SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council is to focus its efforts on helping the community form a committee of management to operate childcare services in Corner Inlet.
The move to ‘Plan B’ comes as a result of no alternative childcare providers submitting an Expression of Interest to take over the running of Prom Coast Centre for Children at Foster, after UnitingCare Gippsland announced it would be withdrawing its services.
“Council has just conducted a state-wide public ‘Expression of Interest’ process to test the market for potential licensed providers for Corner Inlet,” said Mrs Jan Martin, Council’s Director of Community Services. “Unfortunately, despite several enquiries, we received no submissions, so this presents a real challenge.”
Although the lack of interest from alternative providers is disappointing for all concerned, the Corner Inlet community can take heart that South Gippsland has demonstrated that childcare services can operate viably when managed by a committed community committee of management. This is demonstrated by Leongatha Child Care Centre and Biralee in Korumburra.
UnitingCare Gippsland announced in September that it would be withdrawing childcare services at the end of February in four Gippsland locations, including Foster and Mirboo North. (UnitingCare will continue to provide kindergarten services at Foster, Toora, Welshpool and Fish Creek.)
While the provision of childcare services is not a role of South Gippsland Shire Council, Council has been working closely with the community and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to find an alternative provider for the Corner Inlet district.
Meetings have been held with parents and interested community members to discuss the impact of Uniting Care’s withdrawal of services.
“The deadline is just three months away, staff and families are very anxious about the future and we are doing everything we can to help find a solution,” Mrs Martin said.
Coastal-Promontory ward councillor Mohya Davies said she was hopeful there could be a seamless transition to a community-led model, “but there is lots of work to be done in the meantime”.
“The community is committed to retaining the service and almost 30 people have put their hands up to support this initiative,” said Mrs Martin. “It is a complex issue that requires a sound business foundation for it to be successful. We will assist with financial modelling because we do not want to be in the same position, with the service under threat, a year down the track. Time is critical, particularly with the Christmas break looming. We will do everything we can to help them to see childcare services continue in Corner Inlet.”
The Expression of Interest process for Mirboo North’s St Andrew’s Childcare was successful in attracting interest, with interviews to be conducted next week.
Childcare funding is the responsibility of the Federal Government and Council will continue to lobby strongly for adequate rural childcare funding.