards NQS in Quality Area 1 – Educational Program and Practice and services with a provisional rating who have not yet participated in an Assessment Rating process to support quality improvement and encourage program design that is informed by reflective practice. This may involve implementation support, mentoring, or self-reflection resources.

The department will ensure that any work with Approved Providers to enhance preschool programs aligns with quality expectations outlined under the National Quality Framework (NQF). For more information on regulatory requirements under the NQF, visit the department’s Regulation and compliance website.

4.4 Data collection and monitoring of outputs and outcomes

Monitoring the overall performance of Start Strong determines whether the program is appropriately targeted and that program outputs and outcomes are being achieved.

Approved Providers will be required to comply with department reporting and data collection requirements that will be implemented incrementally over the course of the program year. The department will work with Approved Providers in early 2023 to establish the process for collecting this data and to better understand how we can uplift enrolment and improve outcomes related to participation and other program objectives. This will be supported in future by the development of a new digital tool to improve the way we collect and report data over time, and to enhance the user experience.

The department is also working with the Australian Government on data reporting requirements for fee relief provided under the NSW Government’s Early Years Commitment. The additional data collected from Approved Providers will monitor how the funding interacts with the Child Care Subsidy to enhance affordability for families.

Data will be collected and reported on to meet reporting requirements under the Preschool Reform Agreement (PRA) and fee relief for families, and to enable allocation of program funding to align with service enrolments. This may include:

  • Service name
  • Service ID
  • child name
  • child date of birth
  • child enrolment ID.

Approved Providers also need to comply with consent form requirements listed under Section 4.5 Declaration and consent forms, as well as record keeping requirements listed under Section 4.7 Financial Accountability. Consent forms must be completed for each child enrolled and Approved Providers may be audited to confirm consent has been received to share personal information and the accuracy of data collected.

4.5 Declaration and consent forms

The Approved Provider is required to collect the declaration and consent form, completed by the parent/carer for each eligible child upon enrolment. The declaration and consent form is available for download.

This form:

  • declares whether the child is enrolled at another service, and if so, nominates which service the parent/carer will receive the Fee Relief Payment from; and
  • consents to the child’s name, date of birth and enrolment ID being provided to the department for the purposes outlined in Section 4.4 Data collection and monitoring of outputs and outcomes.

Approved Providers must retain the form and provide it to the department if requested for the purposes of reporting or funding compliance reviews.

4.6 Administrative requirements

The Approved Provider needs to:

  1. ensure the service information in CCSS is correct.
  2. ensure the Provider Approval and Service Approval information in National Quality Agenda IT system (NQAITS) is correct.
  3. ensure the Provider’s main contact email in ECCMS is correct to receive communications from the department.
  4. complete and sign the electronic funds transfer (EFT) form, if required. Not all providers will need to complete and sign an EFT form, if this has already been completed. The department will contact those providers who require an EFT form to be completed.
  5. nominate a person who is authorised to bind the Approved Provider who will be the SP-Admin Account holder in the ECCMS. The SP-Admin Account holder is the only person who can accept the Terms and Conditions. Only one person per Provider can be nominated as SP-Admin.
  6. the nominated SP-Admin must have a myGovID Digital identity. The SP-Admin’s myGovID must be linked to the Approved Provider’s Australian Business Number (ABN) in the Relationship Authorisation Manager (RAM) to enable access to the Terms and Conditions in ECCMS.
  7. email the SP-Admin details linked to the Approved Provider’s Australian Business Number in RAM to the department at ecec.funding@det.nsw.edu.au, so that the ECCMS registration key can be provided. The ABN for the user must be identical to the ABN that will be linked to the Provider in ECCMS. The department will email the registration key when the user details have been verified in ECCMS.
  8. ensure that the ECCMS SP-Admin account holder can log into ECCMS successfully. Further information on how to log in to ECCMS can be found on the ECCMS information page.
  9. accept the Terms and Conditions before 31 January 2023 or a specified date as communicated by the department. The Approved Provider will not be paid unless the Terms and Conditions are accepted in ECCMS.

4.7 Communications

The department may publicise and report on any funds awarded to the Approved Provider.

In addition to documenting fee relief under Section 4.1.2 Fee Relief Payment spending rules, the Approved Provider is encouraged to publicly acknowledge the funding received through Start Strong with the following statement: “This preschool program is a recipient of funding under the NSW Department of Education’s Start Strong for Long Day Care 2023 program.” Such acknowledgement may be included in a regular newsletter or an annual report.

To receive the most up-to-date communication the SP-Admin account holder must review and/or update details in ECCMS. The changes can be completed in the Main Service Provider page – ensure that service details and contacts are up to date on the Main Details tab, Contacts and Address tabs.

4.8 Financial accountability

In accordance with the Terms and Conditions, Approved Providers must submit a financial accountability for each individual service which has received funding, to provide assurance that public funds have been expended for their intended purpose.

Financial accountability is completed through ECCMS and Approved Providers will be notified when this is due. Further information is available in the Financial Accountability Return Guide and on the Financial Accountability - Information for Services page.

Review of financial accountabilities

Upon receipt of your financial accountability, the following will be undertaken:

  • your financial accountability will be reviewed by the department.
  • where there is a surplus of funds, an invoice may be raised by the department requesting repayment of the Unexpended Funds.
  • where there is a nil balance or deficit reported, no further action is required.
Record keeping and funding compliance review

The department may undertake a funding compliance review of the service in relation to Start Strong funds, and request that supporting documentation be provided by the Approved Provider to the department and its representatives.

