'A smack in the face': crèches fold as government budgets R1.3bn for 'compliance monitors'

14 August 2020 - 14:20 By Jeff Wicks
'If we do not support the existing jobs in the sector now, there will be nothing to monitor,' says the C19 People’s Coalition.
'If we do not support the existing jobs in the sector now, there will be nothing to monitor,' says the C19 People’s Coalition.
Image: 123RF/RAWPIXEL

As the future of nearly 30,000 crèches and preschools hangs in the balance — pushed to the brink of closure by the financial devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic with no state aid — a plan to spend R1.3bn on “compliance monitors” has been slammed.

Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu has announced that 36,000 youth compliance monitors will be employed to ensure early childhood development (ECD) centres across the country adhere to regulations borne out of the pandemic.

ECD operators have been scathing in their criticism of the plan, calling the decision to create short-term jobs instead of sustaining the employment of 200,000 people in the sector as irrational and disappointing.

The C19 People’s Coalition, a civil society body formed when the coronavirus hit our shores, said the R1.3bn splurge was misplaced.

“Since the start of the lockdown we have been campaigning for the ECD workforce to receive support from the social development department to ensure its continuity,” spokesperson Eric Atmore said.

“We cannot spend money on compliance monitoring and accountability without spending anything to ensure the continuity of the sector.

“If we do not support the current jobs in the sector now, frankly, there will be nothing to monitor,” he added.

I watched a business I built over 13 years fade into nothing, and we have had no support
Adele Venter

Adele Venter, owner of Little Miracles Baby Care and Preschool in Hartbeespoort, said that she had cut her losses and closed down. “When the announcement was made that schools would be closed, I sent all my kids home. We never thought it would go on this long,” she said.

Of the 45 children she cared for, only two would return.

“I tried to halve the school fees because I needed to cover costs. Some stopped paying because they were not getting a service, but others had lost their jobs and had nothing.”

She retrenched her six staff and is selling the preschool’s assets to fund their severance packages.

“I watched a business I built over 13 years fade into nothing, and we have had no support from the department of social development,” Venter added.

A study titled “Plight of the ECD Worker”, published in June, forecast that if these day cares, crèches and preschools are shut, as many as 1.5 million children will be left with nowhere to go.

The study’s grim estimates are based on a rapid survey of 3,952 ECD centres across SA.

The survey found that 68% of the centres surveyed are worried they may not be able to open when the lockdown eases, because parents have stopped paying fees and there is lack of support from the department of social development.

This is a smack in the face... If they subsidised our lost income, we might have been able to survive
Claudia Crowster

Now, with the bid to bankroll thousands of compliance monitors, Atmore said the money should be redirected to support the flagging sector.

“This money should fund ECD continuity grants that will flow directly to the workforce for six months,” he said, insisting that centres that are not registered with the department should also be supported.

“The future of our young children depends on them,” Atmore added.

Claudia Crowster, who runs a creche from her home in Cape Town, said that the future was in doubt.

“My school supported both my husband and me, and when everything closed people stopped paying their fees.

“I got a call from the bank last week to say they want to foreclose on my house because we can’t pay our bond,” she said.

She said that even if she did open, she could not count on her children coming back.

“I could open for a while, but if the bank takes my house, I have nothing.

“I understand the need to employ especially our youth. But this is a smack in our face to have inexperienced young people monitoring us.

“If they subsidised our lost income, we might have been able to survive,” Crowster added.

Atmore said that the fall of ECD centres would have a tangible and dire knock-on effect.

“The ECD workforce enables working families in townships, informal settlements and rural areas to go to work, while they care and develop their children. Without this, the burden of childcare will fall on women, which severely compromises their ability to go out and seek income-earning opportunities,” he said.

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