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Northern Children's Network

Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, I congratulate the member for Apsley on her return and the new member for Elwick. I also have to say of the previous member for Elwick what a wonderful member she was in the House.

Today I pay tribute to an organisation which has been supporting Tasmanian families for more than 40 years - the Northern Children's Network which originated from the Launceston Family Day Care Scheme.

The scheme's goal was to create flexible child care to help women return to the workforce after having children. Until this point child care was only available during business hours. The majority of jobs available to women in Launceston involved shift work at places like Coats Patons, local supermarkets and the Launceston General Hospital.

The service operated out of an office at the Trades Hall on the corner of Elizabeth and Wellington Streets in Launceston and covered the greater Launceston area. The office was staffed by coordinator Sheena Butler and several assistants. Sheena was a mother of five when she took up the post and had a personal experience of what it was like to have limited child care options. When the family lived at Ringarooma prior to moving to Launceston for the children's schooling, Sheena said she received wonderful help from a lady called Mattie Becker who cared for her children and coached the local football team. In those days, you simply had to ask for help from friends and other kind people. Sheena says her coordinator role saw her talk to local mums to identify their needs and to match them with a carer they felt comfortable to leave their children with, adding that the carers often became good friends with the mothers of the children they looked after.

Sheena says, 'I felt grateful to be part of it and having had the experience of being a country mum with no child care, I couldn't help but want to change things for other women in the country and in the towns'. After 15 years as coordinator of Launceston Family Day Care Scheme, Sheena retired to make way for new leadership - a role she said was hard to let go.

Sheena says she loved every minute of her job and it is clear the early years of that child care service helped to create something very special and important for Launceston. The Launceston Family Day Care Scheme would evolve and grow in the following years.

In November 2000 it would be known as Family Day Care Northern Tasmania to reflect the broadness of its reach. 2001 would see the commencement of in-home care across the north and long day care in Scottsdale. In January 2002, Family Day Care Northern Tasmania would buy the former St Giles Respite Centre in Amy Road, Newstead. The building was renovated and repurposed to operate a toy library, childcare playgroups, meeting rooms, administration and a venue for parent interviews.

In 2002 the child care service changed its name to Northern Children's Network. The business expanded to include after-school and vacation care. In 2005 a St Marys Child Care Centre also opened.

Steve Yates became NCN's chief executive officer in 2006 and the organisation set about achieving its goal to become a state leader in the delivery of child care services. Looking back on that time, Steve says NCN needed to expand and become more businesslike to ensure it remained viable into the future.

Federal government funding priorities were changing and his organisation needed to find new growth opportunities. That focus has clearly resulted in considerable expansion. In the past decade the service has become statewide, offering long day care centres in Bicheno, Beaconsfield, Flinders Island, Campbell Town, Mowbray, Queenstown, Scottsdale, St Marys and Triabunna. NCN offers after-school care at Amy Road, Newstead and Invermay Primary School, at most of their long day care centres and, as of this term, at Westbury Primary School.

NCN remains Tasmania's largest provider of family day care, employing 208 educators in the state's north and south. They have a further 32 educators providing in-home care. Northern Children's Network cares for 3800 children across Tasmania. Child care in 2016 is now the staple of many households and it has become particularly important in regional and rural areas where businesses can sometimes find it harder to attract workers.

King Island will become NCN's tenth long day care service from July this year. The organisation's visionary CEO and board complement their passionate, dedicated and hardworking educators and staff. At NCN's 40th Anniversary celebrations late last year, a 25-year service award was presented to educator Sheryl Faulkner.

Fellow long-term educators with similar long service who were also recognised, included Val and John Stephens, Penny Cameron, Pat Frankcombe, Grace Youd, Avis Davis, Denise James and Marlene Woodfield.

Steve Yates' top hope for the future is to ensure NCN is around in 40 years' time and that it remains as relevant as it is today. A second goal is to include more children with additional needs in a mainstream childcare setting in a way that meets their individual care needs.

I thank Northern Children's Network for providing outstanding child care services for 40 years. Our state has been enriched by their efforts to support families from all walks of life and I wish them continued success in the future.

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