2024 Start Strong for Long Day Care program guidelines

This page describes the purpose, funding information and program requirements of the 2024 Start Strong for Long Day Care program.

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1. Purpose

This document provides an overview of the 2024 Start Strong for Long Day Care program and outlines the program’s activities, requirements, objectives, outcomes and evaluation approach.

The NSW Department of Education (the department) is the decision maker and primary agency responsible for administering the 2024 Start Strong for Long Day Care program.

This document forms part of the 2024 Funding Agreement with Approved Funded Providers and may be amended or replaced by the department from time to time. Approved Funded Providers must comply with the current version of the program guidelines, available on the department’s website.

2. Program description

The 2024 Start Strong for Long Day Care program provides funding to deliver affordable quality preschool education to children aged 3 and above who are enrolled in eligible long day care services in NSW.

Funding is provided for children in the 2 years before school and incentivises enrolments of 600 hours per year. Evidence shows that this level of participation in a quality early childhood education program in the 2 years before school is associated with better outcomes for children.

Start Strong for Long Day Care provides funding through 4 streams:

1. program funding for children aged 4 and above (4YO+ 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.

2. fee relief for families of children aged 4 and above (4YO+ Fee Relief Payment)

3. program funding for children aged 3 (3YO Program Trial Payment) (formerly known as Trial Payment), with loadings for:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
  • services located in areas of relative socio-economic disadvantage

4. fee relief for families of children aged 3 (3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment).

Start Strong for Long Day Care supports eligible services to:

  • improve the service they provide through supporting capability uplift of early childhood teachers (ECTs) and educators, the attraction and retention of ECTs and educators, purchase of educational resources and program development
  • reach out to their community to offer and promote quality early childhood education
  • reduce the cost of early childhood education for families by providing up to $2,110 per year in fee relief for children aged 4 and above, and up to $500 per year in fee relief for children aged 3.

3. Program eligibility

3.1 Service eligibility criteria

To be considered eligible for funding under any of the Start Strong funding streams, a provider’s (referred to as an approved provider) service must:

  • have a service approval to operate under either:
    • the Education and Care Services National Law Act2010 (National Law) and 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
    • the Children (Education and Care Services National Law Application) Act 2010 (NSW) or the Children (Education and Care Services) Supplementary Provisions Act 2011 (NSW) (State Law) and be a Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Service (MACS); and
  • be operating and reporting through the Child Care Subsidy System (CCSS)
  • deliver a quality early childhood education program to children aged 3 and above, that is:
    • delivered by a qualified early childhood teacher (ECT) in accordance with the requirements under the National Quality Framework and
    • using the Early Years Frameworks.

Note: the early childhood education program for 3 year old children need only be developed by a qualified ECT in accordance with the requirements under the National Quality Framework.

The department may consider the eligibility of services who meet the program objectives that do not meet the service eligibility criteria, including services that are regulated under State Law. Further information will be provided once available. The eligibility of a service remains at the absolute discretion of the department.

Identifying eligible services

Services are not required to apply for this program. The department will conduct regular checks to identify and confirm the eligibility of services. All eligible approved providers will receive communication from the department.

3.2 Child eligibility criteria

To be eligible for 4YO+ Program Payment and 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment funding under Start Strong, a child will need to be:

  • the age of 4 years old on, or before, 31 July 2024 (the child’s birthdate must be on, or before, 31 July 2020)
  • attending an eligible early childhood education program
  • a confirmed enrolment with the service in the CCSS
  • not yet in compulsory schooling.

Children who are 3 years old may be eligible for both the 3YO Program Trial Payment and 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment for the first time in 2024.

To be eligible for 3YO Program Trial Payment and 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment funding under Start Strong, a child will need to be:

  • the age of 3 years old and not yet 4 years old on, or before 31 July in 2024 (the child’s birthdate must be on, or between, 1 August 2020 to 31 July 2021)
  • attending an eligible early childhood education program
  • a confirmed enrolment with the service in the CCSS
  • not yet in compulsory schooling.

Children who are 6 years old will be eligible for funding. Where required, a Certificate of Exemption as per the Exemption from School Procedures (PDF 1.19 MB) policy from compulsory schooling must be in place.

Families do not have to be eligible or receiving the Australian Government Child Care Subsidy (CCS) to be eligible for Start Strong funding. The child must be a confirmed enrolment in the service data captured in the CCSS.

Children do not have to be in the preschool room to be eligible for Start Strong funding. All children who meet the eligibility criteria are eligible regardless of the room they attend.

Citizenship and residency status are not taken into consideration for eligibility of children for funding under Start Strong for Long Day Care.

