Interview with YWCA Canberra early educator, Rachel Pace about working in early learning during COVID-19

10 September 2020

Early learning educators were key frontline workers during COVID-19, and YWCA Canberra is proud of the commitment and professionalism demonstrated by staff during a period of uncertainty exacerbated by frequently changing government directives. Rachel shares what it was like working in the sector in the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown and how it felt when the sector was removed from JobKeeper.a portrait photo of Rachel Pace

Can you share a little about your work as an early educator at YWCA Canberra?

When COVID-19 hit I was in the position of Quality and Compliance Coordinator for Early Childhood Educator at YWCA Canberra. I was supporting six services in providing quality care and education to children across the ACT and Murrumbateman region. About two months ago I stepped into the position of interim Director at Campbell Cottage. I understand the importance of Early Childhood Education and Care and the impact quality care has on the first five years of life. The pandemic highlighted how essential our services are to not only children and families but to the running of the economy. Upon reflection, I now have a great sense of honour that we were able to remain open and offer some semblance of continuity and safety in our children’s lives.

What was it was like working in early education when the COVID-19 shut-down was announced?

The shut-down period was a stressful time for YWCA Canberra. Other education services were closing their doors and moving to online learning, while early childhood educators were still expected to come to work and provide quality education to the children. This caused a lot of confusion and distress for educators. The management team had a difficult time justifying to early childhood educators that whilst their primary, secondary and tertiary education counterparts were moving to online education due to safety concerns, they were to continue coming to work. Staff wanted to provide care to children, but they were also concerned about their safety during a time where there was limited information and updates were changing daily.

Before JobKeeper the YWCA Canberra Early Childhood Management team (including myself) had to stand down more than 30 educators. Many of these educators were not eligible for JobSeeker because they were not citizens or did not hold the relevant visa class. There was a sense of doom when management entered an early childhood service, with educators worried they may be the next to be stood down.

The panic buying was another stressor for staff after Coles shut down our deliveries without notice. This made a huge impact on our early learning and school age care services. Staff had to be escorted by Woolworths staff on shopping trips as members of the public would abuse them for hoarding. We are grateful for Regional Fruit who helped us at this time so children were still provided with quality fruit and vegetables. We were also able to secure sanitiser stations.

When the sector was the first to be removed from the JobKeeper measure, how did that make you and your colleagues feel?

Removing early childhood educators from the JobKeeper measure was a slap in the face from the Australian Government. It highlighted that the Government does not appreciate and recognise the important work early childhood educators do for children and their families. Our educators worked tirelessly through this pandemic, allowing the country and economy to grind along in uncertain times. I was also angry that the government decided to remove JobKeeper from a female-dominated sector.

The sector has been on the receiving end of so many service changes related to COVID-19, was it difficult to continually respond to the changes and remain positive for the children in the service?

I have so much respect for the educators that work at the YWCA Canberra, both in early childhood education and care and school age care services. They continued to offer support and comfort to the children who remained in our care before the introduction of ‘free childcare’.

‘Free childcare’ was amazing for families as it took away financial stress during a time when parents were being stood down from work and losing jobs. The ‘free’ element did not transfer to our organisation, with not even half the enrolment fee covered by the government. Without making any income, services in Canberra were struggling to survive.

Whilst I believe in affordable childcare for all children, it needs to be done thoughtfully so services can still provide quality care and education and properly pay early childhood educators for the amazing work that they do.

How do you think community leaders and government can best show they value the work of early educators?

Pay us what we deserve. We are early childhood educators, with certificates, diplomas and degrees that qualify us to work in the sector. We come to work each day to support the learning and development of children in the most important years of their lives. We deserve equal pay for equal work.


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