Start Strong FAQs 2023
Questions affecting Community Preschools and Long Day Care
The 2023 Start Strong Program, including fee relief funding, commenced in January 2023.
Long Day Care services do not need to apply for the Start Strong program. The NSW Department of Education conducts relevant checks to identify and confirm the eligibility of services. Eligible services will be contacted by the department to confirm funding arrangements. See section 2.1 Service Eligibility Criteria of the 2023 Start Strong Long Day Care program guidelines.
Community and mobile preschools funded under the Start Strong for Community Preschool program or the Mobile Preschool Funding Program do not need to apply for funding. Funding will be automatically applied for services that are eligible for Start Strong for Community Preschools or the Mobile Preschool Funding Program and have signed the Funding Agreement.
Approved providers of community preschool services who are not currently funded through Start Strong can contact the NSW Department of Education to find out how they can be included in Start Strong funding by sending an email to: email@example.com.
Start Strong funding, including fee relief, is based on enrolment data - not attendance.
Start Strong funding, including fee relief funding, is paid to services who then pass it on to families in the form of reduced fees.
Families can only access fee relief at one community preschool or long day care service at any given time. At each service their child is enrolled, parents/legal guardians must complete a declaration form to nominate which service they will access the fee relief from.
To ensure that all eligible children are getting access to 600 hours of low or no cost preschool, regardless of the setting in which they receive it, fee relief can only be accessed at one community preschool or long day care service at any given time. This means families cannot access two rounds of fee relief.
At each service their child is enrolled, parents/legal guardians must complete a declaration form to nominate which service they will access the fee relief from. For mixed service centres/multipurpose centres, families will need to nominate which preschool program they will access fee relief for.
Families must complete the declaration form prior to fee relief being applied.
Community and mobile preschool services will need to complete consent forms in addition to the declaration form. See section 4.5 of the guidelines for further information.
For long day care services, the form will seek consent for data collection purposes, as outlined in the 2023 Start Strong Long Day Care program guidelines.
Services must provide parents/legal guardians with declaration forms and retain completed forms for auditing purposes.
Long day care services must ensure they can meet the fee relief data reporting requirements where consent from families has been provided. More information about these requirements is included in section 4.1.2 Documenting fee relief 2023 Start Strong Long Day Care program guidelines.
Services are not responsible for repaying any fee relief funding provided to families who have incorrectly asked for it at their service. The NSW Department of Education will monitor access to fee relief through fee relief data submissions in 2023.
Families cannot access fee relief unless they complete a fee relief declaration form. Services are encouraged to work with families to understand any concerns or barriers to completing the declaration forms to support all eligible children to receive the fee relief.
Services should record why a family has not been able to complete a declaration form.
Declaration forms should be completed prior to children attending your service in 2023. This will ensure fee relief is provided to families from their first week of attendance.
Families cannot access fee relief unless they complete a fee relief declaration form.
Whilst families can access fee relief at only one service for their child, there will be no impact on program funding amounts for both services which the child attends. Each service will be provided the full allocation of program payment in line with the program funding calculations for each eligible enrolment.
Yes, the digital statement is a free, collaborative tool to support the transition to school for NSW children. Where access to the digital statement is not possible, the PDF (434 KB) version can be completed.
The NSW Department of Education acknowledges that there are lots of different ways to support the transition to school for NSW children and recommends that ECEC services and schools create partnerships to build strong and supportive transition pathways. The digital statement can be used in conjunction with other methods that are convenient for your service, families, and your local primary teachers.
Whilst the platform currently only allows for statements to be sent directly to public schools, services can save a statement created on the Transition to School Digital Statement as a PDF and email it to an independent or catholic school.
Yes. The preschool funding team is here to help and can be provide support, advice, or answer any questions relating to the Start Strong Program.
All services can access support by contracting the funding team on 1800 619 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Services the previously accessed implementation support through Community Early Learning Australian (CELA) or Community Connection Solutions Australia (CCSA) should now contract the department directly if further assistance is needed.
CCSA and CELA members can still access support by contracting their relevant member organisation:
CCSA Member Support: (02) 4782 1470 or email@example.com
CELA Member Support: 1800 157 818 or firstname.lastname@example.org
All children aged 3 years and above are eligible for the program payment and fee relief payment. As per Section 2.3 of the Start Strong for Community Preschool program guidelines, a child will need to be:
at least 3 years old on or before 31 July in that preschool year and not in compulsory schooling; and
- attending an eligible early childhood education program.
Children who are 6 years old will be eligible for funding where they have been granted a formal exemption from the NSW Department of Education and have a Certificate of Exemption.
The Start Strong for Community Preschools Planning Tool (XLSX 135KB) (formerly known as the funding calculator) is available to assist community preschool services to estimate their Start Strong funding for the 2022-23 financial year at the funding rates that apply for this period.
Services can use the information contained in their August 2022 Preschool Census Summary Report to estimate their funding. The planning tool will show the fee relief funding allocation based on the enrolment information entered.
