Coronavirus: Are daycares really closing, and what do we do now?

With primary and high schools closed and the holidays extended, parents are still unclear as to whether the closures extend to daycare centres and creches.

So we did some research and found that yes, in fact, all Early Childhood Development centres (ECDs) registered with the Department of Social Services must close until 15 April.

A statement released via their website reads:

"In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and following the President’s announcement declaring a State of Disaster, an extraordinary decision was taken by the National Department of Social Development to close all Early Childhood Development and Partial Care Centres from Wednesday, 18 March 2020 to 15 April 2020."

"The situation will be monitored continually. Should there be any further developments, the information will be communicated to the sector." 

What must parents do now?

Parents are panicking, as they scramble to find alternate care, or take time off work, or risk their jobs to care for their children.

Many parents have messaged us their concerns, but this one email summed up the majority's concerns:

"This is a disaster for me as a parent, like it is for them.

On short notice I must find someone to look after my child. This negatively affects me as I must pay the daycare as well as the nanny. Where does that leave me as a parent? 

I need to work and cannot afford to stay at home. Is there any law that covers the parent?"

The issue of daycare costs combined with no daycare is a concern thousands of parents are facing this week, and for the foreseeable future. 

We chatted to some daycares, and checked in with a legal professional, to find out what parents can do. See below...

What about fees? 

A small daycare in Cradock informed parents that "in light of what is going on in our country, the children can stay home from 17 March 2020. We will reopen when everything has been cleared by the government."

With regards to daycare fees, this particular school is able to waive the fees. "The April school fees will not be required," the message reads, "if you are using the quarterly payment method, the April fees will be for May. You can commence paying again in June."

This is a welcome relief to parents who may have to take unpaid leave to care for their children now. 

Salaries to pay

However, not all ECDs are in this position, and a Cape Town daycare centre told Parent24 that parents are still expected to pay, because there are still salaries to be paid.

"It's a good thing to listen to the government's instructions, because if we don't close we run a risk of being shut down for good, should there be a case of coronavirus from the school after ignoring instructions."

The owner told us "We're just praying. Hopefully this virus will be gone by winter and the country can go back to normal."

Another preschool owner wrote to say that parents should remember that "preschool owners have to still pay salaries to the staff, rates and taxes, the bond or rent for the property and so on".

She reminds us that parents paying is the only income for the school and if parents don't pay the school could possibly shut down due to no income. 

Also see: Your family and Covid-19: Parent24 has you covered

Very little choice 

We asked a legal professional to provide some insight into parents' rights in these trying times.

Advocate Willie van der Merwe at LAW FOR ALL sympathises with parents, saying it's an understandably stressful and uncertain time for working moms and dads. Not only in terms of the current challenges in the workplace, but also on the home front.

"We're living an unprecedented time in history, and businesses and citizens need to work together to find solutions," he told Parent24

"But remember, the daycare and playschools don't really have much choice in the matter, and they have to follow the government's instructions. They are also playing their part to help curb the spread of COVID-19," he clarifies.

"The school has overheads such as salaries, rent, and so on. If all parents stopped paying, it could cripple the school and parents won't have the option of sending their child back when the situation improves."

"Parents and schools need to come together and try to meet each other half-way," he advises. 

See the terms of the agreement

Legally speaking, it all depends on the terms of the agreement between the school and parents.

"If the contract provides for special circumstances where parents don't have to pay," he says, "it could be possible that parents aren't liable."

"Also, depending on what has been agreed, and protections in the Consumer Protection Act, parents can decide to cancel the contract by giving sufficient notice."

Advocate van der Merwe stresses that these are trying times for all South Africans.

"Still, we need to look beyond legal battles and come together as citizens to find solutions that are in everybody' interests. Perhaps, now more than ever!"

What are you doing with your kids while schools are closed?

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