Relevant records must be retained by the Approved Provider and provided to the department on request for the purpose of funding compliance reviews. Examples of relevant records may include:

  • proof of expenditure in line with Section 4.1.1 Program Payment spending rules;
  • statements to families demonstrating fee reduction and attributing fee relief to the NSW Government;
  • evidence for any fee increases for children eligible for fee relief;
  • parent/carer declaration and consent forms;
  • Transition to School Statements;
  • Certificates of Exemption for any 6 year old children enrolled in the service; and
  • data requested by the department that is relevant to meeting reporting requirements under the Preschool Reform Agreement and fee relief, and to enable allocation of program funding aligned with service enrolments.

4.9 Management of surplus funds

Recovery of funds

Under the Terms and Conditions, Approved Providers are required to return any unexpended funds to the department. Unexpended Funds arise when the Start Strong for long day care 2023 funds have not been fully spent in accordance with the spending rules.

Offsets against future payments

Approved Providers cannot offset any unexpended funds against any future payments. Unexpended Funds must be returned to the department.

Cross-subsidisation

Start Strong for long day care 2023 funding must be acquitted through this program.

Requirements relating to the transfer of a service are outlined in Section 5 Service changes and in the Terms and Conditions.

5. Service changes

5.1 Transferring service approval

If an Approved Provider is transferring a service to another Approved Provider, then the transferring Approved Provider must do the following:

  • contact the department at the contact details below when the transfer has been initiated. This notice must be provided at least 42 days before the transfer is to occur.
  • complete all outstanding financial accountabilities in ECCMS. The department will advise of any additional financial accountabilities that require completion for the funded period up to the service transfer effective date. A manual financial accountability form may need to be completed for this purpose. The financial accountability must be completed at least 14 days before the transfer of the service, unless otherwise agreed with the department.
  • give written notice to the receiving Approved Provider of the amount of funds (1) expended and (2) unexpended at least 14 days before the transfer of service. The Approved Provider must also request that the receiving Approved Provider liaise with the department about this funding program.
  • if directed by the department, transfer any Unexpended Funds to receiving Approved Provider on or before the date the transfer of the service occurs. This may only occur if at the time of the transfer either the receiving Approved Provider has entered into the Terms and Conditions or has otherwise provided an undertaking to the department, in the form required by it, regarding the expenditure of the Unexpended Funds. Otherwise, the transferring Approved Provider must return any Unexpended Funds to the department within the timeframe advised by the department.
  • comply with any direction by the department under the Terms and Conditions.
  • cease expending funding from the transfer effective date unless otherwise agreed with the department.

If an Approved Provider is receiving a service from another Approved Provider, then the receiving Approved Provider must do the following to be considered eligible to receive funding:

  • liaise with the department about this funding program.
  • enter into the Terms and Conditions with the department with the amount of funding to be determined by the department in its absolute discretion. There is no guarantee the receiving Approved Provider will receive further funding.
  • if required by the department, in order for the receiving Approved Provider to receive a transfer of any Unexpended Funds from the transferring Approved Provider, provide an undertaking to the department, in the form required by it, that those Unexpended Funds will be applied in accordance with the Terms and Conditions.

The department may take actions, if an Approved Provider transfers a service to another Approved Provider, including:

  • withholding funding for the transferring service from the receiving Approved Provider of the service, until the transfer is effective
  • withholding funding for the transferred service from the transferring Approved Provider of the service, after the transfer is effective or when the department is notified of the transfer

Note: Approved Providers must follow steps to comply with regulatory requirements under the National Law and Regulations, including submitting an application for service transfer to the NSW Regulatory Authority. See the Approvals process webpage.

5.2 Service ceasing to operate

For the purposes of funding under Start Strong for Long Day Care 2023, services are required, wherever possible, to provide at least 12 months advance notice of an intention to close or cease trading. Early notification will help to prevent overpayments that will need to be returned to the department.

If a service is to close/cease trading, prior to the date of closure, the Approved Providers must:

  • contact the department at the contact details below when the closure has been completed.
  • complete all outstanding financial accountabilities in ECCMS. The department will advise of any additional financial accountabilities that require completion for the closing service for the funded period up to the date of closure. A manual financial accountability form may need to be completed for this purpose. The financial accountability must be completed within 30 days of the closure of the service, unless otherwise agreed with the department.
  • cease expending funds from the date of closure.
  • return all Unexpended Funds to the department by no later than 30 days of the service closure date or as agreed by the department
  • comply with any direction by the department under the Terms and Conditions.

The department may take actions if a service has notified the department that it proposes to close/cease trading, including:

  • withholding funding for the service that is proposed to be closed/cease trading from the Approved Provider, where that funding relates to a period after the proposed date of closure.

No funding will be provided by the department for a service that has closed/ceased trading, in relation to the period after the date of closure.

Note: Approved Providers must follow steps to comply with regulatory requirements under the National Law and Regulations, including notifying the NSW Regulatory Authority within 7 days of ceasing to operate the education and care service (section 173(2)(d) of the National Law).

6. Program improvement and evaluation

These Guidelines may be updated or amended over the course of the annual program. This will be in response to continuous program improvement or where further clarity is required. Changes to the Guidelines will be made in consultation with the sector, but remain at the discretion of the department.

To understand the effectiveness of Start Strong an evaluation will be undertaken. Approved Providers will be required to participate in an evaluation of the program through the provision of data and participation in other evaluation activities as required.

Over time, the department will explore the idea of a governance structure to oversee Start Strong.

7. Helpful information

7.1 More information about myGovID and Relationship Authorisation Manager

Information on myGovID and Relationship Authorisation Manager is available on the:

7.2 Having trouble with myGovID and RAM?

Support for myGovID and RAM is provided by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Find support for:

7.3 More information about Childcare Care Subsidy (CCS) for Approved Providers

CCS helpdesk telephone: 1300 667 276

CCS helpdesk email: ccshelpdesk@dese.gov.au

Contact details

To speak to someone about Start Strong, please contact the department by:

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