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Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:50): It is a pleasure to participate in this debate. I enjoy hearing everybody's reports from around their electorates at this part of the day. I want to take the opportunity in the adjournment debate today to fulfil a promise to some people in my electorate whom I visited last week. They are a group of parents who presented an online petition and a written petition to me and the state member. There are over 700 signatures here, so I undertook to them to report to the House and to pass on to the new Minister for Social Services the concerns that they asked me and the state member to come and hear.
In particular, this relates to the fact that the organisation called Big Fat Smile, which was formerly Illawarra Children's Services, have been operating a Communities for Children program since 2008. These are programs that go into more disadvantaged communities and operate to get young children the opportunities they need to make sure they are well prepared for school. In July last year, the Department of Social Services opened its grant funding for the Families and Communities Program, amongst other programs. Under that, Big Fat Smile applied for a grant to continue operating their Communities for Children program in the two postcodes of disadvantage that they had been working in for the previous six years—that is, 2502 and 2518. Late last year, sadly, they were notified that they were no longer going to receive funding and the services would have to close. This caused a great deal of anxiety and prompted the parents to get together to start the petition to save the playgroup. It was pleasing to see that early this month the government decided to extend funding, but my concern for them, and their concern, is that it has only been extended for six months, until the end of June this year. So I am taking up the call for them to the minister to recognise how significant and important this program is and to extend the funding for a much more sustainable period of time than that six months.
Local mums Amanda Allen and Kristy-Lee Hammond were the two who decided to get active when they were concerned about the loss of this program, and I commend them for their actions. Really it was quite extraordinary that in such a short period of time they were able to get over 700 signatures on the petition. But what was encouraging is that, as I am sure many of us who have communities of disadvantage in our seats know, something they are very good at is coming together and supporting each other when they know something is important for their kids. That is exactly what happened here.
Mrs Hammond has three children who have participated in programs at the centre. It runs out of the Bellambi Neighbourhood Centre, a fantastic local community board run service. She said to local media who attended on the day:
Being involved over a long period of time, I know how valuable it is on so many levels … It breaks down barriers between different people in the community, from a mum whose husband works all the time to a single mum who might not have any support, it bridges gaps in that relationship between parents.
These parents are participating in learn-to-swim classes for their kids and in support sessions and information sessions for parents, and all sorts of wraparound services are part of the playgroup. Christine Spackman, who is the acting manager of the Bellambi Neighbourhood Centre—a fabulous lady too—said the benefit of the playgroup was priceless. In her view it was 'impossible to cost the loss' of the playgroup, because of its significant impacts on the generation of children coming up. The possible closure of the after-school drop-in centre that the neighbourhood centre runs, which would also result, was of great concern in an area of disadvantage.
I think it was probably most well captured with the WIN TV interview with Ryder. Ryder is four years old. He is very happy chasing bubbles and talking to other kids. The journalist said to him, 'Why do you like it here?' I will quote his words directly: he said, 'Because it's really cool here and because some people want to take it.' He was very upset about that. So, on behalf of Ryder and those fabulous parents who got together, I will be writing to the minister, just letting him know how important this is to the community and asking him to have a look at the possible options to give them some more sustainable funding over the longer term.