Early Childhood – A Vital Council Service

Newcastle Greens believe that local government has a vital role to play in improving the life opportunities of its young people by facilitating the provision of quality children’s services to its community. The provision of high quality children’s services is especially important for those members of the community who are experiencing disadvantage and are unable to access costly private facilities. Our elected representatives in the next Council will be working towards ensuring that Newcastle Council takes a more active role in addressing the child care needs of the Newcastle community, particularly those of our more disadvantaged residents.

Importance of Early Childhood Services

Children’s and family services provide significant benefits to the community. They:
o   enhance the development of young children, improving life chances for individuals and reducing societal costs such as remedial education, child abuse, behavioural problems, juvenile crime and relationship breakdown;
o   provide a way for the community to support parents by spreading the burden of caring for and raising children;
o   assist parents, particularly mothers, to retain their skills, employability and career continuity, resulting in higher morale, national productivity and economic output;
o   ensure that parents on low incomes are not driven to place their children in unsafe, unstable or unsatisfactory environments.

There is strong evidence that good nutrition, nurturing and responsive caregiving in the first years of life, linked with good early child development programs, are essential for children’s learning, behaviour, and physical and mental health throughout life.

Recent research shows that early experiences and stimulating, positive interactions with adults and other children are very important for children’s development and long-term well being. Development in the early years of life, particularly the first three years, sets the base of competence and coping skills for a child’s later stages.

Why Councils should offer children’s services

Local Government is well placed to recognise and respond to the needs of young children and their families because local government that is focused on community needs:
o   has an intimate knowledge of its local community;
o   provides infrastructure and facilitates developments to cater for the wellbeing of families;
o   provides services and programs that are flexible and locally appropriate to the needs of families;
o   involves its community in local decision making;
o   advocates on behalf of the community; and
o   is accountable to the community.

The provision of services to people and families is part of the regulatory framework that governs how local government functions. Councils are required to develop a social or community plan, and include in their management plan and annual report, a statement regarding access and equity activities planned or undertaken.

Local Government social planning, community development and human services play important roles in contributing to the physical, psychological and social health, welfare and wellbeing of residents. Local Government is the appropriate sphere of government to take a lead role in social planning and the provision of child and community services for its residents because:
o   it is in the best position to identify and respond to the specific needs of the local area;
o   it is democratically accountable to residents for the quality of services provided;
o   it can adapt its operations to the needs of the community;
o   it can identify strategies that promote social cohesion, better communities and beneficial economic outcomes.

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Newcastle City Council

Yet it is difficult to find out what support is available for parents with young children in Newcastle. Visiting the Newcastle City Council’s website provides very scant information about the children’s services available in the city. There is less information about early childhood services on Newcastle City Council’s website than there is on the websites of most other NSW Councils, especially those of comparable size to Newcastle.
Newcastle City Council currently plays a fairly minimalist role in supporting the early childhood and childcare needs of the community. Newcastle City Council coordinates Family Day Care and ensures that care providers have the relevant training and support. Newcastle City Library and its branches play host to a comprehensive range of reading, play and family-oriented activities that play an important role in the early socialisation and early literacy development of children. The library also has outreach programs that work with local schools and community to groups to support parents and their children.
The Council owns and staffs the Beresfield Community Education Centre, which provides long day care, an accredited pre-school program and caters for children with special needs. A parent committee manages the centre while council provides the material support. The centre caters for children from 0 to 5 years old.
Newcastle City Council also provides premises for a further 7 childcare centres, although the formal ownership of most of these centres is held by other state government or semi-government bodies. While most of these childcare facilities are not-for profit and run by committees of management, they are all run differently and have differing arrangements with landlords.
Council has provided some support to these centres in addition to the provision of premises. Recently however, council has been moving away from any supervisory role over these centres. While most of the centres are community-based and able to manage and operate themselves quite adequately, the council is currently withdrawing from most of the basic coordinating and support roles in the area of childcare and children’s services.

Other NSW Councils 

Many councils of comparable size to Newcastle City Council struggle with a similarly shrinking rate-based income, yet manage to provide a much more comprehensive program of support for young children and their parents than is currently provided by Newcastle City Council.  Councils such as Marrickville, Canterbury, Penrith, Canada Bay and Leichardt in Sydney, Lismore and Byron Bay councils in the regions provide a wide variety of children’s services to their communities.
As an example the City of Canterbury offers an Early Childhood intervention service, four long day care centres, occasional care, family day care, outside school hours care, vacation care, provides facilities for immunisation, hosts pre-school story-time in a variety of community languages and includes sustainability education in all its children’s centres. It also promotes and facilitates regular meetings of an interagency network to better service the needs of all children in the city, especially those with special needs.

Many councils offer a variety of other services such as occasional/emergency care, parent support groups ,  playgroups and even a mobile playgroup bus (Marrickville Council) .
Other councils, particularly those that, like Newcastle, service disadvantaged communities,  play an important role in catering for families that are unable to access expensive private child support services.
At the very least most councils provide on their websites a comprehensive and easily accessible guide to children’s services that families can access. Unfortunately, for those looking for children’s services in Newcastle, it is difficult to locate all available services where they exist. There are many services that Council could provide or facilitate at a low cost that it is not currently providing.

Newcastle Greens

The Newcastle Greens are committed to placing the needs of the community at the centre of council’s functioning. Because local government is closest to the community it has an obligation to ensure that community needs such as for childcare and other child support activities are well provisioned.
The Newcastle Greens believe that Newcastle City Council is the best placed level of government to monitor and address the childcare needs of the Newcastle community.

We believe that the best way to address Newcastle’s childcare needs is to:

o  Establish an accessible consultation process whereby parents, childcare workers and professionals, community representatives, and council can meet regularly to discuss the childcare issues as they arise;

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o   Ensure that Newcastle City Council provides relevant support to parents, children and childcare providers in identifying and addressing areas of need;

o   Promote and support community-based, not-for-profit childcare centres;

o   Ensure that the developmental, health and social needs of young children are met through the appropriate provision of council support and facilities .

 

Therese Doyle

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