Today I’d like to talk about an issue that affects New Zealand parents in particular. As regular readers know, I don’t usually use this blog to talk about social issues (it usually raises comments I would rather not have to deal with). However, this is a critical matter that needs your attention, so today it’s time to speak.
Working parents with school age children in New Zealand will know about OSCAR (Out of School Care and Recreation) programmes. OSCAR programmes are often partially funded by the Ministry of Social Development with the aim of providing support to low and middle income parents needing to put their children in care outside of school hours.
This funding is now under review. I understand that the broad effect of proposed funding cuts is that parents may soon be forced either to a) pay up to $90 a day for their children to attend school holiday programmes that no longer qualify for funding, or b) put their children in very large programmes (of up to 100 children each) that continue to qualify for funding.
According to the copy of the provider consultation document I have seen, “… the current ‘deficit based’ grant funding system does not encourage programmes to operate sustainably, and has supported some very small or inefficiently run programmes that are uneconomic to run. It has also led to inconsistent grant levels between programmes of the same size and type.
In addition, the current funding system does not allow the Government to direct future service growth, to align with priorities around welfare reform and vulnerable children.”
These are noble sentiments, and there probably is some waste in the system that can be addressed. Except that I do not believe proper process or consultation of the community has gone into making the proposals that have ensued from this ‘consultation’ with providers. (Did any of the providers think it of benefit to consult the main stakeholders that provide funding to them – parents?)
The paper goes on to say:
“The Minister set some objectives for a new grant funding system:
- services are available to support parents leaving benefit to go into work, and to stay in work: There will be a network of OSCAR services in the places where parents need them
- OSCAR is affordable and sufficiently flexible for communities where parents are least able to pay for out of school services: Services will be affordable for low and middle income parents so that the cost of OSCAR does not impose a barrier to work. Higher income parents will be expected to pay the full cost of OSCAR.
- OSCAR offers accessible services: OSCAR services will include those that offer care during non-standard hours, weekends, or that cater for parents with children with special needs, or of mixed ages
- child safety is paramount: Services will be approved and will maintain standards that protect children.”
It goes on to say:
“The core components of the proposed grant funding system are:
- annual base grant funding according to child numbers – providers no longer have to prove they are running at a deficit, and funding is linked consistently and accurately to the number of children at each service
- annual top-up grant and one-off targeted establishment grant – only available for sites in priority areas, where additional financial support is required to maintain an OSCAR presence
- minimum child numbers required to receive ongoing base grant funding, to support viable and sustainable services.”
This is very interesting. From what I am able to deduce from the document, this means that funding will be based entirely on where a person lives and will have nothing to do with their actual economic situation. That services will continue to be provided means that there will be a programme available, it will just have to be a large one, unless you live in a “highly deprived” or “isolated area” (see document for the list – link provided in next paragraph).
Anyway, this is the basic gist of the paper. You can read it yourself if you wish on the Ministry of Social Development’s website here.
The reason I am raising it is that I am concerned that a rug is being pulled out from under the feet of many, many parents in New Zealand, and the Ministry of Social Development does not fully understand the implications of what it is about to do and the very severe economic and social impact this will have on families who are already struggling to survive.
This is a blanket approach (that providers will qualify for funding based solely on numbers of children that attend their institution or where they are based) and does nothing to consider the needs of the community. For instance, what of the children who cannot cope with being forced to spend 8 hours a day for 10 weeks of the year cooped in an echoey, noisy hall full of 100 other children, some of whom are not overly socially developed? This is not done in schools for a very good reason. What will it do to the future mental health of our children? Is this anyone’s idea of fun??
When do large numbers of children in one place ever constitute a safe environment?
What will happen to families who will be forced to travel outside of their school zones (perhaps even a half an hour drive away or an hour on public transport if it’s available) to take their children to a holiday programme that is affordable for them?
In setting out to perform these cuts, I believe the Ministry has failed in its primary objective for OSCAR funding: They do not meet the needs of the community (“one size fits all” does not work). They especially do not guarantee child safety.
This is a deplorable state that can only be attributed to a one-sided view of the holiday programmes – that of how to make it ‘cost less’ and not what the programmes are there for in the first place.
If you take advantage of OSCAR school holiday programmes and out of school care providers, I urge you to talk to them to find out what will be happening in your area. The deadline for feedback is 15 February 2013. You might even want to consider writing to the Ministry of Social Development.
I have already given them my feedback.