Playcentre Aotearoa says 100 centres are at risk of closure unless funding increases

Playcentre Aotearoa says job losses and centre closures are likely in the “coming months,” unless the Government provides a funding boost.

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Half of the 425 playcentres across the country are hurting financially. Source: 1 NEWS

Whanau-led Playcentres have been providing early childhood education in New Zealand since 1941.

There are 425 centres around the country, but up to 25 have closed in the last five years due to low attendance, a spokesperson for Playcentre Aotearoa said.

In the last financial year, 213 centres operated with a deficit.

“Playcentre currently has around 1000 staff so if we're closing a third of our centres then we're looking at three or four hundred people,” Playcentre Aotearoa general Manager Sean McKinley said about potential job losses.

He said the playcentre model wasn’t broken, with an overall increase in attendance of 16 per cent in the last financial year.

This month’s Government Budget allocated increased funding of $3.1 million over four years for playcentres, but Mr McKinley said around $30 million is needed.

“We haven't had a proper increase in our funding for over 14 years, so what we are looking at now is a culmination of that… this is what happens when you underfund an organisation that provides ECE (early childhood education) to almost ten thousand children throughout the country.

“I don’t think there’s any difference in terms of the level of ECE we provide then other providers, we have to meet the same regulations,” he said.

Covid-19 has increased costs for the organisation, such as the requirement for heating in centres to increase from 16 degrees to 18 degrees.

"Our current heating bill amounts to just over $570,000.

"Having to raise temperatures is now expected to take out heating costs to more than $1 million," an update to centres from Playcentre Aotearoa stated.

Hunterville Playcentre is a hub for the Rangitikei community, as the only onsite early education option for children in the town, and a place for parents in surrounding communities to connect.

“Playcentre's been a real lifesaver for me cause we live so far out of town and we spend most of the day by ourselves usually, a lot of rural mums,” parent Sarah Meurk said.

Meeting licensing regulations by having enough early childhood education qualified parents onsite is an ongoing burden, Hunterville Playcentre president Anastasia Perano said.

“With families moving on we lose those qualifications… if they (the Government) put money towards the training that means there would be more trainers available that could come to us,” she said.

Playcentre Aotearoa hires qualified facilitators to be onsite at centres like Hunterville to meet qualification regulations.

The centre fundraises, on top of receiving Government funding per child, to pay for for maintenance and supplies, but Covid-19 has stopped some community events and fundraising opportunities.

Ms Perano said if the centre had to close, travelling 25 minutes for childcare wasn’t an option for some families.

Shannon Playcentre treasurer Sarah Burgess said financial pressure is a stress for the centre, even with community grants for some modifications like installing a heat pump.

“We get reported by ERO (Education Review Office) and we get so much less funding.

“The current model just doesn’t put playcentre at the same place as other early childhood services,” Ms Burgess said.

A petition on ActionStation to Education Minister Chris Hipkins to “save Playcentre” has received more than 10,400 signatures.

A spokesperson for Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin said she had no comment, with a meeting planned with Playcentre Aotearoa for next Tuesday.