The Mirror News

Childcare crisis

LOCAL parents are refusing to be daunted by UnitingCare Gippsland’s shock announcement last week that it is withdrawing as a childcare provider, effective February 28, 2014. The decision affects the Prom Coast Centre for Children at Foster, as well as childcare centres at Mirboo North, Cowes and Lakes Entrance.

“We are confident that an alternative service provider can be found,” said Wil Pruyn, chair of the parents’ advisory group for the Prom Coast Centre for Children, which provides long day care, after school care and kindergarten services for children.

She urges parents and anyone interested to attend a community meeting to be held at the children’s centre in Pioneer Street, Foster, at 7pm tonight (October 30) to discuss the issues surrounding UnitingCare Gippsland’s withdrawal. A similar meeting will be held at Mirboo North on November 7.

South Gippsland Shire Council has already committed to working with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to try to secure an alternative provider. It intends to seek expressions of interest from potential childcare providers so that services can continue without interruption.

In a statement to the media, UnitingCare Gippsland said its decision to withdraw its services from its long day care centres had not been easy. It explained that while it supports new regulations regarding the delivery of child care services, “the added challenge of implementing these changes, while maintaining a viable service, has become increasingly difficult, especially given the rural nature of the services”.

Acting CEO Tracey Gibson said the models of funding that apply to long day care centres did not cover the full costs of running the services and as a result services have been running at a loss for some time.

“It is not reasonable to keep raising fees for some of the most marginalised families in our region,” she said.

UnitingCare Gippsland currently employs 45 permanent staff and a number of casual staff across the four childcare centres. The centres provide childcare to more than 600 families.

Ms Gibson said childcare closures was not just a problem in the Gippsland region and cited a number of other similar programs that have ceased in the metropolitan area and in other rural areas. “This is a community issue that requires a rethink in the way in which governments fund services,” she said

Prom Coast Centre for Children houses Foster Kindergarten, and UnitingCare Gippsland is also responsible for the kindergartens at Fish Creek, Toora and Welshpool. However, the kindergarten programs are not expected to be unduly affected. Where kindergarten programs are integrated with the childcare centres, as is the case at Foster and Cowes, it is hoped that alternative providers will pick up both the childcare centre and the kindergarten program. Where this cannot occur, the kindergarten program concerned will remain under the operation of UnitingCare Gippsland at the current location.

Wil Pruyn said that the Foster and district community is well placed to come up with a viable alternative to UnitingCare Gippsland. “We have a fabulous facility, newly built just three years ago, passionate staff, and families that need kindergarten, childcare and after school care. We have these three important ingredients. All we need is a service provider.”

She said that Prom Coast Centre for Children is very much valued by the community and there is a massive demand for the services it provides – more often than not there is a waiting list for childcare places.

For further information about tonight’s meeting at Prom Coast Centre for Children, contact Sally Baker, Manager Family and Children Services, South Gippsland Shire Council, tel. 5662 9812.


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