ESTABLISHMENT of a community-appointed board of management is well under way in Foster to breach the gap in childcare services left by UnitingCare Gippsland, which announced late last year that it would be withdrawing as a provider of services at Prom Coast Centre for Children. It is prepared to continue, however, to provide kindergarten services at Foster, Fish Creek, Toora and Welshpool.
With no alternative provider coming forth for the Foster-based centre, a steering group has been formed with the aim of creating a community-appointed board of management to take over responsibility for running the centre.
Taking a lead role on the steering group are Lucy Allsop and Kate Woodward, both of whom are parents of young children who either currently use the centre or plan on using it in the future. They are passionate about the continuation of what they regard as an essential local service.
“The steering group quickly formed following the disappointing news that there were no other service providers interested in the Prom Coast Centre for Children once UnitingCare were to withdraw their services on 28th February 2014,” said Ms Woodward. “The first steering group meeting was held on 19th December, attended by 20 skilled and motivated community members, all keen to take up the various roles and responsibilities required. South Gippsland Shire Council staff facilitated this meeting and will continue to provide assistance and advice in guiding the group through the various stages of this process; namely, incorporation, formation of a board of management, applying for a service provider licence, and then transferring the existing business from UnitingCare to the new board.”
The original deadline given by UnitingCare for withdrawal of their services was February 28. This was extremely problematic, as there was no possible way for a community group to gain all the necessary approvals that would allow them to take over by this time. A request was made to UCG and following a board meeting it was announced on December 20 that UCG would extend this deadline until the end of April.
“This is an extremely useful short-term reprieve that will offer some temporary relief to staff at the centre and the families using this service,” said Ms Woodward. “However, this non-negotiable extension is conditional on deficit funding of an estimated $12K per month (March and April) that cannot be met by UnitingCare. At this point it is not clear how this deficit will be met and every effort is being made to pursue any possible means of meeting the shortfall.”
Ms Woodward and Ms Allsop are urging community members to lobby state and federal politicians as well as any other potential sources of financial assistance.
“Based on this time extension and the timeframes involved, it may be possible for a transition to occur without interruption to this essential childcare service. However, this is by no means guaranteed,” said Ms Allsop. “The newly formed steering group will be meeting several times in January in an effort to fast track the processes involved in achieving their goal of continuation of this essential service, ideally without interruption.”