Local preschools have been inundated with calls from the parents of unvaccinated children trying to enrol their kids in care before tough new vaccination rules come into effect on December 31.
Staff at a number of pre-schools say dozens of parents have been attempting to pre-enrol their children for 2019 and beyond, in a bid to avoid the new rules, which will mean they can no longer register as ‘conscientious objectors’ to vaccination.
But the preschools have had to turn away almost all of these parents because of their enrolment policies or long waiting lists, leading, in some cases, to angry, emotional interactions with staff.
‘We have been inundated since the government made its announcement about the new policy,’ said one local preschool educator, who asked not to be named.
‘They’re upset, angry, and desperately trying to get their children in.
‘We’ve even had pregnant mums ringing up trying to get their unborn children in.
‘We have to say “no” because we can’t do that. It’s been very emotional.’
Since January 2014, childcare centres have been prevented from enrolling children who are considered unvaccinated by the NSW government unless their parents have registered as conscientious objectors, or the child has been granted a medical exemption.
However in September this year, the government amended the Public Health Act 2010, putting an end to conscientious objection for new enrolments. It effectively stops children from entering the preschool system if they have not been conventionally vaccinated.
The conscientious objection option remains open until December 31, allowing unvaccinated children who will reach preschool age next year to enrol if they can get a GP to complete the form.
However, some parents of younger children have been attempting to enrol their children in 2019, 2020 and beyond under this option.
While a handful of parents appear to have been successful in this, most have not, either because preschools are prevented by their enrolment policies or they are already full.
Local mum Ziv Asher tried to enrol her two-year-old at Mullumbimby’s Shearwater preschool before the cut-off date but was unsuccessful.
‘It basically means that he can’t be enrolled in preschool,’ Ms Asher said.
‘It’s very disappointing, because I think preschool is important – it’s where kids start to learn some important values like sharing, and where they get to interact with other kids.
‘I think it’s a bit sick to discriminate against little children and to discriminate against parents on the basis of their health choices.’
Ms Asher acknowledged that there were many parents in a more difficult position than her because they could not afford to quit their jobs to care for their kids full time.
Parents whose children have not been conventionally vaccinated have already been ruled ineligible for Family Tax Benefit A and the Child Care Rebate by the federal government.
‘I’m hoping that we can get together to support each other as a community by creating our own little programs for our children,’ Ms Asher said.
‘This is a call for the community to get together and take on the role of looking after each other’s kids.’
Meanwhile the retiring head of the Periwinkle preschool in Byron Bay, Ellon Gold, said it was a serious concern that the school could ‘no longer be open to all children’.
‘The importance of early childhood education is thoroughly researched and well-documented.’
‘Early childhood education is about walking with parents through those important early years, but some of those parents will no longer have access to us,’ Ms Gold said.
‘We’ve walked for many years with parents who have made all choices [about vaccination] and we’ve had a very successful community.
‘I think it opens up the question of how undervalued parenting and a parent’s own intuition about their child’s well being is.’
Ms Gold said there appeared some confusion among some parents about the enrolment laws.
‘We always enrol children for 2018 in 2017 – that’s our normal practice,’ she said.
‘We can’t enrol children to come to pre-school after 2018.
‘As I understand the law we cannot enrol unvaccinated children to come to pre-school after January 1, 2018.’
The director of Communicable Diseases at NSW Health, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, said that technically, a NSW preschool could enrol an unvaccinated child under the conscientious objection option for 2019 or 2020 if the enrolment was completed before December 31 this year.
However, she said this was entirely dependent on the individual preschool’s policies and practices.
‘A preschool could allow an enrolment in those circumstances but only if it was consistent with the preschool’s own practices,’ Dr Sheppeard said.