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The last few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotion with a thick layering of parental guilt about whether to keep the kids in childcare. Firstly, we were made to feel guilty about killing the industry when we kept the kids at home due to the uncertainty around COVID-19. When the Government introduced “free childcare” it certainly helped the family budget by taking the pressure off paying fees for a service we weren’t using. The package did feel a little off point though. It did make us feel less guilty about throwing away money, but let’s be honest, the reason we were keeping our kids home was the risk of them getting a virus that is highly contagious and has a frightening mortality rate, not the fees. 

Working from home and socially isolating with two small children has been challenging to say the least. We decided we would take the risk and allow some help into our little haven, we hired a babysitter for a couple of days a week. Having some extra help has been a huge relief, being able to do a couple of hours of work has meant I can still work on our small business but it has reduced the hours available to about one third due to affordability of in-home care. With the numbers of COVID-19 reducing significantly this week, we decided it was probably safe for the kids to get back into a normal routine and we called the daycare centre to let them know the good news. We are coming back. 

When I phoned the centre, I was told some both disappointing and extremely confusing news. The Director informed me that there may not be a spot available for us. “Wait, what? We thought keeping the kids at home was killing the industry?” I was told that what had previously been a class of 12 children now only has a capacity for 5.  The reason for which they said was, the impact of the new government funding scheme for the childcare industry meant they could no longer afford to service the usual number of places. We were told we would not only have to demonstrate that we were essential workers but that parents would then be rated and compared against each other to determine who would get the 5 coveted spots. I was told to put a case together, send through documentation from my HR department that I was employed and earning and they would then consider how many days our family was worthy to access.  

We were first guilted about keeping our children away from daycare and now we are being guilted about sending them back. Daycare centres have always been competitive, we have all done the leg work trying to get a spot in our preferred centre. This level of competition is extreme. There can only be finite winners and to win you must prove the others (parents and children) are less worthy. It’s every family for themselves.

The parental guilt continues. We love the centre and the teachers and want the kids to go back so we can get some more work done. Now I am questioning whether we are worthy.  We don’t work in healthcare and we do not want to push out another family that maybe needs the support more than us. If every member of society who is earning an income is considered an essential worker and should have access to childcare, why are we now competing for spots?

Maybe for now we will volunteer as tribute and keep the kids at home.