Katherine Isolated Children's Service is calling on the Federal Government to show more commitment to funding early childhood programs in remote NT, as they scrape just enough cash together to deliver their service.
KICS deliver playgroups and parent support sessions to families with children aged up to 12 at more than 50 locations in remote Northern Territory including Elliott, Bulman, Lajamanu and Ngukurr.
KICS coordinator Amanda Tootell said governments know remote children are socially and geographically isolated, but make it difficult for services who work with remote children to apply for funds.
"The government talks about investment in their early years, both Northern Territory and Australian Government," she said.
"The Australian Early Development Census continues to show remote children are developmentally vulnerable.
"[We want them to] just basically put their money where their mouth is."
She said rule changes made by the Federal Government have altered what KICS is allowed to spend grants on, and has left them searching for alternative sources of money to replace one of their cars, a crucial part of their service delivery.
"We cannot apply for money for vehicles, it's just not in the scope of the grant scheme," Ms Tootell said.
"We've had five different departments and ten different funding managers so there's a fair bit of change constantly."
The grant scheme KICS typically relies on is managed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the National Indigenous Australians Agency.
But now, KICS has had to source a number of alternatives: $130,000 of NT Government grants, $20,000 donated by Bulloo River Station, a recent $10,000 grant from the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal and $20,000 saved by KICS via underspending on their annual budget.
An NIAA spokesman told the Katherine Times KICS can apply to spend their funding on assets worth more than $5000 by submitting a business case to their contract manager.
"In accordance with the grant funding agreement, funded service providers seeking to purchase assets over $5000 with grant funding are required to seek permission from the NIAA to do so," the spokesman said.
"A request with an appropriate business case should be made through their NIAA contract manager."
However Ms Tootell said KICS' operational funding from NIAA is too small to spend some of it on a new car
"They haven't given us the money for that," she said.
"Our money is spent on wages, fuel, maintenance and a small percentage on admin costs.
"They told me there was no scope within the funding scheme for capital purchases."
Ms Tootell said she's been asking for an opportunity to apply for another grant for the car for nearly three years.
The money needed if for buying a new car and fitting it with the equipment required to host playgroups in remote parts of the NT.
Ms Tootell said without the right car and equipment, KICS can't operate because their four staff, who make up the playgroup teams, can't travel safely.
"Our service travels to the most remote families in Australia... to give them an early learning opportunity, [so] the safety of our staff is very important," she said.
"That includes travelling on remote roads and camping in remote locations... it's important they can do their job safely."
KICS playgroups are hosted by teams of two, and work on early development of creativity, literacy, numeracy and fine motor skills.
All the equipment is stored in Katherine and transported in KICS cars and trailers.
"Our field teams have two educators... when we advertise for the positions one must have early childhood experience and the other person must have a fair bit of remote mechanical knowledge," Ms Tootell said.
"We have a play based learning philosophy... because we find that play based learning is enjoyed by the kids."
Each playgroup is designed to be specific to where it is being held, based on the number of children and their various needs.
Ms Tootell said KICS also help parents and other child mentors with support services which can't be accessed in remote parts of the NT.
"We're also there as a support service for parents and we invite not only children but their parents, carers... teachers, other service providers to come along to playgroup and participate."
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