Childcare Merlijn would close in January, partly because the infrastructure is outdated. The planned deadline has now been accelerated due to the city’s insufficient suitable staff. Twelve of the plans are on sick leave and cannot be properly replaced.
The news of Merlin’s quick shutdown has hit hard. The alternative reception location in Antwerp-North, two kilometers away, is by no means a good solution for everyone. Karmen Resman has reserved her spot in Merlin in September 2020. She was just pregnant. The now five-month-old Nina would start in the nursery on November 2.
“After our visit to Merlin we had a very good feeling”, says Karmen. “Merlijn is a small-scale shelter, there is a quiet, family atmosphere. Nina was supposed to ‘try’ for a day next week, now we suddenly have no shelter. De Deugniet is not an option because it is too large and a bad location in combination with our work. The plan was to close Merlin in January? If we had known, we would have been looking for another small-scale childcare place or for a childminder. The fact that Merlin closes on November 2 is not done. It causes us a lot of stress. Nina is our first child, it’s so hard to leave her.”
Sanne Dupont, whose son of one and a half is taken care of in Merlin, is shocked. “This is really the last straw. Merlijn has been closed eight times since corona, recently for a week and a half. And since September the opening hours have been shortened. Also due to staff shortage. Although we are super enthusiasts about Merlin and the childcare providers, we are all competent people. The city clearly opts for an increase in scale, but we want authenticity for our children, and you will only find that in small-scale ones. We are a passenger for De Deugniet, a baby factory with more than 100 children. This discourages young families from continuing to live in the city.”
For Charlotte Deckers, the Devil does offer a solution. “I wouldn’t do it just because Pim can go to kindergarten in two months. You choose shelter in the area, preferably within walking distance so that you do not have to cycle through the busy traffic. The city puts our backs against the wall, we are deeply disappointed.” Joris Baeten dies in a few months would bring his second child to Merlin, is angry. “I have a cargo bike, so I can get to Antwerp-North, but that doesn’t apply to everyone. This is especially bad for the more vulnerable.”
District chairman Marij Preneel (Green) is outraged by the sudden closure. “You can’t do this to the parents. And why not an alternative nearby, in Borgerhout? You see something like this coming and must be planned in due course.”
“The safety of the children comes first”
“We fully understand the disappointment of parents and staff, we do everything we can to find a tailor-made solution. But the safety of the children and the staff is a priority for us,” said Alderman of Childcare Nabilla Aït Daoud (N-VA).
The closure of Merlijn and later Calimero in Borgerhout is part of the decision of an audit report from 2014. In the final analysis, eighteen reception centers have already been closed. “We are focusing on greater efficiency and effectiveness by closing smaller installation locations, often buildings, and transferring the places to new-build locations. We follow the Flemish trends towards larger childcare locations, where children are even cared for in very intimate living groups. The other reception locations with 36 or fewer places will also be closed. This way we can transport the safety of the staff and the children.”
The sudden and accelerated closure of Merlin is a result of the acute shortage of staff in the childcare. “The search for employees and temporary workers is extremely difficult. We can’t just hire just anyone. That also has to do with safety. Children and parents have the right to family reunification. We have carried out selection and found new candidates. The search continues. The workload in the sector is enormous. We ask the Flemish government to apply the accompanying person-child ratio of an accompanying person for eight children. In this way, absenteeism due to illness can be tackled and the profession can be made more attractive.”