Applying for grants is a nightmare for early childhood development centres

“People are pulling their hair out because they have no idea how to do it”

By Mary-Anne Gontsana

12 February 2021

Photo of a play park

Many early childhood development centres are either permanently closing or unable to re-open due to a lack of funds. Photo: Mary-Anne Gontsana

The Department of Social Development (DSD) has urged early childhood development (ECD) centres in economic distress to apply for the ECD employment stimulus relief fund, but ECD centres are concerned that the application process will exclude many.

The C-19 People’s Coalition’s ECD and Basic Education Working Group has been campaigning since last year for relief for ECD practitioners at risk due to ECD centres either permanently closing or not being able to re-open due to a lack of funds.

The DSD received R496 million to assist ECD centres. The application process has to be done online through a government portal and ECDs have to be part of government’s central supplier database which is also done online. Applications will close on 19 February.

Colleen Horswell-Daniels, from C-19, said, “If we look at centres where there is no electricity and running water, how will people access a database to apply for this stimulus online? There are many unemployed ECD practitioners who haven’t been working since lockdown, so how is the minister expecting them to register on this database?”

“It is a challenging document. And currently the feedback in the ECD communities is people are pulling their hair out because they have no idea how to do it,” said Horswell-Daniels. “If we look at the thousands of ECD practitioners that need to fill in this form, it is ridiculous what is expected.”

Horswell-Daniels said it was unrealistic to expect everyone to register in two weeks.

An amount of R53 million has been earmarked for ECDs in the Western Cape. According to the provincial DSD, ECD operators, owners or managers must apply and if successful, must pay their ECD employees. Individual ECD workers cannot apply to the fund themselves. Successful applicants can only use the funds to subsidise the cost of employment for workers.

The financial support would amount to a once off payment of R4,470 per staff member, but the support would vary according to the type of ECD service.

ECD owner Vuyiswa Mdyosi, who runs Isibane Sethu Enrichment Centre and Aftercare in Lower Crossroads, said she was terrified of not having funding to run her establishment and had applied for the relief fund. The process was daunting, she says.

“I wish the form came with an option to choose your home language, because English is a bit difficult. I am lucky because I had my daughter to help me and she has a laptop. What about the other people that don’t have a laptop or someone who will help them with filling in the form?” said Mdyosi.

“I am currently being funded by the provincial DSD and I employ six staff members who I must pay from that funding. I must also make sure that I buy groceries and cleaning essentials with that same funding and get my own salary from it. It is unfortunately not enough,” said Mdyosi.

She said being faced with Covid-19 lockdown and now the uncertainty of funding has been double trouble for her.

“From 110 children I have to now only take half of that number, which is 55, because of lockdown regulations like social distancing and so on,” said Mdyosi.

She started her crèche in 2003 for children between 18 months and six years of age.

The Ruth First Educare in Brown’s Farm is on the provincial DSD list of registered ECD partial care facilities, but it was deregistered in 2017 due to a rezoning processes. Owner Rina Qanga says this has left her and the community in a difficult position.

“The deregistration left us with challenges because our ECD is in Philippi, one of the poorest areas. Most of our parents are teenagers who depend on child support grants.”

“We get by but barely, because a quarter of our children do not pay fees. Our educare was requested by the community and we run it and an after-school programme from a big shack,” said Qanga.

Ruth First Educare now has five instead of seven staff members due to lockdown and lack of funding. It caters for children up to six years of age and has about 115 children registered.

Asked about the relief fund, Qanga said she had heard about it but had no information about what it entailed and needed clarity on how to apply.

Joshua Covenant Chigome, spokesperson for Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez, said Qanga would have to go through the application process to see whether her ECD qualified or not, it had been deregistered.

Horswell-Daniels said, “Another question we should be asking is what happened to the [other] R800 million.” She said President Cyril Ramaphosa said R1.3 billion was going to go to ECD practitioners, but now only R496 million is being paid out.

“The ECD sector is so fragile at the moment, it is on the point of crumbling, and I think the Minister needs to be cognisant of the fact that the ECD sector plays a major role in our economy. If the ECD sector is not there, then people cannot go to work because there is no safe space to leave their children.”

“So those are the challenges at the moment in terms of the stimulus package. We welcome that the government has given money, but there are also stringent criteria measures that not every ECD practitioner will be able to meet.”

National DSD spokesperson Lumka Oliphant did not reply to our questions. Instead, she sent a press statement about the R496 million relief made available.