Photo: Some of the volunteer committee members of Coonamble Childrens Services Inc. Barbara Goldsmith, Rowena Macrae, Tahnee (and Charlotte) Cullen and Pip Goldsmith who made the difficult decision to release all Centre staff before christmas.
THE FUTURE of Coonamble’s community-owned child care centre is uncertain with the Coonamble Children’s Services Committee voting on Wednesday evening 27 November to release all staff when the Centre closes its doors for the Christmas break on 20 December.
Eleven part-time and casual staff have been made redundant including educators, office staff, a cook and cleaner.
Thirty five families will also be forced to consider their options for child care in the new year with a re-opening date unlikely to be known once the planned three week break is over.
The Centre has been plagued with staffing issues in recent months, often operating with skeleton child care staff and committee members stepping in to the kitchen so the cook could assist with the children.
A recently introduced re-structure, which divided Centre Management into separate education and administration roles, had brought Felicity Keady on board in the Administration role.
However despite months of searching, the Committee say they have been unable to recruit a qualified Early Childhood Educator to oversee programming and delivery of educational activities.
Committee President Pip Goldsmith says it would have been “irresponsible” to continue to open with staffing so unstable.
“We couldn’t guarantee the staff would be there,” she told the Coonamble Times. “We don’t know how to offer the service and we need time to work that out.”
The current committee had worked through a series of financial challenges and, by all reports, the organisation is now in a reasonable financial position but finding and keeping enough suitably qualified staff to meet stringent government standards has been “a nightmare”, according to Ms Goldsmith.
But as staff and families are left reeling by the news, Ms Goldsmith says the Committee’s priority is to look after families and staff until the end of the year.
“We told staff the day after we made the decision,” Ms Goldsmith said.
“Our next priority is to plan for re-opening.”
“It’s too good a facility to close and we still plan to do a $150,000 upgrade on our building next year that we secured grant funding for,” she said.
Staff members and parent users of the child care centre say they are stunned by the Committee’s decision and believe that they should have been consulted prior to such a drastic decision being made.
“There must have been other options,” one staff member said.
According to Ms Goldsmith the staff were aware of the difficulties the Centre was experiencing and that parents had been asked to get involved and give support to the Committee for at least the last 12 months.
“Our committee members are also all users of the service so we are all impacted as well,” she said.
“It just became impossible to operate properly.”
The Coonamble Children’s Services was established by parents as a multi-function child care centre in 1987 with support from local, state and federal governments.
For the last thirty two years, the Centre has provided Long Day Care, casual and emergency care for local children aged from 0 to 5 years.
It has enabled successive generations of parents to participate in the workforce, while providing quality care and early childhood educational programs to their children.
The centre has continued to operate in a highly regulated environment and in recent years has met the challenge of increased competition from the Coonamble Public School Preschool and the privately-owned Smartkids Child Care.
But it has been problems with workforce, rather than financial viability, that has led to the current crisis.
Whatever the cause, the knock-on effect of a closed centre is not lost of Mayor Ahmed Karanouh.
“Council will do whatever it can to make sure the Child Care Centre re-opens as soon as possible because of the flow-on effect of losing staff members and the effects that will have on our economy,” Mayor Karanouh said.
“Parents who can’t find a place for their kids may have to stay at home and that will effect a lot of businesses and have a devastating effect on the town.”
Mr Karanouh says he has been approached by upset staff members and shocked parents looking for answers.
“We will do everything we can to make sure this vital service stays open for a long time into the future,” Mayor Karanouh said.
The CCS Committee say that the announcement of the centre’s imminent closure has brought unprecedented offers of assistance.
“We’ve had offers of support that we haven’t had before, both from within our local community and from industry groups,” Ms Goldsmith said.
“We feel more hopeful and confident that there’s a very positive long term future for Coonamble Children’s Services Inc.”
“We now know we have some good options and the plan for re-opening is underway,” she said.
“The Committee is communicating with representatives of industry organisations who are offering expert advice so we can work out the first – and best- steps to take.”
Those first steps cannot come soon enough for families and staff affected by the closure of the Centre.