3.2.1 Priority of Access

Approved providers are encouraged to give priority of access as per Table 1.

Table 1: Priority of access categories

Priority of Access category Child
Priority of Access category 1

Children aged 4 and above who are:

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

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

Priority of Access category 2

Children aged 4 and above who do not fall into category 1.

Priority of Access category 3

Children aged 3 who are:
  • from low income families
  • from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families
  • with disability and/or additional needs
  • with language needs
  • who are at risk of significant harm (from a child protection perspective).

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

Priority of Access category 4

Children aged 3 who do not fall into category 3.

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.

4. Spending rules and activities

4.1 Funding streams

See Appendix 1 - Calculation and payment of funding for information on how funding is calculated and paid.

4.2 4YO+ Program Payment and 3YO Program Trial Payment spending rules

The full amount of 4YO+ Program Payment funding should be expended for those purposes and targeted to benefit children aged 4 and above in 2024.

The full amount of 3YO Program Trial Payment funding should be expended for those purposes and targeted to benefit children aged 3 in 2024.

The approved provider must spend the 4YO+ Program Payment and 3YO Program Trial Payment funds allocated to each service to:

  • pay salary and wages for ECTs and educators delivering the quality early childhood education
  • purchase functional or educational resources or equipment (excluding capital works projects such as renovations and repairs to existing buildings or premises)
  • develop a quality early childhood educational program based on the Early Years Learning Frameworks, including associated staffing costs
  • support capability uplift of ECTs and educators through professional development and further study, including associated staffing costs
  • attract and retain ECTs and educators
  • wellbeing supports for ECTs and educators
  • reduce non-fee related barriers that families face when accessing quality early childhood education programs provided by long day care services or
  • any combination of the above.

The approved provider may also spend the 3YO Program Trial Payment funds to reach out to the local community to inform families of the benefits of 3 year old children accessing early childhood educational programs through long day care services.

Where a service has received loadings to their 4YO+ Program Payment or 3YO Program Trial Payment, the approved provider is encouraged to spend the loadings to deliver targeted initiatives and support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children from low income families. See Appendix 1 – Calculation and payment of funding for more information on loadings.

See section Appendix 2 – Spending rules activities for potential uses of the 4YO+ Program Payment and 3YO Program Trial Payment.

4YO+ Program Payment funds may also be used as an interim measure to provide fee relief to families of eligible children aged at least 4 years old on, or before, 31 July 2024, where the initial 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment allocation does not cover the number of eligible children accessing fee relief.

3YO Program Trial Payment funds may also be used as an interim measure to provide fee relief to families of eligible children aged 3 years old and not yet 4 years old on, or before 31 July in 2024, where the initial 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment allocation does not cover the number of eligible children accessing fee relief.

The funds need to be expended during the 2024 calendar year, unless otherwise agreed to by the department. 4YO+ Program Payment and 3YO Program Trial Payment funding that is not fully spent in accordance with the spending rules is considered Unexpended Funds.

The approved provider must maintain records or documents as evidence of expenditure and provide it to the department if requested for the purposes of reporting or funding compliance reviews. Further information on record keeping requirements is available in Section 5.7 Financial accountability.

4.3 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment and 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment spending rules

Fee relief spending rules apply to both the 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment and the 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment.

The approved provider must use the 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment to provide fee relief to the families of eligible children who are at least 4 years old on, or before, 31 July 2024. The amount is calculated as a flat rate annual allocation of $2,110 per enrolment for eligible children.

The approved provider must use the 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment to provide fee relief to the families of eligible children who are 3 years old and not yet 4 years old on, or before 31 July in 2024. The amount is calculated as a flat rate annual allocation of $500 per enrolment for eligible children.

Fee relief must be offered by the approved provider to the families of all children that meet Section 3.2 Child eligibility criteria.

Funds must be expended before the end of 2024.

The 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment and 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment must be applied as a weekly reduction to a family’s session fee or gap fee (after the Child Care Subsidy has been applied) allocated across the total service operating weeks for the calendar year.

In situations where families pay the difference between the approved provider’s fee and the Child Care Subsidy amount (gap fee), the 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment or 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment reduces the gap fee and/or additional charges. Any outstanding gap fees or additional charges after the Child Care Subsidy and 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment, or 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment, have been applied must be paid by the family.

In situations where 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment and 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment funds received by the approved provider are not sufficient to provide fee relief to all the families of eligible children, an adjustment may be made.

Where required, prior to the adjustment, 4YO+ Program Payment funds may also be used as an interim measure to provide fee relief to the families of eligible children aged at least 4 years old on, or before, 31 July 2024.