Typically funding under Start Strong is paid quarterly in advance. Please visit section 3.6 Funding Payments of the Start Strong for Community Preschools program guidelines.
The Start Strong for Community Preschools program will transition from a financial year funding model to a calendar year funding model from 2024. Funding will continue to be paid on a quarterly basis, with allocations based on the Annual Preschool Census held in August.
For more information on the transition arrangements, please visit section 6.1 Transition arrangements of the Start Strong for Community Preschools program guidelines.
Yes, fee relief funding will be paid in addition to Service Safety Net. All Start Strong funded services are eligible for fee relief funding.
Yes, services will continue to receive the program payment for eligible children based on enrolment information entered into the 2022 Annual Preschool Census.
A family will need to complete the declaration form in order to access fee relief at any service the child is enrolled in.
Where a child leaves the service during the year, remaining fee relief funding must be applied to the next eligible child that takes up that enrolment.
Where an enrolment is immediately replaced by a new eligible child, the remaining fee relief is passed on to the new child when that families declaration is completed.
When there is a break between eligible enrolments the service can use the unallocated funding from that break as per Section 4.1 Spending rules in the program guidelines.
The Start Strong funding, including fee relief, is based on enrolment data and not attendance.
The program payment and fee relief payment are both calculated based on the data entered in the Annual Preschool Census, including the number and hours of enrolment, and the number and characteristics of children enrolled.
We understand that enrolments change across the year. Total funding, including fee relief funding, will be adjusted based on enrolment information provided in the Annual Preschool Census each August.
If enrolled families at your service nominate to access fee relief elsewhere, you will retain this funding and return the amount to the NSW Department of Education. Further information on this process will be provided in due course.
Approved providers are not permitted to increase their service’s fees to offset the benefit of the fee relief payment. However, it is at the discretion of providers to determine their specific arrangements for fees and additional charges according to their individual and community need.
Fees can be adjusted for CPI in each year. If services need to adjust fees above CPI, such as due to reasonable increases in operating costs, evidence must be retained to support the fee increase.
For more information, please refer to the Section 4.1.3 Fee guidelines in the Start Strong for Community Preschools program guidelines.
Where a child attends more than one preschool in 2023, each preschool is able to apply for Disability and Inclusion Program funding. Please refer to the Disability and Inclusion program page and HLSN funding guidelines for further information.
The fee relief payment is the only funding stream where families will need to nominate a service via the declaration form process.
Community preschool services are able to make decisions regarding enrolments based on their community need. The Priority of Access guidelines provide guidance to services on prioritising enrolments, including if children are enrolled in another community preschool (see Section 4.2 Priority of Access in the Start Strong for Community Preschools guidelines).
Services are encouraged to maximise the number of children with 600 hour enrolments. Services should consider the hours children are enrolled at other funded services when making enrolment decisions.
Services can choose how often they communicate fee relief reductions to families based on their own business practices. For example, if your service invoices or provides statements to families on a per term basis, you would communicate fee relief on this same basis.
A service must demonstrate and communicate the fee reduction to families through regular invoices or statements. Where no invoice or statement is issued, services should provide fee reduction information through newsletters, website, or letters to families.
Long Day Care
The 2023 Start Strong Program began in January 2023.
In January 2023 and July 2023 some changes to the guidelines were released.
Most of the changes were made to Section 3.3 Payment of funding section to update the fee relief payment schedule (see below for more information on these changes).
Other changes included:
- Better linking the 3 year old trial information
- Clarifying that there are no residency, visa or income test requirements to access fee relief
- Removing the reference to co-contribution requirement
- Update the program payment spending rules to allow services to use this to cover fee relief payments where needed
- Updating the fee relief payment spending rules to allow services to use unexpended funding to reduce the fees for children who are ineligible for fee relief
- Updating Section 3.1 to include the fee relief adjustment process.
Services 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).
See section 2.2.1 Priority of access in the guidelines for further details.
Services can continue to charge these levies. Services will need to retain evidence of the reasons for additional charges for funding compliance reviews.
Services are not permitted to increase their service’s fees to offset the benefit of the fee relief payment.
Services can increase fees to manage increased costs but will need to justify any fee increase during the audit process. Evidence such as increased rent or insurances can be used. See section 4.1.2 Fee Relief Payment spending rules in the guidelines for further details.
Where an enrolment is immediately replaced by a new eligible child the remaining fee relief is passed on to the new child.
When there is a break between eligible enrolments the service can use the unallocated funding from that break as per the program funding spending rules in the guidelines.
We understand that enrolment numbers change. Initial funding payments for 2023 were calculated using the NSW Enrolment data from May 2022 provided by the Australian Government.
Adjustments to the fee relief payment based on 2023 fee relief expenditure will be applied from September 2023. Information on the adjustment process for the fee relief payment is available in the Start Strong guidelines (see Section 3.1).
Information on the adjustment process for the program payment and 3 year old trial payment will be provided soon.
From July to August 2023, Approved providers of services funded under the 2023 Start Strong for Long Day Care program need to submit service and child level data for the period 1 January to 30 June 2023 (January to June 2023 data).
