Wimmera Uniting Care's holiday and after school care program has been forced to close

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A WIMMERA mother believes single parents will be forced to cut back their work hours or move out of the region because of a lack of childcare options.

It comes as Wimmera Uniting Care’s after-school and vacation care program in Horsham was unable to find a home. 

The organisation previously ran after its after-school and vacation program at Federation University, but the building was destroyed by fire in November.

The program was then at Horsham Primary School, but the school asked the program to find a new home last month.

The organisation confirmed it was unable to secure a new location and the program would cease care at the end of term four, with September’s school holiday program its last. 

Wimmera Uniting Care chief executive Wendy Sturgess said the organisation exhausted possible options and had to inform parents of the closure.

“We are disappointed but unfortunately it is out of our control,” she said.

“At this stage there are no plans to re-open either of the services, but I wouldn’t totally rule it out because circumstances could change.”

Horsham’s Natasha Gardener, an accountant and single mother to eight-year-old Jack, said it was unfathomable that a rural city didn’t have childcare options. 

She said she was not aware of any other vacation or after-school programs available.

“It is totally unacceptable for a city the size of Horsham to no longer have these programs available with no alternative options,” she said.

“This will not encourage experienced professional people to be retained in the area.

Miss Gardner said she now had to decide whether to cut her hours at work or move to a city that was more suited to professional parents.

“This will have a significant effect on me as I would potentially need to consider selling my home and moving to another town where there are adequate childcare options available,” she said.

Miss Gardner said she worked 38 hours a week and had used after-school and vacation programs since her son started primary school. 

She said she used the after-school service four days a week and the vacation care program every holidays. 

“Four weeks annual leave a year makes it difficult to manage when there are 12 weeks of school holidays a year,” she said.

Miss Gardner said the city’s shortage in school-aged childcare programs disproportionately affected single parents. 

“This service being ended will no doubt result in woman no longer being able to work,” she said.

Ms Strugess said they understood the program’s closure would affect Wimmera families but had no options after they were unable to find a new premises. 

“We have been running these programs in the community for 15 years and we hoped this outcome could be avoided,” she said.

“We are disappointed and understand this might cause problems for Wimmera families and sincerely apologise for the inconvenience.”

Ms Sturgess said Wimmera Uniting Care had done everything it could to keep the program alive for families, but needed to notify parents.

“We approached a number of Horsham schools and asked parents to advocate at a school level but we had no success whatsoever,” she said. 

“We decided it was best to take decisive action and give parents as much notice as possible so they can make alternative arrangements.”

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