Where required, prior to the adjustment, 3YO Program Trial Payment funds may also be used as an interim measure to provide fee relief to the families of eligible children aged 3 years old and not yet 4 years old on, or before 31 July 2024.

Surplus and Reserved funds

Approved providers are required to manage their fee relief funds based on the changing number of enrolments and families/carers that claim fee relief from their service. Unspent fee relief funds can be separated into:

Surplus Funds

Where a family’s gap fees have been reduced to zero in a regular billing period, the remaining fee relief is considered a surplus (Surplus Funds). The approved provider must first spend Surplus Funds to cover any additional charges imposed on the eligible child, such as levies.

Remaining Surplus Funds from the 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment may then be used to reduce the fees for children that are at least 4 years old on, or before, 31 July 2024 (the child’s birthdate must be on, or before, 31 July 2020) at the discretion of the service, for example children of families with greatest need.

Remaining Surplus Funds from the 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment may then be used to reduce the fees for children that are 3 years old and not yet 4 years old on, or before 31 July in 2024 (the child’s birthdate must be on, or between, 1 August 2020 to 31 July 2021) at the discretion of the service, for example children of families with greatest need.

Remaining Surplus Funds may be used to further reduce the fees for children already accessing fee relief at the services or to reduce the fees for children whose families did not nominate the service on the declaration and consent form. Families of children whose fees are reduced using remaining Surplus Funds must have submitted a declaration and consent form.

The approved provider must advise families that the fee reduction funded by remaining Surplus Funds is provided under exceptional circumstances. The approved provider must demonstrate and communicate fee reduction funded by Surplus Funds to families through a separate line item on regular statements. The approved provider must track the usage of Surplus Funds.

Reserved Funds

Where service’s current enrolments are less than what is funded, if they have enrolments ineligible for fee relief, or if a family declares they will not claim fee relief from their service, the fee relief funding must be reserved (Reserved Funds).

Where a child leaves the service, funding for that enrolment is considered Reserved Funds until the next eligible child that takes up that enrolment.

Reserved Funds cannot be used until an additional eligible child nominates to receive fee relief from the service. The approved provider must retain Reserved Funds and may be required to return it to the department.

Fee guidelines

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 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment or 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment.
  • 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 Early Childhood Outcomes Commissioned Programs – Funding Agreement – Terms and Conditions – 1 January 2024 to 31 December 2024 (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.

Documenting fee relief

The approved provider must demonstrate and communicate the fee reduction from 4YO+ Fee Relief Payments and 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payments to families through regular statements, which attribute the fee relief to the NSW Government.

The approved provider must advise families when the 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment and 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment will commence and the frequency at which it will be applied, and that it does not impact their Child Care Subsidy payment.

See Appendix 3 – Fee relief invoicing and reporting technical specification for further information on documenting 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. Where a child leaves the service, funding for that enrolment is considered Reserved Funds until the next eligible child that takes up that enrolment.

Children enrolled at multiple services

Children can only access the 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment or 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment from one service at a time. Families nominate which service they will access the fee relief from and must complete a declaration and consent form provided under Section 5.1 Declaration and consent forms.

Where a service receives funding under Start Strong for Long Day Care and Start Strong for Community Preschools, children can only access the 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment or 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment from one funding program. Families must complete a declaration and consent form provided under Section 5.1 Declaration and consent forms to nominate which funding program they will access the fee relief through.

The department will conduct compliance checks as part of its auditing process. Approved providers are required to retain declaration and consent forms for this purpose as per Section 5.7 Financial Accountability.

If an approved provider receives the 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment or 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment for a child whose family declares they will not claim fee relief from their service, the approved provider must retain the Reserved Funds and may be required to return it to the department.

5. Reporting and data submission

5.1 Declaration and consent forms

The approved provider is required to collect a completed declaration and consent form for all enrolled children that are eligible for the 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment or the 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment. The declaration and consent form (PDF 93.1 KB) is available for download.

This form:

  • declares whether the child is enrolled at another service, and if so, nominates which service the parent/carer/guardian will receive the 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment or the 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment from
  • consents to the child’s information being provided to the department for the purposes outlined in the declaration and consent form and in Section 5.3 Data reporting and submission.

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

Fee relief cannot be provided to the families of eligible children where consent has not been obtained through a completed declaration and consent form.

5.2 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 ECT or educator must complete the Transition to School Statement and provide it to the child’s family and new school before the commencement of the school year. This is to facilitate learning continuity and to help link the Early Years Learning Frameworks to the Early Stage 1 Syllabus.