The department will use the January to June 2023 data to calculate service fee relief expenditure between January to June 2023 and to forecast expenditure for the July to December 2023 period. Services that experience a fee relief shortfall, due to their initial allocation amount being less than the total of actual and forecasted expenditure will receive a positive adjustment (fee relief adjustment payment) from September 2023.
Further information is available in the fee relief funding adjustment flowchart for services (PDF 258KB).
Monday 13 February to Sunday 19 February 2023 was the 2023 Start Strong for Long Day Care representative week where child enrolment information for services was shared with the Department of Education.
The representative week data is sourced from the Australian Government Child Subsidy (CCS) System. Services that have entered the enrolment data required by the Australian Government into the CCS system are not required to undertake any additional steps.
This data is used as a representation of the child enrolment numbers at services at the beginning of 2023 so the department can consider funding adjustments.
This is only one data point being used by the department to consider adjustments.
Services are also required to submit data to the department on all children provided with fee relief between January and June (then again in 2024 for the July to December period). The Start Strong program guidelines include additional data collection and sharing requirements (see section 4.4).
All eligible children are entitled to fee relief at your service in 2023. If an eligible child enrols after the January to June 2023 data submission and receives fee relief, their enrolment will be captured in the future data fee relief submissions provided to the department and considered through the adjustment calculation process. If your service has not been funded to provide fee relief for the place this new child takes, this will be captured by the 1 July to 31 December 2023 data submission and the 2024 adjustment processes. All correctly expended fee relief will be covered by the department.
Further information is available in the fee relief funding adjustment flowchart for services (PDF 258KB).
Approved providers are required to submit service and child level data to the department. There are two data capture periods:
- 1 January to 30 June 2023
- 1 July to 31 December 2023
The Start Strong for Long Day Care program guidelines include additional fee relief data submission and sharing requirements (see section 4.4).
Further details on invoicing and data requirements are availabie in the technical specifications for long day care reporting requirements (PDF 70KB).
Twice yearly, approved providers are required to submit service and child level data to the department:
- From July to August 2023 for the first data period from 1 January to 30 June 2023
- From January 2024 for the second data period from 1 July to 31 December 2023.
More information on the fee relief data submission will be provided soon.
The program and trial payments will be paid in quarterly instalments:
- From January – for period January to March 2023
- April – for period April to June 2023
- July – for period July to September 2023
- October – for period October to December 2023
The fee relief payment will be paid in two instalments:
- From January – for period January to September 2023
- From July – for period October to December 2023
The fee relief adjustment payment will be paid from September 2023, unless otherwise advised by the department.
Services that have accepted the 2023 Start Strong terms and conditions will receive 75% of their initial fee relief allocation in their initial first payment instalment.
Services will receive 25% of their initial fee relief allocation in their second payment instalment from July 2023.
This payment system will ensure LDC providers with more children accessing fee relief at their service than their initial funding allocation will receive more of their allocated fee relief earlier in the year to cover the gap.
Services experiencing a fee relief shortfall due to initial allocation amount less than the total of actual and forecasted expenditure, will receive a fee relief adjustment payment from September 2023.
Yes. All NSW families with eligible children can access fee relief, they do not have to be receiving CCS.
After all the families' fees, including special levies have been reduced to $0 the service can use any remaining fee relief funds in line with the spending rules. See section 4.1.2 Fee Relief Payment Spending Rules in the guidelines for further details.
The program payment can be used in a number of ways to improve the quality of the preschool program – for example, paying educator’s salary and wages, purchasing functional and educational resources. See section 4.1.1 Program Payment Spending Rules in the guidelines for further information.
The fee relief is offered to families as a weekly reduction to their session fee or gap fee (after the CCS 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. See the guidelines for further information.
Eligible children who have requested to receive fee relief from your service, will receive a flat rate of $2,110 of fee relief. Fee relief is provided as a weekly reduction averaged across your service’s total operating weeks of the year. See section 3. Funding in the guidelines for further details.
The program payment is for the service to improve quality and access to preschool programs, the fee relief is passed onto families. Services will be advised of the amounts for each program element at the time funding is provided.
The fee relief is a flat rate of $2,110 for eligible children. This amount is to be divided by the number of weeks the service is open for. See case studies for examples on how to apply the fee relief.
Yes. Children who attend a preschool program during January 2023, prior to the start of their school year are eligible to receive fee relief.
Services must communicate the fee relief reduction to families through regular statements that attribute the fee relief to the NSW Government.
The statements must display the amount of fee relief being applied and show that it does not affect the CCS. Information about the technical specifications of invoicing requirements and reporting is available online (PDF 70 KB).
The NSW Department of Education has shared information with third party software providers on the new requirements for services to distribute and record fee relief in 2023, this information is available online (PDF 70 KB).
Services will need to work with their individual software providers to understand the changes required to your systems and when this will be completed.
Services will need to work with their software provider to understand the impacts on individual software systems. Information on the technical specifications provided to software providers is available online (PDF 70 KB).