Parents forced to leave town or quit their jobs
Frustrated parents in Weipa are hoping that a survey could lead to a solution for the town’s growing child care issues.
Catholic Early Learning and Care last week posted an online survey, asking parents in the Weipa area to answer seven questions relating to their child care needs.
With more than 100 children on a waiting list for care in Weipa, the interest from Catholic Early Learning and Care has been welcomed by parents who have been unable to return to work as a result of the shortage of places.
Sophie Bradley is a nurse at Weipa Hospital and will soon pack up and move back to Atherton with her fiance Pat Fitzgerald because they can’t get child care for their daughter Evelyn.
“I fell pregnant last year and I put us on the waiting list really early, before work even knew,” Ms Bradley said.
“Right now, we are still 12 to 18 months away from getting child care. I know of three other nurses who have been in the same situation and have left town as a result.”
Ms Bradley said she loved the Weipa lifestyle and hoped that something would be done to fix what is becoming a major issue.
“I don’t see the situation getting much better. No one seems to want to do something,” she said.
“I rang up a child care operator in the Tablelands and I was able to get a spot immediately.”
She welcomed the survey and the potential interest of a third-party child care operator, but said it would likely be too late for dozens of parents waiting for care.
Kay Reyes, the executive director of Catholic Early Learning and Care, said while nothing was locked in, there was definite interest in providing child care in a growing community like Weipa.
“The survey will be open until next month and we’ll get an idea of what the needs of parents in Weipa are,” Ms Reyes said.
“But yes, we are interested in seeing if we can do something for Weipa families.”
Catholic Early Learning and Care currently has 15 child care services in the Cairns region.
“We have a total of 5000 bookings a week, showing how many parents trust the quality of learning, love and care we provide our families.”
Ms Bradley said she could not understand why more had not been done by the town’s leaders to address the issue.
“From what I can tell it’s been a problem for a long time,” she said.
“We love Weipa – it has really grown on us, but if there’s no child care there’s no way we can stay.”
Weipa’s main child care facility is the Rio Tinto-owned Cape Kids Child Care Facility, which had to undergo an extension several years ago in order to increase capacity.
But the mining company has often shirked responsibility of providing enough child care slots for the town’s parents.
Rio Tinto has provided grants and support to Weipa Community Care to increase family day care opportunities, however has fallen short of building any kind of new facility to cater for the demand.
Privately, the mining company believes the state government has to step up to provide another child care facility for the community.
The Queensland government is the second biggest employer in the town, between the hospital, school, police and ambulance services.
Member for Cook Cynthia Lui was made aware of the massive child care issues when she made a rare visit to Weipa earlier this year.
The Western Cape Chamber of Commerce told the MP it was one of the biggest problems facing the town and that jobs were at risk as a result of the shortage.
Ms Lui has yet to respond to any of the concerns.
Rio Tinto has lost some of its own employers as a result of the child care shortage and the mining company’s recent call to employ more local women was met with the complaint about the lack of options for care.
Mums have also had to go through the heartbreaking experience of removing their unborn children from the waiting list.
“Some people are ringing up and putting their names down on the list as soon as they find out they are pregnant,” one mother told Cape York Weekly.
“A friend of mine had a miscarriage and I can’t imagine how hard it would have been for them to then cancel that spot.”
Should Catholic Early Learning and Care go through with plans to bring child care to Weipa, the next question will be land and housing availability.
Finding a suitable location for a new facility would be just one of the challenges. Weipa also faces a massive shortage of housing, with virtually no houses to rent in town.
This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 28 September 2021.