ECTs 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 Transition to School Statement (PDF 433 KB) 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 website.

5.3 Data reporting and submission

Approved providers are required to submit fee relief data to the department twice:

  • from July 2024 for the first data period 1 January to 30 June 2024
  • from January 2025 for the second data period 1 July to 31 December 2024.

See Appendix 3 – Fee relief invoicing and reporting technical specification for information on the fee relief data that must be submitted. Approved providers must submit child information for all eligible children where consent has been provided by the parent/carer/guardian through a completed declaration and consent form.

The department may use the submitted fee relief data to assess the number of eligible children receiving fee relief at the service and calculate fee relief funding adjustments.

Services that do not submit fee relief data will not be considered for an adjustment to their initial fee relief allocations and will not receive a 4YO+ Fee Relief Adjustment Payment or a 3YO Fee Relief Adjustment Payment.

The submitted fee relief data may monitor how the funding interacts with the Child Care Subsidy to enhance affordability for families and will enable the department to:

  • assess the number of eligible children receiving fee relief at services
  • calculate fee relief funding adjustments for services
  • identify families that may be incorrectly claiming fee relief at multiple services
  • evaluate the Start Strong for Long Day Care program.

This data may be shared with the Australian Government to assist them to monitor how the funding interacts with the Child Care Subsidy to enhance affordability for families.

5.4 Quality uplift

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

Over the course of the program, the department may work with approved providers of services rated as Working Towards NQS in Quality Area 1 – Educational Program and Practice. This may involve support such as resources, professional learning, mentoring, or engagement in the department’s Quality Support Program.

5.5 Administrative requirements

  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 2024 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.

5.6 Communications

The department may publicise and report on any funds awarded to the approved provider.

In addition to documenting fee relief under Section 4.3 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment and 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment spending rules, the approved provider is encouraged to publicly acknowledge the funding received through Start Strong and fee relief is provided to the families of eligible children with the following statement: “This service is a recipient of funding under the department’s 2024 Start Strong for Long Day Care program and fee relief is available for the families of eligible children” 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.

5.7 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 are Unexpended Funds, Reserved Funds or Surplus Funds, an invoice may be raised by the department requesting repayment of 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 4.2 4YO+ Program Payment and 3YO Program Trial 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
  • declaration and consent forms
  • Transition to School Statements
  • certificates of exemption for any 6 year old children enrolled in the service, if required
  • data requested by the department that is relevant to meeting fee relief reporting requirements and to enable allocation of program funding aligned with service enrolments.

5.8 Management of unspent funds

Recovery of Funds

Under the Terms and Conditions, approved providers may be required to return any Unexpended Funds, Reserved Funds and Surplus Funds to the department.

Offsets against Future Payments

Approved providers cannot offset any Unexpended Funds, Reserved Funds or Surplus Funds against any future payments, unless advised by the department.

Cross-Subsidisation

The 2024 Start Strong for Long Day Care funding must be acquitted through this program.

5.9 Service changes

Requirements relating to the transfer or closure of a service are outlined in Appendix 4 – Service Changes.

6. Program objectives and outcomes

6.1 Objectives and program logic

Start Strong for Long Day Care program objectives are to:

  • improve affordability of preschool education
  • support quality uplift in preschool education
  • drive improved outcomes for children
  • incentivise increased enrolment and attendance in quality early childhood education programs in the years before school.

A Start Strong program logic has been developed to show the relationship between the program activities and intended outcomes and to support continuous quality improvement. See Appendix 5 – Program logic.

6.2 Program principles

The guiding principles that inform how Start Strong for Long Day Care is delivered are:

Accessible: Quality early childhood education is financially within reach for all families in NSW.

Equitable: All NSW children, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage, have access to at least 600 hours per year of a high-quality early childhood education program in the years before school, which is a recommended minimum level of participation for children.

Inclusive: All services provide learning environments and programs that meet the early learning needs of all children in their community, regardless of background, ability or socio-economic factors.

Proactive: Services will actively seek to improve enrolment and attendance for children using their service to meet the recommended level of at least 600 hours per year.

Outcomes-focussed: Children are better supported to transition to school. Families have greater confidence that the quality of the early childhood education program meets their child’s developmental needs.

Evidence-based: Program is grounded in evidence that children who participate in a quality preschool education program for at least 600 hours in the year before school are more likely to arrive at school equipped with the social, cognitive and emotional skills they need to engage in learning.

6.3 Policy context

Start Strong for Long Day Care program delivers on the Preschool Reform Agreement and preschool fee-relief initiatives.

