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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 May 2005, 05:40 GMT 06:40 UK
School clubs crisis for parents
Children at one of the affected clubs
Children at one of the affected clubs, Just Kids, in Antrim
The threatened closure of about 40 after school clubs in Northern Ireland poses a crisis for low-income families, a children's agency has warned.

Without affordable childcare, hundreds of parents might have to give up work, PlayBoard said.

PlayBoard regional manager Jacqueline O'Loughlin said the future of the clubs was under threat because European Union funding had almost run out.

Ms O'Loughlin said the impact on families could be severe.

"We've made so much progress in helping low-income parents back into work and much of what has been achieved is going to be lost," she said.

"In other parts of the United Kingdom, the government provides funding for the out-of-school care sector."

"That funding has never been extended to Northern Ireland. Clubs have been forced to manage on short-term lottery and EU grants which are now coming to an end."

She said many of the clubs were in depived areas where working parents could not afford to pay for privately-run child care. Others are in rural areas where there are no other childcare providers.

Child poverty

Ms O'Loughlin said the government was "short sighted" in its approach.

"The Labour government claims tackling child poverty is one of its chief priorities and it sees the provision of affordable childcare as one of the key ways of achieving this," Ms O'Loughlin said.

"Northern Ireland has a higher rate of child poverty than other parts of the UK. So why doesn't the government provide money for affordable out of school care, just as it does elsewhere?"

One of the clubs affected is Just Kids in Antrim's Rathenraw estate. It provides affordable childcare for dozens of low income families.

Alison O'Neill, the club's manager, said many parents could be forced to return to a life on social security benefits.

"This cross community club has enabled many parents to return to work and, as a result, to lift their families out of poverty," she said.

Ms O'Neill added that the closure would be "devastating" for the Rathenraw estate.

Meanwhile, the Association of Northern Ireland Education and Library Boards has expressed what its "deep concern" about the funding of education.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the association said that when the new academic year begins in September, "severe cuts in budgets will be seen and felt by pupils, parents and teachers".

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