Private crèches, play centres battle to stay afloat

Among the private Early Childhood Development Centres adversely affected by their extended closure is Lorraine Play and Learn Centre, which closed on March 18.
CHILD'S PLAY: Among the private Early Childhood Development Centres adversely affected by their extended closure is Lorraine Play and Learn Centre, which closed on March 18.
Image: Supplied


Private Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDC) around Nelson Mandela have been battling to stay afloat after closing in March, with some even forced to let staff go.

The department of social development said in a circular dated June 21 that children would not be allowed back at crèches or partial care facilities until the minister had gazetted the final date and conditions under which they could reopen. Staff, however, could return to start preparing premises.

So dire is the situation that some ECDC owners have had to release staff members and take out loans to keep going.

Among those affected is Lorraine Play and Learn Centre owner Cindy Lowry, who closed her facility on March 18.

“Three months have passed with no income generated, yet all of my overheads [rent, insurance, electricity, internet etc] are still due. Over and above that, Ters only applies from March 27, so I had to pay out of my pocket for my staff for the period of 19 to 26 March,” she said.

“Since March, I have only received about 10% of my monthly fee income, I have lost 15% of my clientele and daily I lose more as other schools open.””

Lowry said she was forced to reduce school fees and take out another business loan to keep her doors open.

“I usually do not receive any form of help from the DSD [department of social development] and that has not changed during Covid-19,” she said.

“The children need us carers just as much as we need them emotionally. Teaching and childcare is a calling.”

St Augustine’s Play and Learn Centre principal, Nilakhe Magenuka-Balani, said she did not understand why they were not allowed to operate.

“It is a standard requirement as an independent ECD centre to not enrol more than 20 children in a classroom, so we are actually in a better position to open during this period of social distancing than our ‘government’ ECD sisters.

“We are a non-profit institution in Walmer Township and do not depend on funds from the department of social development, even though we are registered under the department.

“We have private funders and were asked — when they announced ECD centres would open — to conduct a survey to see which parents would be comfortable to allow their children to come back.

“As it stands, 12 children will be returning, if we are allowed to open. We have three teachers and three classrooms, so we will have a 4:1 ratio.

“And should more children wish to return, we can take up to nine in a classroom,” Magenuka-Balani said.

The school principal of iBhongolethu Edu-Care centre in Motherwell NU12, Gladys Zenani, said the lack of support for independent ECD centres from both the department of education and social development would see hundreds of children in the township fall by the wayside.

“Many of the ECD centres in the townships run on a case-to-case basis. Most children do not pay school fees because their parents cannot afford it, but that does not mean they are not deserving of an education.

“We take these children in and nurture them as much as we can, but when we do not get support, this becomes a challenge.

“There are many ECD centres like mine that do not have running water, which will prove to be a challenge if we are permitted to open.

“I have been waiting for at least five years now to have a system put in by the department. The lockdown period has not made things any easier for us.

“The last time we even got a payment of any kind from social development was in February, money outstanding from 2019. We have not received anything for 2020.

“There has also been no income coming for fees and as a result  I was forced to pay four of my staff members out of my grant money in May, giving them R800 each,” Zenani said, adding that she would rather sacrifice her own money than let her employees starve.

Questions initially sent on Friday to the now late department of social development spokesperson, Gcobani Maswana, regarding the fate of independent ECD centres and delayed ECD grant payments, were forwarded to the district director, Tembile Ngqabayi, who failed to respond by the time of going to print.