Saturday, 29 October 2011

Childcare Closure

Embodiment of Sorrow Exactly a week ago we were informed by our local council that it intends to close down its childcare service centers. The announcement took us and other parents by surprise; there were no hints of this being on the agenda. Even though the closure is gradual and our son will not be directly affected, we were quite angry at the local council's move and the way it made its decision. Pushed by the powers that be, I felt it's time to use my familiarity with the virtual world to support real world activism.
After receiving the council's notice I immediately scanned and forwarded the notice letter sent to us by the local council to the local newspaper. To do that I used an iPhone app to quickly scan the letter and generate a PDF document, which I then edited using an open source Linux PDF editor to remove personal information from the letter. James Bond would have been proud. It turns out the local council anticipated parents' resentment, so it arranged a special meeting with the paper to present their position at; the meeting was arranged for Tuesday, a day ahead of the weekly paper's cut off date. However, the paper already had the material I provided them with by the preceding Saturday...
On Wednesday night we had a a parents' meeting. Objection to the council's decision was unanimous and various action items were identified. However, parental coordination is planned to take place through a dedicated Gmail address, which feels a bit too 20th century to me. The thought of proposing to manage the cause's Facebook page did occur to me, but with my contempt to Facebook only growing worse with time I held myself back. No, it would take more this that to get me to rejoin this site that continues to track me after I logoff.
Sadly, there aren't any other social media means suitable to this occasion: while a Twitter hashtag could have easily been arranged, Twitter's popularity with the parents is wanting. On the other hand, at this stage Google+ will only support individuals. There are some promising social networks developing out there, like Unthink, but these are nothing more than desert islands. Gmail it is, then.
The local newspaper's editor informed me they will publish the letter I sent them as part of their news coverage. As I was warned the letter will be edited due to length, I will conclude this post by quoting it in its entirety.

As the parent of a four year old child using my local council's childcare centre facilities, I was surprised to see the note posted on the centre’s door on Friday 21/10/11 informing parents the local council has decided to gradually close the centres down over the next two years. It was obvious the centre’s staff were just as surprised, and it was obvious neither parents nor staff were consulted or even informed the centres' closure was even on the agenda.
The council’s main justification for closing the centres down is their perceived lack of so called “viability”. However, the council does not explain how this viability is measured, which is not surprising given that none of the services provided by local councils are financially viable: the entire point of government is to supply the population with otherwise unviable services and to do so in a way that promotes a healthy society. However, it does not seem as if my local council is interested in creating a healthy city: by closing its own childcare centres it is actively harming its most vulnerable, parents of children with special needs or parents in tough circumstances who would otherwise have trouble finding suitable privately owned facilities to look after their children.
The council’s childcare centres are currently serving hundreds of local families, served thousands in the past, and could serve thousands more in the future. The centres’ current two year long waiting list speaks volumes of the appreciation local residents hold for them. My son’s own experience of attending several private childcare centres prior to the council ones confirmed why: none of the private ones even came close when it came to quality care. Clearly, council run centres act as the industry’s benchmark. If council members voting the centres’ closure had bothered looking these matters up, they would have found plenty viability to justify the running of the centres!
The reason quoted by the council for the timing of its centres’ closure is upcoming federal regulations that, under current layouts, would see the council centres serving fewer families. The council has to be “commended” for using regulations intended to improve the quality of care as an excuse for making them worse. It also emphasises the council’s disconnection from the public, in the sense that these federal regulations will affect private childcare centres just the same and will make it much harder for parents to find a spot for their children – even before the closure of the council’s own centres.
As an existing user of my local council's childcare centres I am left under extreme uncertainty. With parents bound to take their kids away as they place them in alternative childcare facilities, the viability of the council’s doomed services will actually – and for the first time – truly diminish. Parents will be facing that as well as the inevitable decrease in staff morale, staff leaving, and the council’s own promise to review the centres’ situation on a quarterly basis.
It is interesting to note the local council’s intention to close its childcare centres and focus on its kindergarten services instead. One has to wonder what the council is thinking and what its priorities are, given that kinder services are unable to provide the full time care required for full time working families and given the rarity of private full time kinder age services. Is the council running an agenda of stay at home mothers?
Then again, reading between the lines, with my local council already closing down homes for the old and the disabled and now moving on to closing childcare facilities, it wouldn’t surprise me if the council real agenda is in making a quick buck through selling its real estate. Indeed, the only evidence to contradict the “council going for the money” theory is the council sending us parents the childcare centres’ closure notice via Express Post. No financially conscious council would have acted this way.

Image by johnwilliamsphd, Creative Commons license

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