New Stella Bella Children's Centre provides day care for seriously ill children in Canberra
Source : ABC News -> By Louise Maher
Mia is 18 months old and likes eating cake and playing with toys.
But serious illness has prevented her from mixing with other children in a mainstream childcare centre.
“Every time we’ve approached one we’ve been told they can’t accommodate her or they just flat out don’t reply,” her mum, Liz Walker, said.
“So this place is awesome.”
The Stella Bella Children’s Centre is the first in Canberra to provide places for seriously ill children aged five and under.
It was the long-term dream of Suzanne Tunks, who started the Stella Bella Little Stars Foundation in memory of her baby daughter Stella who died in 2010 from a rare heart condition.
The new centre, made possible through corporate fundraising and volunteer support, is housed in a former daycare building in Fyshwick.
One section will accommodate up to 30 children in mainstream care.
Their fees will help fund up to 15 children in the Galahs unit, named after baby Stella’s totem animal.
“We don’t want the children to feel like they’re in a special care unit,” Ms Tunks said.
“When they’re here they’re just everyday children and we just subtly have all these other special things in place to take extra good care of them.
“We’ll all be involved in the gardening and the chickens and the playground equipment … turning this into a real community centre.”
Flexibility for families
Ms Tunks said there would also be flexibility for families and financial help if required.
“All of the kids in the special care unit will be here in a means-tested capacity.
“So if they can’t afford to be paying the gap, we will be paying that for them.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of part-time and occasional care in the special care unit because these babies spend a lot of time in and out of hospital.”
Much-needed time out for parents
Casey Clever’s 10-month-old daughter Arcadia suffers from a genetic disorder and has to be fed through a tube. Ms Clever said the centre would give parents like her “a couple of hours to themselves to do things that they cannot do”.
“It’s really hard to have a shower when you’ve got a sick baby that you can’t leave alone,” she said.
Kimberly Lane’s one-year-old son Jack was born with a serious heart defect and spent the first seven months of his life in a hospital, mainly in intensive care.
Ms Lane said she wanted him to have the same opportunities his big brother enjoyed through mainstream child care.
“Jack … just wants to jump down and play with all the kids and I hate that he can’t do that,” she said.
Ms Tunks’ foundation already runs the Little Stars Beads program which rewards the courage of sick children with a lasting memento of their medical journey.
But the centre is her biggest achievement to date.
“I’m not just someone thinking I know what works well with these families — I lived it.
“I love the idea of coming to work every day here, doing the work of our foundation, supporting all of these families outside as well.
“Doing that in an environment full of beautiful little children being happy and enjoying all the things we’ve put in place for them, it’s like a dream come true for me.”