Makoura Early Childhood Centre. PHOTO/FILE

Impact on teen parent unit saddens

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
gianina.schwanecke@age.co.nz

Parents of more than 50 children at the Makoura Early Childhood Centre have been forced to find an alternative after being notified that the centre was “closed until further notice” on Tuesday morning.

The Masterton Early Childhood Centre was established in 2005 in partnership with the Wairarapa Teen Parent Unit – half of the spaces provided are allocated to the TPU with the centre providing care for up to 25 children aged less than two.

The community-based service is governed by a management committee made up of parents and staff.

Chairwoman Kate Tosswill said the difficult decision to close the centre had been made after several staff took stress leave and the centre was unable to find sufficient staff to replace them.

In July last year the centre made a significant loss, prompting the committee to consider restructuring the operation, including exiting the NZEI agreement which was deemed financially unsustainable in terms of employment.

“We realise that these [difficult decisions] impact significantly on the staff, parents and community,” Tosswill said. “We believe that the decisions we made were sound and certainly had the best interests of the centre at heart.”

The confidential nature of the employment negotiations and restructure process prevented the committee from discussing this with parents.

After a drawn-out negotiation period, last week six staff members accepted an offer of redundancy over moving to a new agreement.

This was to take effect four weeks from March 25, but all affected staff had taken “stress leave” putting pressure on the centre.

A “massive shortage of childcare” in the region was also putting stress on the situation and making it hard for families, Tosswill said.

She said the centre had met ministry ratios through a mix of permanent staff and some relievers, but they felt they were no longer providing the quality of care required.

“We are sorry for the stress that this has caused to parents who have had to try and find alternative places in other centres, and the loss of a great learning place for the children.

“We’re particularly sad about the impact it’s going to have on the Wairarapa Teen Parent Unit.”

She said the committee’s number one priority had been to keep the centre open and do right by its children and parents.

“We will continue to do our best to reopen the centre, but that will take time,” Tosswill said.

A committee meeting was organised for Tuesday night and a meeting with the affected whanau was to be have been held yesterday.