All organisations conduct regular budget and program reviews; this is a prudent business practice, regardless of status as private, not-for-profit, community or government. However a poorly communicated, non-transparent and seemingly unjustified review can cause far more damage in the community, especially when those most affected by the decision are not consulted.
In October 2014, just before the local council elections, carers/educators and families were advised that the Council had committed to only support the Kingborough Family Day Care (KFDC) scheme until the end of the financial year. The Council indicated the scheme may change from 2015, as it would be seeking expressions of interest from private or not-for-profit organisations to take over family day care in the region.
The announcement came after Councillors held a closed session to discuss the scheme and agreed to review the program. Despite assertions to the contrary, all subsequent correspondence and documentation strongly inferred that a decision about the KFDC scheme’s future had already been made. In the face of clear and unanimous opposition from those immediately affected by the review, and no ‘expression of interest’ process having commenced, senior staff from the Council have told carers that the decision is non-reversible. Those affected must ‘fight’ to retain the scheme in the community once external submissions have been received by the Council.
The Council continues to protest that the review is not financially motivated; however it is manifestly clear that budgetary considerations are foremost in the decision to review the program. There are no other justifications. The KFDC scheme is the winner of the 2013 Family Day Care Australia Service State Awards, Tasmanian Coordination Unit of the Year, and is a proven expert in child care programs. This cannot be claimed by any other southern provider. Privatisation of the scheme will almost certainly result in a downgrade and consequently, a reduction in the quality of services.
It is obvious that the Council is putting money – what essentially amounts to approximately a quarter of the most senior Council staff member’s remuneration (including benefits) before an award winning scheme that currently has over 460 children enrolled and supports 39+ small businesses.
The core functions of the Council, as legislated in the Local Government Act 1993 are to:
• provide for the health, safety and welfare of the community;
• to represent and promote the interests of the community;
• provide for the peace, order and good governance in the municipal area.
The lack of consultation and continuous abrogation of responsibility for the impact of the decision on carers and families, demonstrates that Kingborough Council are doggedly failing to represent and promote the interests of the community. It is not prioritising a core function – the health, safety and welfare of children in the community. Considering only financial implications while ignoring benefits and genuine concerns from affected parties does not demonstrate good governance.
Investing in quality care for children falls squarely within the Council ambit. Unlike other child and youth services that provide important, but effectively extra-curricular activities and programs, the KFDC scheme is an essential service. It provides parents with an alternative to centre based child care, allowing parents to return to work or study and further contribute to the economy and community, while mitigating many of the emotional conflicts parents encounter when balancing family and career. Choosing care for a child is one of the first most important decisions a parent will make. The KFDC scheme is a service incomparable to other programs and services provided by the Council which cost a lot more, for example, the cleaning of toilets and bbqs, which incidentally cost the Council over $160,000 a year.
While there are other options for child care, parents consider many factors when planning the long-term care of children. Family day care provides quite different benefits to most conventional child care centres. Family day care schemes provide the opportunity for parents to choose the individual educator who will care for their child in a warm, secure home environment. Children personally bond with the educator, who becomes a part of the child’s family – a trusted person who provides consistency, stability and quality care to a small group of children of varying ages. Babies and toddlers learn from older children, similar to interaction with siblings and cousins, and activities are tailored to suit the individual needs of those in care. Children also have the opportunity for regular excursions to explore the wider community and participate in events such as trips to museum, parks, gardens, beaches, library or other day-time activities.
As a parent, there is nothing more important than knowing your child is receiving the best quality care. While this is largely down to the personal expertise of the carer, they would not be able to provide this without the excellent service and support provided by the KFDC scheme.
Half of the newly-elected Councillors have expressed support for retaining the scheme in the community. However the Council is forging ahead with the review, despite clear opposition and in the absence of a proper consultative process. This demonstrates a blatant disregard for the community and the legitimate concerns of carers and families who have had the review and possible privatisation of a valued scheme unexpectedly thrown at them.
Families and carers deserve certainty. Supporting the KFDC scheme is an investment in the future. The benefits of retaining the scheme in the community far outweigh what little cost there is to Council. It is not too late to revoke the decision for a review and provide assurance to families that the council is putting welfare of children first.
A bit about Eva Cripps: A freelance writer, parent, with a Bachelor of Laws (First Class Honours) degree. Eva is currently working part time, while also studying full time externally.