The City of Canterbury Bankstown is the first council in Australia to formally offer free early childhood education and care to support local asylum seeker families.
The 12-month pilot program offers one place per day, and at no cost, at the Lakemba Children’s Centre, Punchbowl Children’s Centre and Carrington Occasional Care.
The landmark move comes after Mayor Khal Asfour and his fellow councillors unanimously endorsed the partnership between council, the Asylum Seekers Centre, and Sydney Alliance.
“We want to be known as a council that is collaborative and innovative but, for us, this project is also about reinforcing our status as a Refugee Welcome City with a big heart,” Mayor Asfour said.
“We were the first council to officially sign the Refugee Council of Australia’s Refugee Charter and now we are the first to implement free child care support for those who are among the most vulnerable in our community.”
Across the City, there are currently 78 children, aged under five, whose parents are clients of the Asylum Seekers Centre and, in NSW, the highest number of people seeking asylum live in Lakemba.
“It is vitally important children attend these early childhood services to develop their skills, including learning English, and to give them a good start to succeed in life,” Mayor Asfour said.
“It’s equally significant parents have this time to improve their own English skills, find work to support their families, and attend legal and medical appointments if required.”
Mayor Asfour said the new program will not prevent local families from securing a place at council’s children’s centres.
“Asylum seeker families have no access to mainstream Government services, such as access to the Child Care Subsidy, therefore cannot afford fees for early childhood education and care.
“In order to alleviate this crippling financial burden, our council has chosen to subsidise this and invest in the future of our new young residents, who could very well develop into our city’s future leaders.”