Parents are in dismay at the sudden decision to close all out of school care (OOSC) in Aberdeenshire.
Aberdeenshire Council agreed to withdraw the service at today’s meeting of the education committee.
This means that the region’s eight facilities – looking after 349 children – will shut on July 6, leaving parents scrambling for alternatives.
The clubs are operated in Ellon, Westhill, Banchory, Balmedie, Pitmedden, Mintlaw, Portlethen and Inverbervie.
No guaranteed alternative has been found but the council is carrying out discussions with private, voluntary and independent providers.
The local authority said the service has been operating at a loss, and that the council can’t afford to run it as the money can no longer be found to cover costs.
Closure of Aberdeenshire out of school care has ‘pulled the rug out from under our feet’, say parents
Banchory mum-of-three Kirstine Duthie slammed the local authority, saying they had left hundreds of parents “not knowing what to do or where to turn.”
She called it an “abhorrent decision”, and labelled the lack of wider public consultation “despicable and deplorable behaviour”.
Kirstine has used the after-school club at Banchory for nine years, with her youngest still reliant on the facility, which looks after kids from Banchory Primary and Hill of Banchory School.
Around 120 Banchory parents have joined a WhatsApp group, both those currently using the service and those due to in future years or who were on the waiting list.
Similar groups have been set up in places like Ellon, Mintlaw and Westhill.
“It’s an abhorrent decision by the council,” said Kirstine.
“Very disappointing to sit and listen to what the councillors were saying about the service.
“They’re basically saying that the service was running at a loss. Well I’m sorry, if the service is running at a loss then it’s due to mismanagement.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous, they’ve just completely pulled the rug out from under our feet.
“Where do we magic up eight childminders for the 60 children who currently use the service?”
Families reliant on Aberdeenshire out of school care service now ‘panicking’
Such is the demand, many parents have moved house solely to have access to out of school care. Kirstine is one of them.
“People have moved here, and to other areas of Aberdeenshire, because of the out of school provision. It’s the reason I moved to Banchory. And now it’s been completely taken away.
“What are all these parents supposed to do? It’s mind-boggling, it really is. There are a lot of anxious parents out there now who just don’t know what to do or where to turn. They’re panicking.
“The Scottish Government wants to address the gender pay gap. How are we doing that when this basically puts a block on a lot of parents being able to work?
“What jobs are there out there where parents can work from 10am to 2.30pm? Who can afford that?”
‘My childcare provision is now completely gone…I can’t afford to not work’
Kirstine calls herself one of the lucky ones, in that she works from home. But the OOSC closures are still going to have a “massive impact” on her and her family, as she explains.
“I have quite a stressful job, and I’m not supposed to have my children around me and be doing childcare while I’m working.
“So I’ve had my child at after-school club until 5.30pm when my partner finishes his work and goes and picks him up.
“This will have a massive impact for me because I’ve now got to either go to my employer and ask for a change to my contract, or ask them to be very flexible and let me change my working habits.
“Another big impact is on school holidays. My childcare provision is now completely gone and that’s 12 weeks’ holiday plus in-service days I need to somehow cover.
“I don’t have family who can help out. I don’t live in the 1960s where we all live on the same street. We don’t have parents around, we don’t have grandparents.
“So it all relies on myself, and I’m the breadwinner in my family. I can’t afford to not work.
“And I don’t want to not work, because I want to teach my children that you go out and you earn a living, you work.
“What does that tell my children if I’m sat at home doing absolutely nothing all day because I can’t work anymore? I don’t want that, I want my children to see me working, to see that this is what life is.”
‘They’ve blindsided everyone’
She added: “I was also a single mum when I had my daughter, and that after-school club was my only lifeline and the only reason I was able to work.
“I didn’t have a choice then, I had to keep a roof over my daughter’s head.
“Without that club I wouldn’t have known what to do. And that’s now the case for a lot of these parents – there’s single parents, there’s key workers.”
Being left to pick up the pieces and manage a family without out of school care is one thing.
But it is the lack of public consultation which has left a particularly bad taste in the mouth for parents.
Kirstine continued: “They’ve blindsided everyone. It was a done deal.
“Even the staff members were completely unaware of this until it was on the BBC a few days ago that the council were proposing scrapping it.
“It’s despicable and deplorable behaviour from the council.
“Instead of putting barriers on getting women back into the workplace and growing the Aberdeenshire economy, help them.
“This is not a ‘nice to have’ service, it’s a vital lifeline for this community and the whole of Aberdeenshire.”