In December 2021, NSW became the first signatory to the National Preschool Reform Agreement (2022-2025), which commits Australian Government funding for early childhood education until the end of 2025. The Agreement is focused on children in the year before school, supporting universal access to early childhood education, regardless of service setting.

The Agreement is significant for NSW and the early childhood education sector, providing four years of funding certainty while supporting increased participation and quality.

The Agreement will also support important reforms for the preschool sector, including boosting enrolment, attendance and trialling new outcomes measures for preschool. The department will work closely with the sector and provide further information on this as it becomes available.

The Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund (the Fund) will be used to trial the provision of $500 per child of fee relief to 3 year old children attending eligible preschool programs in long day care centres, effective from early 2024. The fee relief funding for 2024 will be delivered through the 2024 Start Strong for Long Day Care program. Both this program and the fee relief funding itself are being delivered on a test and trial basis and will be delivered for 2 years.

6.4 Target groups

The target group for 4YO+ Program Payment and 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment funding is children who are at least 4 years old on, or before, 31 July 2024 and attending an early childhood education program in a long day care setting.

The target group for the 3YO Program Trial Payment and 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment is children who are 3 years old and not yet 4 years old on, or before 31 July in 2024 and attending an early childhood education program in a long day care setting.

Start Strong for Long Day Care is committed to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The department’s First Steps Strategy is a commitment to improving access to quality early childhood education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in NSW. Start Strong supports the goals of the First Steps Strategy by:

  • supporting the attendance and engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in early childhood education to enhance outcomes. This includes ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are fully supported to attend a minimum of 600 hours of early childhood education in the year before school in all service types
  • ensuring funding models in NSW are best placed to enable quality participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
  • supporting services to deliver a culturally appropriate transition into early childhood education and primary school programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
  • ensuring early childhood education services have strong relationships with their local communities.

7. Review and evaluation

The 2024 Start Strong for Long Day Care program guidelines may be updated or amended at any time. This will be in response to continuous program improvement or where further clarity is required. Changes to the program guidelines may be made in consultation with the sector, but remain at the discretion of the department, and will be communicated to the sector.

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

To understand the effectiveness of Start Strong program funding and fee relief, evaluation will be undertaken. Approved providers will be required to participate in evaluation/s of the program through the provision of data and participation in other evaluation activities as required.

The department will ensure that any work with approved providers to enhance early childhood education programs aligns with quality expectations outlined under the National Quality Framework (NQF).

Appendix 1 - Calculation and payment of funding

Appendix 1.1 Calculation of funding

Initial funding calculations

The initial 4YO+ Program Payment, 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment, 3YO Program Trial Payment and 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment for eligible services is calculated based on NSW enrolment data provided by the Australian Government from the representative week of 26 June to 2 July 2023 (June 2023 Data).

4YO+ Program Payment and 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment calculations will include children who are at least 4 years old on, or before, 31 July 2023 (the child’s birthdate must be on, or before, 31 July 2019).

3YO Program Trial Payment and 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment calculations will include children who are 3 years old and not yet 4 years old on, or before 31 July in 2023 (the child’s birthdate must be on, or between, 1 August 2019 to 31 July 2020).

The department will communicate initial funding amounts, including a breakdown of loadings and the number of eligible fee relief enrolments funded, to the approved providers of eligible services via email.

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.

4YO+ Program Payment funding rates and calculation

The 4YO+ Program Payment is provided per enrolment for eligible children in an eligible service as per Table 2.

Children who are enrolled for 600 hours or more per year 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).

An additional 50% loading is provided for Equity Enrolments:

  • for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children; or
  • if the service is located in a geographic area (Statistical Area Level 2) with a Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) Decile of 1 and 2 (ranking within NSW) on the Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage 2021.

SEIFA information of the service is determined by the Australian Government using the SEIFA Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage 2021 provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Approved providers will only receive one amount of loading per Equity Enrolment.

Table 2: Program Payment funding calculation – amount per enrolment

Enrolment Amount per enrolment Loading per enrolment
Children enrolled for 600 hours or more $960 $480
Children enrolled for less than 600 hours $643 $322

4YO+ Fee Relief Payment funding rates and calculation

The 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment is calculated as an annual flat rate allocation of $2,110 per enrolment for eligible children.

3YO Program Trial Payment funding rates and calculation

The 3YO Program Trial Payment is provided per enrolment for eligible children in an eligible service as per Table 3.

An additional 50% loading is provided for Equity Enrolments:

  • for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children; or
  • if the service is 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 2021.

Approved providers will only receive one amount of loading per Equity Enrolment.

