Centre sparks outrage - Parent claims service will put preschoolers at risk

CONCERNED parents are threatening to remove their children from a local preschool over fears the children could be exposed to violent sex offenders once the Tweed Juvenile Justice centre is relocated nearby.

The office, which was last month facing closure, is due to open at the Tweed Heads PCYC's Florence Street building next year, after% receiving a government reprieve.

The Daily News understands a PCYC-run preschool, after-school-care service and a kindy gym program are all based on site.

Tweed mum Christine Wiersma, whose four-year-old daughter currently attends the PCYC's community preschool, is outraged at the decision, fearing children will be placed at risk. Her youngest daughter is also enrolled to start at the preschool next year, but Ms Wiersma now intends to withdraw both children.

"Having this kind of service% located in the same building as a community preschool is a real %conflict of interest," she said.

Ms Wiersma, who only became aware of the relocation through% recent media reports, is angry that parents were not consulted prior to the decision. It is believed the Department of Juvenile Justice investigated a number of alternative sites, including the Family Centre at South Tweed and the DOCS offices, all of which were deemed unsuitable for the service.

The centre, which services young offenders on court supervision orders in Tweed Heads, %Mullumbimby, Murwillumbah and Byron Bay, came under threat after an apparent bureaucratic bungle resulted in an annual rent hike of $13,000.

In a move that sparked wide-%spread community outrage, the% department initially planned to% relocate office staff to Lismore.

A department spokesman said the service posed no risk to children.

"The safety and welfare of the community and Department of %Juvenile Justice staff is paramount. As such, all young people who are placed on supervised community orders are risk-assessed," the spokesman said.

"All young people found guilty of crimes of indecency or crimes of a sexual nature are also assessed by a specialist counsellor."

"If a concern is identified, a range of alternative measures are available, such as home visits." The spokesman said the department and the Tweed Heads PCYC had a long-standing history of working together, and many young offenders were already accessing existing services at the building without incident.

However, local youth workers expressed concerns the location of sex offenders in the vicinity of children could undermine rehabilitation efforts.

Shadow Justice Minister Greg Smith said while he was sympathetic to parents' concerns, retaining juvenile justice services in the Tweed remained a priority.

PCYC manager Mark Madden could not be contacted for comment.



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