TEARS flowed last week over the sudden closure of a children’s care centre in Highgate, which had been helping women and children affected by domestic violence and low-income families.
Twenty-two children and their parents and nine staff are directly impacted by the federal government’s decision to withdraw $400,000 in funding from the Gurlongga Njininj Child Care Centre on Lord Street.
The decades-old centre learned just weeks ago its funding was being withdrawn, after failing to meet national quality benchmarks, and on June 26 it closed its doors.
“We were crying and they were crying because some of them had nowhere to go,” director Dot Bagshaw told the Voice.
“They couldn’t afford to go somewhere else. There’s one woman who comes in who has experienced domestic violence, and she’s from one of the women’s refuges nearby.
“They’re struggling and they’re all upset.”
She concedes the children’s service had its challenges: it was sometimes caught short on staff and found it difficult to attract indigenous children—who it had been set up to service—because of transportation and money issues.
She says some parents were foreign students who’d found the centre “convenient”.
Ms Bagshaw says the reason given for the axing was a failure to meet “national quality framework” benchmarks.
She thought she’d get another six months to turn the situation around, and was not expecting the axe to fall.
Social services minister Scott Morrison says the centre closed because of “serious concerns” children were unsafe, but did not provide details.
“The department worked intensively with the service over the last 18 months to resolve its quality concerns,” Mr Morrison says.
“Based on the potential risk to children attending the service, Gurlongga Njinij was advised [on June 4] it would not be offered a funding agreement.”
Mr Morrison says the funds have been re-distributed to other programs in Perth to ensure local indigenous children retain access to child care.
Perth federal Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan is helping centre staff try to squeeze $100,000 from the government as compensation for losing their jobs on short notice.
She met with Ms Bagshaw this week.
“The government should have worked harder to get it back on track,” Ms MacTiernan told the Voice.
“Now, unfortunately, a lot of staff have been left with no standing entitlements.”
She says a way forward could be to join forces with a “well-established” indigenous-focused organisation such as Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service.
The WA family support department website describes the centre as a culturally appropriate service, which met the social and development needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children.
Last year, the Barnett government closed the 51-year-old Kulunga Aboriginal Kindergarten in Hilton after parents missed a new enrolment deadline resulting in the 20 children minimum not being met.
by EMMIE DOWLING