Narrogin’s Tanya Phillips and Kukerin’s Elspeth Smith are winners in the 2020 Excellence in Family Day Care awards for the Wheatbelt and Great Southern regions. For Ms Phillips and Ms Smith, the awards — held this month and run by national peak body for family day care Family Day Care Australia — mark a positive end to one of the hardest years for educators in the family daycare sector. When the Federal Government made child care free for essential workers during COVID-19, some family day care operators found their income slashed. Sharon Palumbo, the co-ordinator of WA’s Willi Wag Tails Family Day Care Service, said that even with Federal Government subsidies, those few months when child care fees were waived had put enormous strain on family day care educators and their families. Ms Palumbo is the co-ordinator of the scheme both women are registered with. “Educators were still required to operate as they were pre-COVID — they were required by the Government to keep their doors open even though the service had reduced significantly,” she said. “That meant their own families would go without, because they were still required to provide food, nappies and the exact same service, but with minimal income, which was a huge struggle. “We had educators unable to pay bills, educators incurring more debt and suffering mentally, they were just so stressed not knowing how long they would have to go on like this, and how they were going to survive.” Ms Phillips said it was great to be recognised after an especially challenging year. “It was really nice to be acknowledged for how hard we did it during that time and how we still got through the other side,” she said. “I love being an educator and working with kids — the relationships I have with them are pretty special. “Parents trust me with their most valuable possession, and I take that seriously.” The Narrogin woman said at the peak of COVID-19 restrictions, she felt incredibly valued by the parents of the children she was looking after, but not valued by the Government at all. “Financially, it was tough” she said. “I couldn't pay my mortgage for six months. “It really affected my family more than anything. “I wouldn't let the kids I care for go without, but my own kids had to go without.” That feeling of being unappreciated by the Government was a sentiment echoed by Ms Smith. “It was really disheartening at our age to be working the hourly rate of a teenager at McDonald's,” she said. Ms Smith said child care made her who she was, and she loved her job. She said it was the children, along with support from the Shire of Williams and her day care scheme, Willi Wag Tails Family Day Care, that got her through. “It was hard to stay positive in that time, but the kids make it positive. That’s why we’re in this industry. We’re there for the kids,” she said.