Vaccine-free childcare ‘potentially catastrophic’, says industry group

On social media, there are advertisements for a “Vaccine Free Family Day Care” in Dromana, Victoria, on the page of an anti-vaccine group.

There is an advertisement for a “Vaccine Free Family Day Care” in Dromana, Victoria, on the social media page of an anti-vaccine group. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Moves by parents to open “vaccine-free” and “unvaccinated-friendly” day care centres in response to the federal government’s “no jab, no pay” policy have been described as “potentially catastrophic” by Early Childhood Australia, the peak advocacy body for early childcare.

In April the social services minister, Scott Morrison, announced that by next year, parents who refused to vaccinate their children on the grounds of being “conscientious objectors” would no longer receive the childcare benefit, childcare rebate and the family tax benefit part A end-of-year supplement.

The move has prompted some parents who do not vaccinate their children, and who will not be able to afford childcare as a result, to explore other options.

On social media, one woman has begun advertising the “Vaccine Free Family Day Care” centre on the page of an anti-vaccine group, which she says will open in Dromana, Victoria, start taking enrolments from 22 June, and charge $7 an hour for a minimum of eight hours a day.

“I’ve got things all set up in our new place,” she wrote, adding that she would be advertising only through Facebook and word of mouth.

Another organiser said she was opening a centre in Sydney, registered on the the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority database through the Holistic Approach Family Day Care scheme. Holistic Approach Family Day Care confirmed the woman had not yet registered her centre with their organsiation.

The centres did not respond to requests from Guardian Australia for comment at the time of publishing.

On social media the Sydney organiser wrote; “So excited! I will be up and running by next year! Vax free kids welcomed with open arms! There’s a high chance of a mud kitchen being built!”

While unvaccinated children still would still not qualify for the government rebates, the centres are charging rates at the lower end of the scale and say they provide a non-judgmental environment.

The organiser behind the Sydney centre added: “From a financial point of view, I wouldn’t be in it for the money. I think the only benefit is I can claim a lot of tax, e.g. internet, part of my bills.”

Other parents posting to the page of an anti-vaccine group have arranged to babysit each others’ children free of charge.

Early Childhood Australia’s chief executive, Samantha Page, said she had feared the government’s policy would drive parents who did not want to vaccinate their children underground and give child and day care providers less opportunity to engage with those parents.

“If there’s a bulk of children unvaccinated and one child has whooping cough then it is potentially catastrophic,” she said.

“Unvaccinated children has been a concern to some providers for some time because of the risk some of these diseases pose to pregnant women, as a lot of women work in the industry.”

Morrisson said the regulation of childcare services was the responsibility of state and territory governments. “If parents choose to send their children to a service which is not subject to any regulation, they need to be aware of the potential risks,” he said.

Victoria’s health minister, Jill Hennessy, said she was concerned such centres were being explored by parents. “A vaccine-free day care centre is simply irresponsible and I would urge parents against sending their children to such a place,” she said.

The Victorian government was committed to introducing its policy of “no jab, no play”, which would require children to be fully immunised before they can be enrolled in childcare.