An audit by the ACT regulatory authority - Children's Education and Care Assurance - found an 82-place childcare centre in Deakin that closed suddenly on Thursday was not operating to the standards required.
Parents were informed by email on Thursday morning that the Deakin Early Education Centre, already temporarily closed, ostensibly for repairs, would not be re-opening and it would be surrendering its service approval on December 31.
A spokesperson for the ACT Education Directorate said officers from the regulatory authority conducted an audit of the centre on October 31.
"The service was found not to be operating to the standards required under the Educational and Care Services National Law and Regulations and an investigation was commenced," the spokesperson said.
"G8 voluntarily closed the service on 6 November 2019 to rectify the issues identified during the audit. The service was initially closed for two weeks, the closure was then extended to 2 December 2019. G8 contacted the regulatory authority to advise them of their decision to permanently close the service [on Thursday]."
The service was approved to provide education and care for 82 children, the spokesperson said.
"CECA will assist families to identify alternative services in the ACT. G8 has written to all families enrolled at the centre offering alternative places at G8 services," the spokesperson said
The centre, in Strickland Crescent, Deakin, is run by Queensland-based, publicly-listed company G8 Education. It cared for children aged from six weeks to six years.
"It just means 81 kids are looking for daycare places four weeks out from Christmas. It's extremely distressing," one mother said.
A spokesperson for G8 Education apologised for the closure.
"Deakin Early Learning Centre closed to undertake some construction works," they said.
"With the impending lease expiry, we made the difficult decision to permanently close the centre. We are and will continue to work directly with families to support them with alternate care arrangements at nearby centres, with a $50 daily fee discount offered until the end of the year.
"We understand the frustration of our families and we extend our sincere apologies."
The closure comes in the same week an alliance of childcare providers raised concerns there was an oversupply of centres in Canberra. Those concerns have been voiced for more than three years, an oversaturation of the market one of the reasons given for the closure of the Fyshwick Early Childhood Centre in 2016 after 25 years' of operation.
Thursday's email to parents appeared to be sent out by staff from the Deakin Early Education Centre. They apologised for the uncertainty families had been feeling for the last month and said they, too, were working with "limited information ourselves".
"With works continuing and the lease extension yet to be confirmed, we have made the difficult decision not to reopen the centre. In accordance with the Education and Care Services National Law Act we intend to surrender our service approval on Tuesday 31 December 2019," the email read.
Parents have been offered a place at one of the company's other childcare centres in Canberra, the nearest to Deakin being at Symonston but others as far away as Gungahlin and Gold Creek.
The centre closed for "repair works" almost four weeks ago. Parents were at that time given one day's notice, a mother said.
"We were first told they would be shut for a week and a half. On the Friday at 3pm before they were due to reopen they sent an email to say they'd be closed for a further two weeks. Now, on the Thursday before they are due to open, they have emailed to say they will be permanently closing," she said.
The mother said children at the Deakin centre had also been offered temporary places at the other centres during the so-called repair work.
She did not want to put her child in a centre she had "never stepped in" and had instead been relying on family to fill the breach or taking time off work.
The mother said the Deakin centre was one of the most expensive in Canberra, costing $141 a day. The centre had an in-house chef and offered "extracurricular activities" including a 10-week swim program, and Cantonese language lessons.
"They obviously haven't been putting the money into the maintenance of the building," the mother said.
She had since found a permanent place for her child at a not-for-profit childcare centre in Woden and would be having nothing more to do with G8 Education.
"I'll never trust them again," she said, adding she felt sorry for staff caught up in the closure.