Parents with children at a South Coast daycare have been given a month to find a new service after the Department of Education announced it would not renew the lease on the site.
Most important points:
- Big Fat Smile has been told it will have to leave its Milton location next month
- Families say all other centers in the area are full
- The department and local leaders say they are working to increase capacity in nearby centers
The site of Milton’s Big Fat Smile center will be used for a new special education school.
The development application for construction was submitted to Shoalhaven Council in December.
It has yet to be approved.
Marc Donnelley, whose daughter Aria is in her senior year at the center, says there is frustration and fear among parents.
“My daughter is in her senior year of early childhood education and this should be the year she solidifies all of her learning goals and prepares for big school,” said Mr. Donnelly.
“In four weeks she will be locked out of the place she loves. She will likely be separated from most of her friends and we are expected to cover and sort that out.”
Phil McDonald, the CEO of surf brand Ocean and Earth, started his child at the center two and a half months ago, but was not told about the closure.
“We had others [childcare] spots available, which we gave up going to this one,” he said.
“If we can’t find another place, we’ll have to come over for a day or two and pick up a sitter.”
Mr McDonald has called for the DA process to be halted for three to six months.
Big Fat Smile chief executive Kim Bertino said the center was notified last week that it would not be able to stay at the site.
“We tried to work on a temporary location where the center is at the moment,” she said.
“With the department, it has not been possible to stay on that site and there is no option to renew.”
The Liberal candidate for Gilmore, Luke Sikora, criticized the Department of Education’s decision.
“I share their frustration and disappointment with the ministry’s decision,” he said after speaking to parents today.
“We have a DA for a new childcare location, meters away from this one and I’m calling on the council to expedite that approval.”
He said he was working with other childcare services to address the matter.
“We are looking at ways to increase childcare capacity in the area and we have received expressions of interest from centers willing to do so,” said Mr Sikora.
Labor candidate Liza Butler said she started a petition to go to Education Minister Sarah Mitchell and Labour’s education spokesman Pru Carr to try to prevent the closure.
“No matter how you look at it – this situation is totally unacceptable and my heart goes out to the affected families and employees,” Ms Butler said.
In 2020, the state government announced a plan to relocate Budawang Special Purpose School to part of the site, which would benefit about 30 students with special needs.
All major South Coast political parties have also made NSW election commitments to use the site for public education in the future.
In a statement, the Department of Education told the ABC it was “working with nearby service providers to increase local capacity where possible and help affected families find alternative care options”.
“Families can be assured that there is capacity at nearby services,” said a spokesman.
“There are currently plans to establish a new early childhood center on the Budawang site and further updates will be provided to the community in the coming months.”
The spokesperson encouraged families to contact the department on 1800 619 113 if they needed additional support.