Focus on Sonia South


Franchises come in all shapes and sizes, from fast food through lawnmowing to spectacles. McDonalds, Subway and Specsavers are well-known examples. New Zealand has over 450 franchised brands, one of the largest per capita of any country.
For some people, it’s a convenient way to become self-employed. When it was suggested I interview a recent winner of the Wespac New Zealand Franchisee of the year for Community Involvement, my response was less than enthusiastic. Well, said my correspondent, she’s an Otaki woman, and I think you might find her interesting. I approached the interview with caution….

The purchaser of a franchise will find themselves tied by rules that describe their product, what they should wear and how they should operate. They will pay a joining fee, and a royalty based on their success. There are some good franchises and quite a few bad ones. The subject of my interest was Sonia South, who has the master franchise for the sKids brand, which provides childcare services for primary school children. sKids stands for Safe Kids In Daily Supervision. There are 140 sKids franchises in NZ. Sonia’s first was at Raumati South in 2009 and now she operates six franchises in Levin, Otaki Paraparaumu and Raumati.

Better than mowing lawns I thought. Unconvinced, I contacted the headmaster of a Raumati primary school to get a professional view of the service. “Looking after kids is a hard business to be in, just like working in a rest home” was the reply. Opening up, our headmaster enthused about Sonia’s business skills, her excellent people skills and how much he enjoys working with her. So I took a bit of notice.

Franchise award winner Sonia South

Then I learned of the fire at Paraparaumu School. The following are Sonia’s words: “On the evening of Sunday the 10th August 2014 I began to get texts regarding a fire at Paraparaumu School, where we run both before and after-school care programmes. The junior school was gutted by fire. My immediate thoughts were for the school community the families that we usually care for and how this event would impact on their lives. On social media I could see that there was a lot of distress and anxiety for parents. I made a decision to provide free care services while the school was closed, not just to the families that we usually support but for the entire school community of 175 children. I opened another of our sites in close proximity to Paraparaumu School – sKids Kapiti at Kapiti School – where we have a dedicated classroom space. I put the offer of free care from 7 am to 6 pm each week day out on social media, I contacted local media to let them know what we were doing and made sure the school hierarchy were in the loop. I organised a full day roster to provide care and support to families that needed us. On the first day we had three families take up our offer with four children attending; by the second day we had 26. I knew with my experience that I could offer more to the children than just ordinary day to day care and supervision. I managed to secure the donation of a bus and a driver, and I knew that I could arrange an impromptu holiday programme full of fun and adventure to ensure that the children who needed support, distraction, or just the closeness of their peers and familiar faces could have this time out .I organised a free day out for the children for Wednesday the 13th of August which included a free bus, driver, trip to Junglerama, McDonalds lunch and a free afternoon session at LaserForce, all in Wellington. In all we had 58 children from Paraparaumu School join us on this adventure. Local businesses supported us. The children really enjoyed their time with us in the time they had off school, however when their school reopened on the 20th August they were also happy to get back to their normal routine. “

Good Samaritans don’t come much better, do they? This was the basis for Sonia South’s award from her professional body. So who’s Sonia South?

Sonia grew up in Taranaki, did a double degree at Massey in Palmerston North in Psychology and Social Work, then did the normal OE thing. Or did she? Not quite. Travelling by yourself through Africa isn’t quite the same as swigging Fosters with a bunch of bogans in Earls Court. After Africa, Sonia worked in England, and with a Social Work qualification was able to see a bit of the country. Back in NZ she worked in New Plymouth for two years getting acquainted with Kiwi social work and Youth justice. Then she was head-hunted to work in Christchurch. Along the way Sonia met partner Nathan, of ngati Raukawa descent. Nathan was involved in Environmental Science at Te Wananga o Raukawa, and when their second child was 18 months old, Sonia got bored of being a stay at home mum. In 2009 she bought a sKids franchise in Raumati South. There are now 140 sKids franchises throughout NZ. Four years and another child later Sonia owns the master franchise for Kapiti-Horowhenua and now has 6 sKids operations.Is that the end? Not quite! Sonia’s target is to open programmes where there is a need for quality childcare in her local communities and a lack of services to support families.

Sonia, sKids kids and staff whanau – combined: Otaki, Levin, Kapiti, Raumati. Holiday Fun October 2014, at Laserforce, Wellington

How does she do it? Easy really, if you have outstanding people skills and a good organisational brain. Child care means planning and organising. The sKids franchise provides the organisational structure and the methodology. All Sonia needs do is run the show, liaise with parents, schools, community groups, schedule everything and bring up a young family. Easy as.

So how does the Otaki operation work? Based at Hadfield Hall in Te Rauparaha street, her Otaki operation has two support staff to help Sonia. They’re mums who have hands-on child support skills and a demonstrated affinity with children. Most support staff bring their children with them. They manage 18 primary school age children, who come from all over Otaki. Sonia has a van and will pick them up from as far away as the plateau or down the gorge. They start at 7am, and after school they go until 6pm. If parents can’t pick their children up by 6, they have to text, and kids can stay till 6.30 pm by arrangement without charge.

What does it cost? Basically $4 per hour, which works out at $80 per week. Child Youth & Family offer a decent subsidies for families. A family with three dependents with an income of less than $1,540 / week would mean that the family only pays 40 cents per child per week, the state pays the other $79.60. The subsidy is under the OSCAR scheme (Out of School Care And Recreation Subsidy) In the school holidays sKids care runs from 7.30 in the morning until 6 at night, 5 days a week. This costs $200/week, with a ‘short day’ fee of $165 for 8.30 to 3.30, trip feesw are all inclusive in the price. The Otaki operation had 29 children last holidays, more are welcome, Sonia says the more the merrier.

Nothing seems a problem to this organised woman.