30 June 2023

Cooma childcare centres full to overflowing

| Gail Eastaway
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Cooma childcare centres are over capacity.

Cooma childcare centres are at capacity and Cooma School for Early Learning is desperately seeking extra space. Photo: Gail Eastaway.

A lack of childcare places in Cooma is putting pressure on existing services and forcing at least one to search for additional space.

According to one centre operator, the problem has arisen due to the number of families who have relocated to Cooma due to their work on the Snowy 2.0 project, as well as a post-COVID baby boom.

Cooma has two preschools plus childcare and out-of-school centres, but they are at capacity with waiting lists also full.

One centre is actively seeking extra premises to accommodate the demand.

The Cooma School for Early Learning is an 81-place childcare centre.

It accepts children from six weeks of age up to five years.

It currently has 40 names on a waitlist while additional space is sourced.

Owner Angela Davis, who bought and reopened the centre four years ago, said the situation had been crazy.

“We have good staff, 25 in total but more places would mean new staff.”

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Commenting on the fee-free childcare courses now being advertised at TAFE, Angela said anyone doing those courses would also need hands-on experience before they would be fully competent in the workplace.

While she said her staff were great, there had been instances where new staff had not lasted the distance, for example, they went to lunch and did not return.

Angela has been in touch with Snowy Monaro Regional Council, Snowy Hydro, local business people and the Cooma Chamber of Commerce to help locate suitable premises, but so far has been unsuccessful.

With the centre’s range of childcare places, it could be feasible for the preschool cohort to be housed elsewhere, if that elsewhere was available.

Angela said the problem was likely to be only temporary, as as Snowy 2.0 work was completed, some of those workers might not remain in Cooma, but at present, the problem was quite acute.

“I get daily enquiries,” Angela said. “One person was prepared to travel for an hour and a half to access a place, but we couldn’t accommodate them.”

Angela will continue to search for extra space.

Both preschools in Cooma are facing similar problems, although they deal with a different age group, which doesn’t include babies.

Cooma North Preschool, established more than 60 years ago to accommodate children from the original Snowy Scheme, is also at capacity.

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This is despite building expansions which have increased capacity to 45 children per day.

A spokesperson said, “This has helped, but we still have a large waiting list. We don’t have the capacity to accept more.

“There is also a lack of early childhood educators locally.”

Cooma’s Lambie Street Preschool is in the same predicament.

Director and teacher Cathy Toohey said she had daily requests for placements but was unable to assist.

“Some people get quite upset, but without infrastructure, there’s a limit to what we can do.

The preschool has expansion work underway, but that is unlikely to be completed much before the end of the year.

This will give the preschool an extra 20 places.

Ms Toohey said another aspect of the situation was a cultural one, with some new residents to Cooma accustomed to children being in preschool from three years old. She said some parents felt their children would be left behind if they couldn’t enrol in preschool by that age.

She said under funding conditions, preschools were obliged to give priority to children in the year before they started school.

“(The shortage) is a big issue,” Ms Toohey said.

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