It was supposed to save the childcare sector, but a Mannum educator says a federal government relief package has halved her income overnight.
Leisa Casey runs the Arnold Early Learning Centre, a family day care service which looks after up to seven children at a time and 22 during any given week.
She has been on "a rollercoaster of anger, sadness and confusion" since last Thursday, when the federal government announced it would make childcare free for all Australians, guaranteeing that providers would continue to receive 50 per cent of their usual income.
The package was a godsend for large, east coast centres whose enrolments had been falling fast; but for the rest, including educators who look after a small number of children, it was devastating.
The excitement she felt for her families quickly turned to alarm as she realised it would reduce her income from $45 to $17.20 per hour.
"(The package) was supposed to be so people could isolate at home and not worry about childcare, not worry about losing their spots," she said.
"But because it has come under one umbrella ... it doesn't suit all of us.
"It makes my business un-viable.
"I still have insurance, I still have cleaning products, nappies, wipes, food, all the costs it takes to run a business, as well as my mortgage ... and I have (industry) standards to follow."
The future of the dream business she started in 2013, in an investment property she bought for the purpose, now hinges on the final shape of the early childhood relief package.
Since last Thursday's announcement, the government has promised an additional payment to providers whose enrolments have not dropped.
An application form "will be available shortly", the Department of Education, Skills and Employment web page said on Tuesday.
Providers have also been encouraged to apply for the Jobkeeper payment of $1500 per fortnight; but the cash from that program will not flow until May 1, and Ms Casey will have to keep her business open to be eligible for it.
In the meantime, the fee reduction and the advent of school holidays mean demand for her service is greater than ever.
She said she had had to turn families away.
"As soon as (the package) came out I had people saying 'I'll take an extra day, I'll take an extra day'," she said.
"You're telling people to isolate, but you're telling people there's free childcare."
In the past three days, almost 30,000 people have signed an online petition calling for changes to the early childhood education and care relief package.
Peak body Family Day Care Australia has promised to lobby for changes to the package that will ensure the sector's viability.
The Standard is seeking comment from federal MP Tony Pasin.
- Sign the petition: Search for "change the ECEC relief package" at www.change.org.