Nursery school head laments unnecessary red tape
The owner of a new Hamilton nursery school says government regulations need to change to help more local business owners launch without incurring heavy debt.
When Ajale Williams started City Strivers at the Wesley Methodist Church on Church Street last year, she thought she would open in August 2021. Instead, because of health department rules, she did not open until January.
“I did not dream it would have taken so long for me to open,” Ms Williams said.
She said when you build a house, you first draw up plans and then submit them to planning for approval, but when opening a nursery school it is the opposite procedure, in terms of the Health Department.
“The Health Department told me I had to lease the place, set up the nursery, put everything in it, then they would come out and inspect it and say we cannot give you a licence because of A, B, C. It is a process.”
Ms Williams felt it would have made sense for her to submit plans first, and have the Health Department make recommendations based on that, especially since there was a nursery previously in the space.
Before she received approval she could not advertise for staff or students, or use her business name publicly, in any way.
Because she was paying rent during the process she spent $30,000 before she ever recruited a single student.
“And once the go ahead came through, then I had to get students and staff,” she said. “That took time. The system is built in such a way that it does not help you to get ahead. It actually keeps you back. You can quickly fall into debt with this structure.”
But the Health Department told The Royal Gazette they are satisfied that the current process for opening daycare centres is appropriate and provides best practice guidance to protect children’s safety and welfare.
A spokesman for the Health Department said it is preferable that a daycare have furnishings in place for a site visit, but not mandatory.
“The Department of Health child care regulation team works diligently to facilitate new applicants through phone calls, e-mails, and site visits,” the spokesman said. “Though it would not be appropriate to comment on individual applications, it should be noted that it would not be appropriate to approve a child car centre with no location. An inspection and site visit of the location proposed to be a childcare centre is essential to the approval process.”
Despite the challenges, Ms Williams is now operational with five staff members including herself, and 15 children ranging from three-months old to three years old.
Researching the market she found there was particular demand for baby care.
“A lot of parents have to go back to work when their babies are three months old,” Ms Williams said. “They are looking for someone suitable for their newborn baby.”
The pandemic has thrown up extra challenges. Many parents are still working from home for part of the week.
“Fifty to sixty per cent of our children are here three days a week,” she said.
To appeal to parents working long hours in the city her hours are between 7.30am and 6pm.
Despite the challenges she is loving her new business. City Strivers is the realisation of a long held dream for Ms Williams.
“I was the oldest of seven children and loved it,” she said. “And even in school when I went out on day release I always went to nursery schools. It has been something I have always wanted to do. I have always had a passion for children.”
She worked for other nurseries for a long time, but after the pandemic began she decided now was the time. Her own four children were no longer babies, ranging in age from 23 to 13.
“Going out on my own was really exciting, and a little nerve-racking,” she said.
She is determined to provide families with quality childcare.
“I wanted to make sure that when parents drop their kids off, they feel secure,” she said. “Opening up in the middle of a pandemic, this is the first time a lot of parents have released their children to someone else’s care.”
She can take up to 30 children.
“As the numbers grow we will bring in more staff,” she said.
She said business is starting to pick up as word gets out there about City Strivers.
“We are starting to get calls and e-mails,” she said.
Ms Williams said working with very young children is not a job that anyone can do.
“You have to be passionate about it,” she said. “It has to be something you really love to do and something you want to do. There is a lot of work involved. But at the end of the day, I like the challenge.“
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