Care evolves to meet new needs

Marlene Henry oversees early childhood services at Liverpool City Council, writes Carolyn Rance.

Marlene Henry oversees early childhood services at Liverpool City Council, writes Carolyn Rance.

Local government offers a wide range of education, care and recreational services for children.

"It can include long day care, preschool, family day care, before and after school care, vacation programs and specialist early intervention services. Liverpool City Council has six long day care centres, a preschool service and an early intervention worker who works with our centres and with a lot of non-government organisations who provide early care and education in our community," says Marlene Henry, the council's senior co-ordinator early childhood services.

She believes forging links with other service providers helps ensure a broader range of local services and reduces risk of duplication: "We can refer to other services and we hope they refer to us so that people know we provide care for babies from six weeks of age, something that is extremely important to working families." During NSW Children's Week, which starts next Saturday, October 19, the council will hold

an event at Bigge Park that emphasises the importance of play in children's lives.

With increased urbanisation and technology, children spend more time indoors than previous generations and Henry says giving children opportunities for fun and new experiences is important.

"Things have changed dramatically and at our centres we try to make sure there are different aspects of play, from mud kitchens to dress-ups."

Meeting the needs of children with additional needs is another vital part of service provision.

"Making sure we identify any issues in their social, cognitive or physical development is important and we need to make sure all children have opportunities."

Henry has a background in policy and research. After completing a social science degree, she worked in research roles in the not for profit sector, moving into local government in 2000, to work on multicultural and indigenous services at Fairfield City Council. Five years later she joined the staff at Liverpool as social planner.

"The council wanted a review and new framework for its social plan - it covered all the services to the community and looked at issues

and priorities."

She undertook secondments as grants co-ordinator in the council's finance department and with Liverpool's media and communications team to implement a community engagement toolkit before becoming co-ordinator of the council's community development team. She moved into her current role 3½ years ago.

Henry says continuing to study and participating in the LGMA-NSW mentor program has helped her build leadership and management skills and she describes local government as an ideal sector to build a career.

"You can use your skills and experience in different contexts ... my current position has a balance of service, human resources and financial management and business - exactly the kind of management I was enjoying in the co-ordinator role but with a very different perspective. I've been lucky to have managers who have encouraged me to spread my wings and grow."

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