Table 3: Trial Payment funding calculation – amount per enrolment

Enrolment Amount per enrolment Loading per enrolment

3 year old children enrolled

$468

$235

3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment funding adjustments

The 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment is calculated as an annual flat rate allocation of $500 per enrolment for eligible children.

4YO+ Program Payment and 3YO Program Trial Payment funding adjustments

Adjustments to 4YO+ Program Payment and 3YO Program Trial Payment funding will be applied by the end of 2024 to reflect variations in enrolment numbers, using data from a representative week in 2024.

The dates that make up the representative week in 2024 are yet to be determined and the department will advise the approved provider when it is known.

A 4YO+ Program Adjustment Payment is calculated as a flat rate of $1,440 multiplied by additional Equity Enrolments of 600 hours or more from the representative week in 2024 (once selected), when compared to the June 2023 Data.

4YO+ Program Adjustment Payment calculations will include children who are at least 4 years old on, or before, 31 July 2024 (the child’s birthdate must be on, or before, 31 July 2020).

A 3YO Program Adjustment Payment is calculated as a flat rate of $703 multiplied by additional Equity Enrolments from the representative week in 2024 (once selected), when compared to the June 2023 Data.

3YO Program Adjustment Payment calculations will include children who are 3 years old and not yet 4 years old on, or before, 31 July 2024 (the child’s birthdate must be on, or between, 1 August 2020 to 31 July 2021).

Fee Relief funding adjustments

Approved providers need to complete 2 fee relief data submissions. The submitted fee relief data will enable the department to assess the number of eligible children receiving fee relief at services and calculate fee relief funding adjustments for services. A 4YO+ Fee Relief Adjustment Payment and/or 3YO Fee Relief Adjustment Payment will be paid to eligible services where a positive adjustment to their initial allocation is required.

Further information about the fee relief data submission is available in Section 5.3 Data submission.

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

Appendix 1.2 Payment of funding

The approved provider will not be paid unless the Early Childhood Outcomes Commissioned Programs – Funding Agreement – Terms and Conditions – 1 January 2024 to 31 December 2024 (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 2024 or a specified date as communicated by the department.

The 4YO+ Program Payment and 3YO Program Trial Payment will be paid in 2 instalments, unless otherwise advised by the department, according to the schedule below:

  1. from January 2024 – for period January to June 2024
  2. from July 2024 – for period July to December 2024.

The 4YO+ Program Adjustment Payment and 3YO Program Adjustment Payment will be paid, unless otherwise advised by the department, according to the schedule below:

  1. late 2024 – based on data from a representative week in 2024.

The 4YO+ Fee Relief Payment and 3YO Fee Relief Trial Payment will be paid in 2 instalments, unless otherwise advised by the department, according to the schedule below:

  1. from December 2023 – for period January to September 2024
  2. from July 2024 – for period October to December 2024.

The 4YO+ Fee Relief Adjustment Payment and 3YO Fee Relief Adjustment Payment will be paid, unless otherwise advised by the department, according to the schedule below:

  1. from September 2024 – based on January to June 2024 data
  2. early 2025 – based on July to December 2024 data.

Payments of funding will be communicated to the approved provider of the eligible services by email.

The department can make changes to the above payment schedule at any stage and approved providers will be notified of the change. The department does not require the agreement of approved providers to make changes to the payment schedule above.

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.

Appendix 2 – Spending rules activities

The approved provider must spend the 4YO+ Program Payment and 3YO Program Trial Payment funds allocated to each service in accordance with Section 4.2 4YO+ Program Payment and 3YO Program Trial Payment spending rules and may spend funds to engage in the activities suggested in Table 4.

Where a service has received loadings to their 4YO+ Program Payment and 3YO Program Trial Payment, the approved provider is encouraged to spend the loadings to deliver targeted initiatives and support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children from low income families. The approved provider may spend loadings to engage in the activities suggested in loadings examples below.

Activities listed in Table 4 and the loadings examples below are potential uses of funding and are not exhaustive lists. The approved provider may spend funds on other activities in accordance with the spending rules.

Table 4: 4YO+ Program Payment and 3YO Program Trial Payment example funding activities

Spending rule Example activity
Pay salary and wages for ECTs and educators delivering the quality early childhood educational program
  • pay salary and wages for staff contracted in an ongoing/permanent, temporary/fixed term or casual arrangement
  • pay salary and wages for additional/supernumerary staff to improve staff/child experiences and outcomes.

