School holidays - where to go, what to do

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What's on offer?
From horse-riding and dancing to kayaking, paintball and patting lion cubs, Tauranga holiday programmes offer a variety of activities for children this Easter.

There are more than 60 Out of School Care and Recreation (Oscar) providers in Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty, although not all run holiday programmes.

There are also a number of non-Oscar approved programmes but unlike Oscar programmes they do not receive funding from the Ministry of Social Development, and as such Work and Income subsidies are not available.

How much does it cost?
The average daily cost of a holiday programme hovers around the $40 mark, but specialist programmes and those that include off-site activities can be as much as $70, while at the other end of the scale the cheapest is just $18.

At the top end, Waimarino Education Trust has a day at Agroventures Adventure Park in Rotorua on its senior programme for $70. However, it also has supervised park days for $39.30.

Its programme runs 10 hours a day.

"It's a more adventurous, outdoorsey programme," says Waimarino OSCAR manager Gareth Thomas.

"We don't get a lot of arts and craft sort of kids. It doesn't suit kids that want to sit by mum and not do anything.

"It's for kids wanting to give it a go."

One of the more specialised holiday programmes is Tauranga Riding for the Disabled's "Own Your Own Pony" which costs $60 a day.

The programme, which can take up to 12 children, runs between 9am and 3pm and gives children aged from 7 the chance to learn about riding and pony care.

For aspiring dancers, Rhythmz Dance Co runs a dance-based holiday programme at Otumoetai School for $40 a day, or $160 a week.

Children can try a range of dance and drama styles from hip hop to cheerleading, as well as other activities such as crafts, cooking and games.

YMCA Tauranga runs programmes at two venues - Tauranga Boys' College and Mount Maunganui Intermediate - between 8.30am and 4.30pm, with before and after-care available at an additional cost.

The programmes range in cost from $38 to $45.

Y-Kids co-ordinator Vicky Douglas says the programme, like many, doesn't make a profit.

"Employees in this industry are paid minimum wages. You do it because you love children and that's why you stay," she says.

Bay Leisure and Events Ltd runs holiday programmes for $38 a day, at four locations - Queen Elizabeth Youth Centre, Papamoa Community Centre, Arataki Community Centre and Mount Sports Centre.

"There are those that fall into that bracket and miss out ... they don't take into account that many families now are blended and that these parents may be paying child support to previous spouses. They don't take these things into consideration at all," says Douglas.
- Vicky Douglas

Sports programmes are also held at ASB Baypark Arena.

"There are lots of different options for kids, to get them out doing physical stuff. They sit inside all day during the school term," says programmes manager Robyn King.

The cheapest holiday programme in the Tauranga area is run by St Andrew's Church at Mount Maunganui.

The Rockit Blast Holiday Programme costs just $18 a day, however it is not OSCAR approved, so a subsidy is not available.

Co-ordinator Peter Ronalds, a primary school teacher, says the church aims to provide an affordable, dynamic programme for those who miss out on financial assistance. The programme includes games, crafts, sports and movies on-site, as well as trips to a local park.

While not OSCAR-approved, it meets all the same health and safety criteria, he says.
"We jump through all the normal hoops because we want to make sure we dot our Is and cross our Ts."

Most of the programme is based at the church, to keep costs down.

"General feedback from parents is they don't want to pay for things over and above," says Ronalds.

What financial assistance is available?
If you earn up to $93,600 you may be eligible for a Work and Income subsidy, depending on how many children you have.

A Ministry of Social Development spokesperson says rates are set as part of a 2010 amendment to the Social Security (Childcare Assistance) Regulations 2004 and are subject to an annual general adjustment based on the consumer price index or inflation.

To receive the subsidy, children must attend an OSCAR-approved service.

Who misses out?
While the subsidy ceiling of more than $90,000 might seem high, middle-income families say they are missing out.

Omokoroa mother Rebecca Ruscoe, who has two boys, aged 12 and 7, received a Winz subsidy when she was a solo parent, but now that she is living with her partner she gets nothing.

"If I put them in five days a week, at $90 a day, I am pretty much working for free," says the property manager.

"There are people who, after tax, don't make $90 a day. Who earns enough to pay $450 a week over 12 weeks?"

Ruscoe says the subsidy criteria needs to change.

"It should go on the lower income [in the household] ... and it should be based on the amount of people in the family, not just the number of kids you've got ... it could be a bit fairer to help people who work," she says.

She and her partner, a truck driver, live in a small house and don't live an extravagant lifestyle, she says.

"We aren't rich, we earn too much."

She now relies on family for childcare.

"Eight hundred dollars a fortnight doesn't seem fair. I'm working 40 hours and my husband is working 45 hours trying to get ahead, but we're getting slammed with all these things. It's all back to front. There are lots of people in the same boat."
Krystal Clarke

"If we didn't have family members to support us I would be better to not work or to work part-time."

Bethlehem mother of two, Krystal Clarke, an assistant manager of a kindergarten, says things are a lot tougher now her youngest is 5 and is no longer eligible for 20 hours a week free care.

"I find it really difficult," she says.

"Eight hundred dollars a fortnight doesn't seem fair. I'm working 40 hours and my husband is working 45 hours trying to get ahead, but we're getting slammed with all these things. It's all back to front. There are lots of people in the same boat."

It costs her a week's wages to send their two children to a holiday programme for two weeks.

"I put the money aside for that but I never have the full $800 ready to go."

Clarke says while she understands the subsidy is income tested, there are people in the middle who should still get something.

"I wouldn't say we can't afford it but it's a ludicrous amount of money," she says.

"I know a lot of people could really do with the support. I'm getting at the system. Maybe it's something that needs to be looked at, at the Beehive?"

YMCA Tauranga Y-Kids co-ordinator Vicky Douglas agrees.

"There are those that fall into that bracket and miss out ... they don't take into account that many families now are blended and that these parents may be paying child support to previous spouses. They don't take these things into consideration at all," says Douglas.

"The criteria should definitely change. It should be more flexible ... based on your individual needs."

Some parents end up working longer and earning less, she says.

"There is no incentive to get out of a rut."

What to look for in a holiday programme?
John Kennedy, manager of the Out of School Care Network in Auckland, says choosing an Oscar-approved holiday programme is a good start.

"If it's approved, you know it meets health and safety and staffing requirements," he says.

"And most families want to tap into the fee subsidy, especially parents with two to three kids."

However, this doesn't mean that other non-approved programmes aren't safe, he adds.

Chances are you won't get a chance to visit a programme in action before signing your children up, but you should take the time to observe the environment at pick-up.

"Are staff interacting? Do the kids look happy and settled? Can you see who the staff are? You are after a happy chaos," he says.

"You need to be comfortable ... in the end parents really need to trust the services."

Holiday programme operators work hard to be affordable, especially those running 10 hours a day, says Kennedy.

"It's very tight and I know it's a constant struggle. I have huge respect for holiday programmes because of the long hours.

"There are a lot of good operators in Tauranga - very energetic and they collaborate a lot."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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