PARENTS have criticised Shetland Islands Council (SIC) for closing an out of school childcare facility in Mossbank “without any consultation with parents or an impact assessment being carried out”.
Parents were told in mid-December “out of the blue” that the council was withdrawing the Kidzone service it ran at Mossbank Primary School, which had been in place for nearly 20 years, until its long-term future had been decided by councillors on the education and families committee in January.
But a report due to go in front the committee on Monday (20 January) was pulled by children’s services director Helen Budge after a meeting with parents in Mossbank.
Parents say this has left them in limbo and without vital after-school childcare, which will impact on the community and people’s employment prospects, and they are calling for the service to be reinstated in the meantime while a “proper and detailed assessment” is carried out.
Budge told Shetland News that she asked for her report to be deferred to “allow for time to have further discussions with parents, staff and the community”.
Kidzone ran from 3.15pm to 5.15pm, Monday to Friday during term time at a rate of £4.88 per hour per child. It also ran in the holidays from 8am – 5pm, at a rate of £37 per child for a full day.
Speaking on behalf of parents, Natasha Cornick said: “Parents rely on both the after school care and holiday club to be able to work and job losses will occur directly because of the removal of this facility.
“There is no alternative child care available in our area.”
Cornick said that parents from Brae and Voe regularly use the service, while the holiday club has also attracted children from the likes of Vidlin, North Roe, Unst, Yell and Tingwall.
Children’s services director Helen Budge attended a meeting at the school on 13 January, but Cornick said a report recommending closure to councillors had already been written.
It was suggested a low uptake was behind the decision – but this “confused” parents, as there has been a recent spike in demand.
Parents also said that it was incorrect to not include three and four year olds in income figures for the Easter holiday club as they paid the same as primary school children.
They also said staffing was raised by the council as an issue. “We have concerns on both accounts as to how the information is being presented to the committee,” the parents said.
After the meeting with Budge over 60 parents then signed a letter written to the council’s education and families committee, which sat on Monday, calling on the service to be reinstated while a “fair and transparent assessment” takes place.
The letter said that closing the facility would affect parents’ ability to hold down a job, with at least four people likely to be forced into giving up their employment.
“The removal of Kidzone means that parents who have been able to gain employment as they now have childcare for their younger children are now in the impossible position that they have no childcare for their older children,” the parents wrote.
“These parents are facing having to give up their new jobs which will detrimentally affect their whole family and the community as a whole.
“Some of these parents work for SIC in areas which the council finds difficult to staff, for instance social care and children’s services. Closing Kidzone is going to have a knock on effect to staffing some of other SIC services.”
The letter added: “As a parents we feel that the local authority has really disinvested in our community.
“We are a small rural community and we feel the impact of every single thing you strip from us especially when we did not start from a place of parity to other more ‘central communities’. We feel aggrieved that our children don’t seem to matter as much.
“We don’t feel there has been any real engagement to address these inequalities and certainly no action.”
Cornick, meanwhile, said there is a frustration that a “whole system approach of the impact to families has not been taken by SIC and certainly no real thought to the real human impact that they have caused”.
“It was reported in the media just yesterday that the educational attainment levels in Shetland have dropped causing concerns and rightly so,” she added.
“There is a clear link between attainment levels and child poverty.
“By removing our childcare facility, meaning that parents will have to either give up work or cut their hours this will push more children into poverty with a likely knock on effect of widening the attainment gap. Joined up thinking by SIC, we think not.”
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