Regional | Whangarei

Whangārei Childcare Centre shuts its doors after 50 years in operation

Whangārei Childcare Centre is closing after 50 years of operation. Pictured here are senior teachers Ena Mahanga (left) and Karen Croasdale (right) with teacher Joe Mahanga. Photo / Brodie Stone NZME

After five decades in service, financial pressure, loss of qualified staff and dropping enrolment numbers has led to the closure of the Whangārei Childcare Centre.

Financial pressures faced by the early childhood sector were the nail in the coffin for the facility and on Friday it closed its doors for good, after operating for 50 years.

In the space of two weeks the decision was made to close the Northland centre, leaving whānau scrambling to find space at new childcare centres, and long-term staff devastated.

The community-based operation was run by a committee of current and previous parents and extended whānau, operating as a non-profit incorporated society.

Senior teacher Karen Croasdale, who has been working at the centre for 30 years, said things started to go downhill when the centre offered 30 hours free to all families.

This achieved an increase in enrolments, however the long-term ramifications were that parents only utilised the 30 hours.

The decision to retain highly qualified staff was also a contributing factor, but something she said could have been fixed with more government funding to support paying them.

Currently, government funding for full parity only covers 75 per cent of teacher salaries.

“The amount of funding was not enough to keep the place operational.”

Before things went south, the centre employed about eight qualified teachers on top of parent volunteers.

Senior teacher Ena Mahanga has been at the centre for 40 years and said the irony was that the ministry used to encourage centres to train their staff - and would pay them to do it.

Croasdale said in more recent years there has been more childcare centres opening around the area and it was becoming difficult to attract families to theirs.

Karen Croasdale, senior teacher at Whangārei Childcare Centre, is devastated at the closure, pictured here with Kepara Cook. Photo / Brodie Stone NZME

“If you don’t have the children, the funding is not sustainable for the staffing you actually have.

“The government just needs to be aware that the funding that is coming from the ministry is just not enough to sustain a childcare centre that has quality childcare.”

An emotional Croasdale said news the centre was closing has impacted parents and children “quite significantly”.

“They’ve had to take the time off to go and resettle their children [somewhere new]. And the children are actually struggling, they’re really confused.”

Whangārei Childcare Centre was one of 100 across the country striking for better pay and ratios last year. Photo / Michael Cunningham NZME

Mahanga said they have been trying to explain to the children during mealtimes but it was difficult for them to comprehend.

“[Whānau] have been quite devastated. They’ve wanted to bring their kids here until they went to school.”

For many there was no question where their children would attend daycare, she said, with many attendees third and fourth generation.

“We’ve had a remarkable 50 years with numerous children coming through the centre,” Croasdale said.

The closure of the centre follows last year’s efforts from staff to strike against unreasonable ratios and under-funding.

Even then, staff expressed concerns that it wasn’t sustainable to continue without funding qualified staff through pay parity.

Whāngarei Childcare Centre on Porowini Avenue. Photo / Michael Cunningham NZME

Isabel Evans, Ministry of Education leader for Northland, said the ministry received confirmation of the closure on May 7.

Evans understood the rationale for closure was due to a loss of qualified staff and a reduction in enrolments.

“The Ministry supported the centre with Strengthening Early Learning Opportunities (SELO) contracts from May – November 2023.

“This focused on governance and management, supporting both the governing committee and the leadership team.”

Evans said funding subsidies are tied to children’s enrolment and attendance, and differentiate in different ways, including the age of children, percentage of certified teachers and the level of pay parity the service has opted into.

Nikki Parsons, Te Rito Maioha general manager for learner and workforce engagement, said last year saw a record number of ECE services closing nationally, many of them community-based.

The reasons varied from increasing costs, red tape, teacher shortages and a broken funding system, she said.

“Centres are trying to do the right thing (by employing qualified teachers) but not being funded for that money.

“It’s a real dilemma for a lot of services because they want quality.”

She said with increased closures comes less choice for whānau as well.

“It’s devastating to hear these closures happening,” she said.

The Centre will be hosting a pot luck barbecue for all current and previous staff, families and associates to come together and celebrate the centre’s long history on Saturday, June 8 from 3pm. For further information please email

Brodie Stone is an education and general news reporter at the Advocate. Brodie has spent most of her life in Whangārei and is passionate about delving into issues that matter to Northlanders and beyond.

- NZ Herald