Purchase functional or educational resources or equipment (excluding capital works projects such as renovations and repairs to existing buildings or premises)

The purchase of:

  • literature such as books, magazines and posters
  • digital technology such as e-readers, iPads, interactive screens and SMART boards
  • art and craft materials
  • sensory toys and aids
  • sport and game equipment
  • musical instruments
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural activities and resources
  • multicultural activities and resources
  • first aid and safety resources
  • storage solutions in the preschool room
  • inclusive furniture in the preschool room
  • play equipment.
Develop a quality early childhood educational program based on the Early Years Learning Frameworks, including associated staffing costs
  • incursions and/or excursions – the delivery of a specialised education program by an external provider within the service or outside of the service – including transportation costs
  • purchase program materials
  • pay for additional staffing and/or paid attendance at after hours staff meetings to support the services Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and ongoing continuous quality improvement processes
  • pay for additional staffing and/or paid attendance after hours staff meetings to support critical reflection of the early childhood education program.

Support capability uplift of ECTs and educators through professional development and further study, including associated staffing costs

  • support staff to upgrade their qualifications from a certificate to a diploma
  • support staff to upgrade their qualification from a diploma to a 4-year degree
  • traineeships
  • mentorship initiatives
  • study leave
  • internally or externally delivered training, professional development and conference fees
  • NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) approved training
  • subscriptions to ECEC journals
  • backfilling of staff undertaking professional development and further study.
Attract and retain ECTs and educators
  • advertising ECT and educator positions
  • monetary bonuses for retention and recognition of length of service and experience, including:
    • sign on bonuses
    • longevity bonuses
  • hire casual staff to allow adequate programming time for staff
  • relocation payments.

Wellbeing supports for ECTs and educators

  • counselling sessions
  • individual support
  • team building
  • hire casual staff to enable team building time
  • paid attendance at outside of hours staff meetings
  • wellbeing focussed training courses.
Reduce non-fee related barriers that families face when accessing quality early childhood education programs provided by long day care services
  • transportation initiatives
  • food initiatives such as a breakfast program
  • clothing related (hats)
  • assist families to complete enrolment forms and Child Care Subsidy applications.

Reach out to the local community to inform families of the benefits of 3 year old children accessing quality early childhood education programs through long day care services

(3YO Program Trial Payment only)

  • playgroup for families with children not currently enrolled
  • information sessions for parents/carers
  • stalls at local community events.

Loadings for children with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background

Example activity

Examples of the effective use of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander loading may look different in each service and community and may include:

  • engagement of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community member to work with the service
  • display and use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resources and regular cultural programs to support children to remain connected to their culture
  • outreach and continued engagement with families to support access and participation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
  • resources that support access and participation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
  • providing staff development opportunities such as training and conferences that promote outreach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
  • providing access to medical assessments from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioner.

Loadings for services which operate within the lower range of SEIFA score of relative socio-economic disadvantage

Example activity

Examples of the effective use of the relative socio-economic disadvantage loading will look different in each service, and may include:

  • targeted recruitment, attraction and retention incentives to increase the proportion of staff from diverse backgrounds
  • building ECTs and educators capabilities to work in more inclusive and diverse work settings and implement targeted and individualised programs to ensure that children with relative disadvantage receive support to achieve their potential
  • initiatives to reduce non-fee related barriers that low income families face including transportation, food and clothing initiatives
  • outreach and continued engagement with low income families to support access and participation.

Appendix 3 - Fee relief invoicing and reporting technical specification

From 1 January 2024, services are required to implement the updated fee relief invoicing requirements and technical specification for data reporting.

The requirements for fee relief invoicing and the technical specification (XSLX 29.1 KB) for fee relief reporting have been updated for 2024 to better support services with recording data for fee relief invoicing requirements and data reporting.

Registered Child Care Subsidy System (CCSS) software providers are asked to ensure services can meet the 2 software requirements for fee relief invoicing and reporting starting 1 January 2024.

Software requirement 1: Fee relief invoicing

From 1 January 2024, services need to demonstrate and communicate with families through regular statements, the weekly fee relief reduction, after Australian Government Child Care Subsidy (CCS) payment has been applied

Requirements for fee relief invoicing

Fee statements/invoices to families generated by services software must display the below information:

  • daily fee
  • CCS deduction
  • fee relief payment from NSW Government
  • further fee relief reduction using surplus funds
  • gap fee to be paid by families
  • any other standard information already contained.

Services software must be able to produce invoices/statements with the above information. A manual process will be required for services that do not use software.

Software requirement 2: Fee relief reporting

Services must collect and report on the fee relief expenditure to eligible children at their services (fee relief data) to the department. Services must only collect and submit fee relief data where consent from parent/carer/guardian has been obtained via the 2024 declaration and consent form (PDF 93.1 KB). See 5.1 Declaration and consent forms for more information.

