Family Day Care under threat

Far West Family Day Care (FDC) Broken Hill’s future is uncertain after Cobar Shire Council (CSC) signalled their intention to withdraw from the Broken Hill market in the next 12-18 months in a move which could see the Oxide St centre being shuttered.

If it does close, 111 families with 142 children who use the centre will have to find somewhere else to send their youngsters in a city which isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with child care centres.

There are only two alternative long day care options in the city, and they both have extended wait lists.

As many as 84 children a day are looked after by 12 educators at the FDC centre and clearly their jobs are also at risk.

Broken Hill City Council – led by Mayor Tom Kennedy – decided in a behind-closed-doors session at the last full council meeting that they would not help fund the running of the centre. That’s perhaps more than a little ironic considering the mayor’s passion for all things local.

Cobar Council, which has been running the service for three years for Broken Hill residents after a previous Broken Hill council refused to do so, is 460km from the Silver City and is a five hour drive. You might even say it is ‘Away’.

Cobar Shire Council (CSC) General Manager, Peter Vlatko, told the Truth, “it is a bit of an embarrassing situation that Cobar Shire Council was providing a Family Day Care Service to the community of Broken Hill, and we have requested Broken Hill City Council to take over the service.”

CSC took over in 2020 when it seemed the local committee that was running the service was going to fold, which would have resulted in the service being lost to the Silver City. The committee approached Broken Hill City Council back then and were rebuffed as well, leading to the takeover from the Council that is some five hours drive away from the Silver City.

CSC are looking to step away from running the Broken Hill service sometime during the next 12 to 18 months and have been trying to get Broken Hill City Council to take over the service for the last seven months.

“My partner and I both work full time and we aren’t blessed with people who are available to look after our kids, so they have to go to day care,” said mother of two Jasmin Pettitt.

Ms Pettitt’s family feels like they are in a tough spot, because if FDC does close, it would likely force Ms Pettitt to quit her job to care for the children, and with the ever rising cost of living, becoming a one income household would see the family struggle to provide the basics.

“We just wouldn’t be able to afford it. Our first option would be to move away [from Broken Hill]. We wouldn’t be able to stay. It would not be sustainable financially for us to stay here,” Ms Pettitt says.

Despite BHCC’s decision, Mayor Tom Kennedy insists the future of the service is not in jeopardy but it’s hard to see a solution given Broken Hill Council is not going to help fund the centre.

“I understand there’s been a bit of rumour in the community regarding this issue, and I’d like to clarify things for the benefit of both Cobar and Broken Hill councils,” Cllr Kennedy said.

“Cobar approached us about potentially taking over the FDC service, and our staff did an investigation to see if we could accommodate it and unfortunately it didn’t prove suitable at all.

Mr Kennedy said his council was working with all parties to find a solution for when Cobar do decide to withdraw the service but he doubled down on BHCC not taking over the service.

“The reality is our local Council simply doesn’t have the background or expertise in relation to operating a childcare service,” he said.

“It’s a specialised field and ideally this would be operated by a local body within the industry, so we’ll look to meet with Far West Family Day Care, local educators, and Cobar Shire Council as soon as possible to find a solution.”

Of course, Cobar Shire Council has no more ‘background or expertise in relation to operating a childcare centre’ either, but they have been successfully keeping FDC afloat for years.

A Broken Hill city councillor who wished to remain nameless said the decision to back away from funding the centre was a purely cost issue. “It’s always about the money,” confirmed the councillor.

FDC coordinator, Stacey Smith, remains hopeful BHCC will step in.

“I would love for council to take it on and keep the jobs local, the money local, and things like that. But the committee went down this road before [CSC took over] and they didn’t even get to a Broken Hill council meeting. They were just told no,” Ms Smith told the Truth.

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