Wasted space. Coonamble Chldren’s Services Inc is in top shape but the spacious play areas and rooms are still vacant as the committee struggles to recruit essential qualified staff.
THE volunteer committee members of Coonamble Children’s Services, who were forced to close the community-owned centre in December 2019, say they were surprised and disappointed by the response from Coonamble Shire Council to their first request for assistance.
A recommendation presented to Council’s 13 May meeting failed to attract a mover and seconder, cutting short any discussion on how Council might assist efforts to re-open the Dubbo Street child care centre.
Two attempts by the CCS committee to recruit key personnel, including one process managed by industry peak body Community Connections Solutions Australia (CCSA), had failed to deliver the degree and diploma-holding staff that are legally required to operate the service.
“We had a great response from local people with Certificate III, including some who said they’d do more training,” said Committee member Rowena Macrae.
“But we’re desperately lacking the upper level management roles.”
“We are bound by so many regulations and reached the point where we could no longer claim exemptions,” she said.
“At least fifty per cent of staff must be diploma level or higher and we cannot open without a degree-qualified lead educator.”
“We feel like we’ve tried everything within our constraints,” Mrs Macrae said.
The committee say that they have the financial capacity to operate but the biggest issue is recruitment – and this is why they approached Coonamble Shire Council.
“We are not the only ones struggling with this,” said committee Vice President Rachael Swansborough. “Centres in Coonabarabran, Nyngan, Bourke and others are all seeking staff.”
“We are a non-profit service and we were hoping that Council could assist us to offer a package similar to what’s available elsewhere,” Ms Swansborough said.
After a meeting with General Manager Hein Basson which Ms Swansborough says was “very positive”, the committee drafted a letter seeking council assistance – amounting to $40,000 for extras such as relocation and rental assistance to support an out-of-town Early Childhood Educator, a budgetary provision to enable above-award wages, and a contribution towards additional professional development for all eligible staff.
“We’re all very disappointed with the response,” Mrs Macrae said. “We thought we had a really good chance.”
“We’ve had parents and community members asking why we hadn’t approached Council.”
“We thought it would give us a good shot at enticing someone so we can kick off again,” she said.
Mrs Macrae says that the committee is prepared to be very flexible in hours and arrangements and that they’d been looking “outside the box” including “cold-calling every person you can think of.”
“We have to get it right,” she said.
“We can’t open without those upper level skills – the Centre is due for accreditation and rating and we wouldn’t meet the criteria.”
The recommendation put to Council suggested that “if it favourably in principle considers the … request” that Council “further considers the inclusion of the final contribution amount” when adopting their operational plan and budget for the coming year following provision of the financial and governance information by the Coonamble Children’s Services.
While councillors commented on how important the service was to the town, it became clear that without more information the request would go no further.
“This is a vital subject,” said Cr Pat Cullen. “I want to know what happened when it was so successful and suddenly the wheels fell off.”
“Why didn’t they approach us earlier?” asked Deputy Mayor Paul Wheelhouse. “I had no problem giving the money but we need to fix the problem, and what is the problem?”
“From the community’s point of view we need it up and running,” he said.
“We’ve definitely got to move forward.”
The members of CCS Inc say a sub-committee has been formed to manage recruitment and that they will work with whoever is necessary to get the Centre operating.
“The Councillors clearly didn’t understand what we were asking,” said Mrs Macrae.
They say that Parkes MP Mark Coulton has already provided some support and that Barwon MP Roy Butler will assist wherever he can.
Support at the local level has also been received.
“Kylie Carey, Fiona O’Malley and Smartkids have been amazing throughout this,” she said.
“They have been very welcoming and so helpful.”
As the operator of a privately-owned child care facility Mrs Carey is very familiar with the complexities of running a service that meets all the government requirements.
“I really would like to see them open, the need is there,” Mrs Carey said.
“I’m hoping we can all work together.”