Thursday, February 28, 2008

~ eddie groves’ evil empire

For some time now - probably since I became a father - I’ve been tracking the fortunes of baby-faced, sports-car-driving Eddie Groves, the ‘high profile’ unconscionable bastard who prides himself, with his wife Le Neve, on making millions out of early child care with his company ABC Learning.

Now it looks like his evil empire is turning to shit. It seems the hedge funds, sensing his vulnerability to the current debt crisis, have invoked various arcane stock market mechanisms to bring him down. The sharks are eating the sharks.

In the beginning, Eddie must have scanned the business horizon, looking for a place to stake his claim. He chose to make his millions out of early childhood development, not pausing to consider that it might be inappropriate, that there might be just a few ethical considerations to take into account, that it might make him a vulture …

The image of Mr Burns taking candy from Maggie Simpson comes to mind. What caring person would deliberately set out to become a child care mogul? And if he’s suspect in this way, I doubt not, with the current crisis, that it will be too long before more putrescence comes to light. Already the spectre of HIH has been evoked.

My daughter Polly spent two years at Brandon Park child care centre. It was a terrific place, community owned and run, but I was left with the distinct impression that money was always tight. This is what makes me wonder what Eddie Groves is doing to extract his profits.

Rumours abound and none of them are good. Brandon Park had its own cook and food was prepared on the premises, but at ABC, it is said, canned or frozen foods are used and children are allowed two slices of bread, but never a third.

They try too hard to make it look like this big colourful, educational centre but lack in the caring, friendly personalities they should have.’

Some parents who send their children there think they’re great, but you will never come across a former staff member who would agree. Perhaps because one of the worst things about them is that staff are consistently instructed to lie and hide things from parents.

There’s too much emphasis on making things look good for the parents; they seem to have lost track of the fact that they are there to provide high quality care to the children. It’s all about keeping the parents happy; what they don't see won't hurt them.

I know one woman who took a demotion from Director of an ABC to Group Leader of a not-for-profit centre just to get away from the stress of constantly lying and covering up to both parents and certification authorities.

'I'm an early childhood teacher and have worked in a number of ABC centres and I would never ever send my child there … I have seen babies left crying on the floor or in the cots screaming when they obviously are not ready for bed.

The horrors stories abound. I don’t have room for them all.

As independent centre operator Patricia Wilschefski has said the biggest difference between her centre and ABC's is the personal attention. At Brandon Park, parents were at the helm, involved in board activities, money raising, working bees. At ABC Learning, because it is a listed company, the shareholders are the priority - not the parents, not the teachers, not the needs of the children.

Then there is the Sunshine incident. A child escaped an ABC centre and the company was fined $200. ABC challenged the decision, attempting to set a precedent that it was the worker not the corporation who was responsible. If they had succeeded, this would have allowed them to get off the hook virtually no matter what happened in one of their centres.

All the money, none of the responsibility. That’s the ticket. That’s where they come from.

In 2006, as part of their aggressive expansion, they attempted to buy out independent Sydney centre Moore Park Gardens. The parents waged war against a behemoth that sometimes pays as three times the market price to put its competition out of business.

Director Alice Voigt said she “was worried about the potential impact on staff and children’. A centre she worked at two years ago in inner Sydney changed dramatically after it was bought by ABC. ‘The effects on the staff and the children were quite severe,’ she said. ‘I would feel extremely threatened that our staff numbers would be reduced. I just don't believe in what ABC child-care is about, which is making money."

One parent at Moore Park Garden was quoted as saying "If ABC was actually committed to child-care they would not be operating on minimum staff ratios.” A parent from a different region writes, ’ABC built 3 centres all within a 5 min radius of my home this year. In the process they also bought my son’s centre and 2 others and shut them down in matter of weeks with no respect at all for the parents or children.

I wonder how we would react if a greedy business started taking over primary schools and making them uniformly compliant to their business formula? Not positively, I suspect. Well, guess what? In 2006 ABC established up a satellite company called ‘Independent Colleges Australia’ and began taking enrolments for its first Primary school in Narre Warren. In Caroline Springs - one of the desolate McMansion parks on the outer fringes of Melbourne - property developer Delphin allocated land to ICA ahead of a proposed Catholic school. More schools have followed, most in similar suburbs. ICA claims to be not-for-profit and independent of ABC, but no one believes them.

Basically, it appalls me that anyone could see a profit to be made out of children at such a delicate and crucial stage of their development. To apply brutal unforgiving business models to child-care is capitalism at its ugliest, and if Eddie Groves is about to go to the wall, then I, for one, am mightily pleased.

~ an exercise in physiognomy
~ more pernicious mischief from eddie 'the milkman' groves
~ the sweet death knell of ABC Learning

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Bwca said...

I've been told that it costs $150 per day and that if your child is sick and doesn't attend, that you still have to pay the fee.
Maybe the finance problems were brought on by bad karma from all the gypped parents.
Does anybody remember the brilliant Grass Roots series on ABC-TV had a plotline about the council child care being taken over by the heartless mega-corp?

Sam Sejavka said...

actually, i think I remember that, vaguely. even at Polly's creche we had to pay if she didn't attend. I was up in arms for a little while - claiming it's illegal to charge for goods and services not rendered - but, given how good [and poor] the creche was generally, I quietened down. They even had something in place for povos like us, which didn't involve offering loans [like ABC]

dysthymiac said...

Thanks for compelling me to research the Grass Roots plotline.
What a great show it was.

Episode 2.09 May 14, 2003
Written by Michael Brindley
Directed by Peter Andrikidis

Col tries to win points with Karin by showing her a piece of land owned by Council which would be perfect for an art gallery. He fails. Karin is only going to be impressed with action. Col goes straight to see Greg to start some action, but Greg tells him that the Department of Local Government investigator, Joe Ventimiglia, is about to return to complete his inquiry into the performance of Arcadia Waters Council.

George warns Col that a DA submitted by a friend of Karin's is for a site adjoining Col's own house, and it's a hostel for Down's Syndrome adults. Later, Col asks Victor, in confidence, for his professional real estate agent's opinion of the effect of a Down's Syndrome hostel on his property values. Victor points to the floor.
A rumour that the investigator is only junior grade has Liz worried that he won't find anything. She'd really like him to discover the shady deal done by Greg with the blonde and sexy Marilyn Hennessy from the private childcare company.

The fictitious Greg/Marilyn scenario being relived for real in the media coverage of the sleazy property developer (is there any other kind?) and that poor woman he manipulated for rezoning - and yes, "we have never heard it called that before"

I do feel for the parents who left children at any ABC centre today. They must not feel secure at all.

Sam Sejavka said...

You know, something very similar happened in my street once. The Council wanted to build a half-way house for mentally disabled people on this bit of land that had been deeded them by a resident.

Scared for their property values, the street mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge. I was against it too because the woman who donated it did so on the understanding it would stay a park. [It was an easement, or something & couldn't be built on]. She was claustrophobic and needed her house to look out on parkland, so when the case was defeated, she had to move. True story. She was Mrs French. The street is French St. Her family were the original owners.

Jade said...

God! I had no idea this stuff was going on. Shocking.