By Brie Snare
and Kate Dwyer
PARENTS in Laurieton are angry about the decision to close child care services for school-aged children in the area.
St Peter the Fisherman’s parish priest Father Michael Roohan made the announcement the service would close earlier in June. After-school and vacation care programs cater for up to 60 families, mostly children of working parents. Vacation Care will finish at the end of the upcoming school holidays and after school care will close at the end of 2012.
Fr Roohan said the service was no longer viable.
Twenty-two parents attended an informal meeting last Tuesday night to discuss the closure.
The annual general meeting (AGM) of St Joseph’s Children’s Services, which manages out of school hours care services (OOSH) attracted 15 people last Wednesday morning at the Parish office in Laurieton.
At the AGM, Parish finance manager Terry Parker flagged financial difficulties as the reason behind the closure of the community service.
Figures provided by the Parish’s accounting office show the services recorded a loss for last financial year of more than $27,000.
The upcoming financial year shows a forecast loss of more than $10,000.
Vacation and after-school care caters for an average of 21 children a day.
Mr Parker said an average of 28 students was needed to have the service running at a sustainable level.
Parent Trent Alexander suggested fees increase to keep the service going.
Mr Parker said while increasing fees from $17.50 a child may make little difference to the budget of some families, the Camden Haven is a lower socio-economic area and people with perhaps more than one child attending the service may not be able to afford the price rise.
“I know we’ve upset 100 per cent of people with our decision to close, but increasing fees may only please 30 per cent of our clients, while 70 per cent may be unable to afford the increase,” he said.
In last week’s Camden Haven Courier, Fr Roohan said part of the financial loss could be attributed to outstanding fees. At the AGM outstanding fees were not cited as part of the equation in the financial losses.
Two permanent staff and several casually employed members will lose their jobs through the closure.
Mum-of-two Julie Krige was devastated by the move and was unsure where she will send her children for care while she worked, once the service ceases.
“It’s a wonderful service. The staff love the kids and spend time working on educational programs and games, excursions, cooking fun and has built strong links to the community,” Mrs Krige said.
“Following the AGM the parents felt that there would not be a possibility of keeping the service open under current conditions. Even if funds were raised, we generally feel that a decision to close has been made. Ethically and morally we will keep petitioning, writing letters and meeting with Father Michael to hopefully make him realise he dealt with this issue in an extremely poor and very insensitive way for all our involved community.
“Mr Parker did say at the meeting that the Lismore diocese had been asked for a grant to cover the upcoming shortfall, however the request was declined.
“The service is proudly not-for-profit but I guess losses over the last year and a projected loss were reason enough for the parish to cease offering this community service.”
Lyn Hurrell, who founded the program 18 years ago and still works part time, was devastated by the decision, saying she saw no reason to stop the services.
“I’m dumb-founded by it,” Mrs Hurrell said.
“I cannot believe the reasons they’ve given.
“I’m really emotional about this because we did the hard yards to get this service off the ground.”
In her report at the AGM St Josephs Children’s Services director Karen McKay paid tribute to the staff and families who rely on childcare at the centre.
“We are so lucky to have staff members that are committed to their role as middle childhood educators,” Mrs McKay said in her report.
She said the staff “had done a wonderful job developing and implementing innovative and challenging programs for children”. They are supported by a team of casuals who, along with many visitors from the community, bring life to the program.
“I must thank every parent who chooses to send their children to one of our services. It is a privilege to be given the opportunity to share your children.”
A core group of more than 20 parents are now assessing all options to save OOSH care for local children.
Another public meeting will be hosted in coming weeks to gauge support from the community to keep the service going.