Last week, the City of Port Phillip council, in the inner south of Melbourne, voted unanimously to move forward with their plan to sell off the buildings and effectively close three community-run childcare centres operating in St Kilda, Elwood and Balaclava– an area heavily populated with young families in need of high quality, affordable childcare.
As a working mum of two children who attend one of the affected centres – Elwood Children’s Centre, and as a parent who deeply values the incredible contribution of the staff at our beloved centre, I can’t simply stand by and watch the heart of our community be shut down. So together with my community, I’m standing up, and will be fighting against the closure of these centres – not just for our own families and communities but for families everywhere who need and deserve access to quality, affordable childcare, particularly so the women in those families can participate in the workforce equally.
Elwood Children’s Centre has served the City of Port Phillip, its families and their children for over 35 years. The Centre was established in 1984 by a group of committed parents to provide a service that allowed for affordable, quality childcare. It continues today as an alternative to the larger and mostly privately run centres popping up in our area. It allows a diverse range of families to be involved in the running and say of the centre, and it creates and maintains a rich and active community. Crucially, our daily fee remains one of the lowest in the area, ensuring access for the most vulnerable families. And our educator-to-child ratio is higher than mandated, meaning children at our centre with developmental delay, autism, ADHD and other special needs can be supported to thrive in ways that they just couldn’t be at other centres.
Councils across the country need to support a good cross-section of types, sizes and modelsof childcare centres within their municipalities. They should be supporting the smaller community managed centres to thrive and survive.
The City of Port Phillip’s proposal suggests that families from our centre can simply move to nearby centres – most of them privately run, significantly more expensive, and many with a lower rating against the national quality standards. This shows no regard or understanding for the needs of families. Not to mention the years-long waiting lists that families will be faced with.
The proposal also makes no acknowledgement of the impact to the staff at these centres. The end of ECC would also be the end of employment for 18 childcare educators at our centre all of whom are women and a majority of who are from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds. How can Council adopt a proposal that once again sees these particular groups in our community paying the price?
Keeping our centre open is not just about the kids. This is also about women. Working Mums. Single Mums. Stay at home Mums. Mums looking to re-enter the workforce. We need to support women in ensuring all levels of childcare are an option for them and their families.
I say, to City of Port Phillip and to any other council considering similar proposals: Work with us and find a path forward to support the good community work we do here. Listen to the women who are affected by your decisions. Listen to the Childcare Educators – a female dominated industry who are the most vulnerable of our workforce, and who are the real heroes of this story. And listen to all the women speaking up, working hard and coming together on this issue because it falls back on to us. Your decisions as Councillors fall back on to women, onto our shoulders to sort this out and to carry, and we say NO!
Our community-run childcare centres are too precious to us, to our community, to our educators, to our children, to the families past, present and future. They need, and deserve, to survive.