Approved providers are required to submit fee relief data for their services to the department, twice a year:

  • from July 2024 for the first data reporting period 1 January to 30 June 2024
  • from January 2025 for the second data reporting period 1 July to 31 December 2024

Technical specification for fee relief reporting

The technical specification (XSLX 29.1 KB) or fee relief data reporting has fee relief data collection and reporting requirements for services' software.

Services must provide this technical specification (XSLX 29.1 KB) for fee relief data reporting to their software vendor. Services can collect and report on fee relief data using software, as specified in the technical specification for fee relief data.

Additionally, a service’s fee relief data submission must:

  • be provided in bulk through a csv file
  • contain a full 6 months of service, child, and fee relief data
  • be filtered to remove child information from the dataset where consent has not been obtained from the family through the declaration and consent form (PDF 93.1 KB)
  • be provided to the department for the following periods:
    • from July 2024 for the first data period 1 January to 30 June 2024
    • from January 2025 for the second data period 1 July to 31 December 2024.

A manual process will be required for services that do not use software, or where this requirement cannot be met by the software provider.

Further details on the fee relief data submission process in 2024 will be communicated to approved providers before the fee relief submission opens July 2024.

Collection and data security

The department will protect all data received in accordance with security and privacy compliance guidelines.

Appendix 4 - Service changes

Appendix 4.1 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 on 1800 619 113 or ecec.funding@det.nsw.edu.au when the transfer has been initiated.
  • Comply with their obligations under the Terms and Conditions in regard to clause 21.13 Assignment and novation.
  • 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 within 14 days of the transfer of the service, unless otherwise agreed with the department.
  • Return any Unexpended Funds, Reserved Funds and Surplus Funds to the department within the timeframe advised by the department. The transferring approved provider must not under any circumstances transfer any unspent funds to the receiving approved provider (eg. as part of a sale of business), either by way of adjustment between the 2 parties or any means.
  • Submit fee relief data to the department in accordance with Section 5.3 Data reporting and submission and as required by the department, within the timeframe advised by the department.
  • Comply with any direction by the department under the Funding Agreement.
  • 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:

  • Contact the department on 1800 619 113 or ecec.funding@det.nsw.edu.au when the transfer has been initiated.
  • Complete required documentation as directed by the department and enter into a Funding Agreement with the department. There is no guarantee the receiving approved provider will receive any funding.
  • Collect a completed declaration and consent form for all enrolled children that are eligible for fee relief after the transfer is effective.
  • Under no circumstances, have accepted the transfer of any unspent funds from the transferring approved provider (e.g. as part of a sale of business), either by way of adjustment between the 2 parties or any means. If the receiving approved provider has accepted any unspent funds (by way of adjustment or any means), it must advise the department and the department may raise an invoice requiring payment to the department.

The department may use fee relief data to assess the number of eligible children receiving fee relief at the service at the time of transfer, and calculate fee relief funding adjustments for the transferring approved provider for the period up to the date of transfer.

It is expected that the receiving approved provider will continue to provide fee relief. The department will review the eligibility of the receiving approved provider to receive funding under the program and may calculate a fee relief funding adjustment for the period from the date of transfer as relevant.

Any fee relief funding adjustment will be paid within the timeframe set by the department in its absolute discretion, and as advised by them.

If an approved provider transfers a service to another approved provider, at its discretion the department may take actions and may withhold funding:

  • from the receiving approved provider of the service, until the transfer is effective
  • from the transferring approved provider of the service, after the transfer is initiated or after the transfer is effective in NQAITS.

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 Guiding principles and policies website.

Appendix 4.2 Service ceasing to operate

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

  • contact the department on 1800 619 113 or ecec.funding@det.nsw.edu.au
  • comply with their obligations under the Terms and Conditions, specifically in relation to Notifying Problems, Retention of Records and Event of Default
  • 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, Reserved Funds and Surplus Funds to the department by no later than 30 days of the service closure date or as agreed by the department
  • submit fee relief data to the department in accordance with Section 5.3 Data reporting and submission within the timeframe advised by the department
  • comply with any direction by the department under the Funding Agreement.

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).

Appendix 5 – Program logic

Appendix 6 – More information and contact details

More information about myGovID and Relationship Authorisation Manager

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

Having trouble with myGovID and RAM?

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

More information about Childcare Care Subsidy (CCS) for approved providers

CCS helpdesk telephone: 1300 667 276

CCS helpdesk email: ccshelpdesk@dese.gov.au

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – 2024 Start Strong for Long Day Care

Our FAQs contain easy to read answers to questions relating to parents, providers and services. Topics include Fee Relief, Declaration and consent forms, service eligibility, spending rules, calculation and payments.

Contact details

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

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