Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Waiting for daycare

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Many parents returning to work post-Covid-19 or wanting to do extra hours because of the cost-of-living pressures are desperate for childcare centres in the district.

But we have a big problem.

Many parents are being left without childcare and turned away at centres because they are understaffed to keep up with demand.

A local childcare director this newspaper [Naracoorte Community News] spoke to said there was an increase in the demand for childcare, with a massive waiting list.

Naracoorte Early Learning Centre director Christine Gregor said they had a current waiting list of around 25 families, with spots not looking to open again until around February 2024.

She said the centre could only cater to 50 children per day.

“Currently, we are pretty close to full, occasionally have a space on certain days.”

Ms Gregor said many parents in the township needed to work to help them cover the cost of living demands and have added income to their households.

“Yes, parents returning to work has impacted us and the demand from families (needing daycare services),” she said.

Ms Gregor said the big challenge facing the centre was the difficulty in getting enough staff.

“We are a privately owned centre, so no government assistance is given other than parent CCS rebates.”

The director said the centre hoped to increase staffing and space to allow for more children to attend daycare, calling for funding assistance from the government.

“Wishing we could increase staffing and space to allow more children to attend.

“…having government help would definitely be a benefit, especially with grants and funding.”

Government response

This newspaper [Naracoorte Community News] questioned the state government about the pressures on regional parents around early learning and childcare provisions, considering the continued increase in demands.

We asked the Minister for Education, Training, and Skills, Blair Boyer, what plans he had to help parents needing to put their children in daycare and what support, if any, the ministry was providing to ELC/daycare service providers to overcome this challenge.

Mr Boyer said he was acutely aware of the pressures on regional communities, particularly around early learning, and childcare provision.

“The Commonwealth Government has a significant role to play in addressing the undersupply of childcare, and it is an issue I have raised with my Federal Counterpart, Minister Anne Aly, and am committed to working together on,” he said.

Mr Boyer said the Department of Education was actively working with a number of rural and remote communities in the South East to find solutions to a widespread national shortage.

“For instance, the state government has stepped in to support the Kingston community through the relocation of the preschool to create an integrated early years’ service.

“We are also prioritising creating a pipeline of skilled workers, particularly during a national skills crisis, with early childhood education being one of the key sectors we are investing in.

“This has been done by including it on the fee-free TAFE list to help break down barriers for those looking to enter the sector, as well as having it as a dedicated stream at Findon Technical College to encourage young people to work in the field.”

Mr Boyer said the final report of the Royal Commission highlighted the need to consider new ways of addressing undersupply in regional and rural communities, and this is something that the new Office for Early Childhood Development will be looking at in depth.

Opposition response

Responding to questions from this newspaper [Naracoorte Community News], Shadow Minister for Education, John Gardner, said the shortage of daycare facilities was an issue that has grown every passing year.

He said the government needed to play its role in addressing this shortage.

“I think it’s very clear in many parts of the city that we have more childcare centres than there are children to fill them,” Mr Gardner said.

But the story was very different in regional South Australia, he said.

“The challenge for a number of our country towns, including Naracoorte, is that they don’t have enough childcare places to meet the needs of parents who want to work more hours, which is becoming increasingly stark with every passing year.

“Many non-government childcare providers find it very difficult to establish new services in the regions, which requires a level of government intervention to ensure the families in our regional centres are not prevented from being full participants in our economy and also that regional businesses don’t suffer from unnecessary workforce shortages as a result of not being able to get sufficient hours from people who actually do want to do the work.”

Mr Gardner said one of the problems was the shortage of sufficiently trained people willing to move to regional areas to do the work.

“For all these reasons, it is necessary, in my view, for the government to play a role in meeting the needs of regional centres such as Naracoorte.

“This could include taking measures to support local communities to develop their own community childcare facilities, which might include helping those communities develop business cases and may require the provision of government buildings in some circumstances to help enable new centres to be established.

“Sometimes the solution may require the direct provision of government services, such as the Rural Care Model, which is in place in a number of regional communities and may potentially benefit from being expanded.”

Mr Gardner said the government should immediately create opportunities for young South Australians who would like to work with children.

“In relation to the training of new staff, the government should be working with schools all around South Australia and training providers, including TAFE, as well as non-government training providers, to ensure that there are opportunities for young South Australians in the region who would want to work with children to be able to be given easy pathways into this rewarding career.

“I am certain that there are opportunities in the years ahead to improve these services, so long as the government’s response to the Gillard Royal Commission doesn’t distract them from meeting these important and urgent needs felt in regional South Australia.”

Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education and Care

The Royal Commission appointed former Prime Minister Julia Gillard to conduct a study into early childhood education and care in South Australia.

The report aimed to take the state on a pathway of change towards a future where, guided by the best of science and evidence, South Australia leads on early childhood education and care.

In August 2023, the Royal Commission delivered the report to the Premier, making 43 recommendations to the government on ways to improve the delivery of childhood education and care in South Australia.

“It is the Royal Commission’s ambition that all children in South Australia receive the best start in life. This final report sets out the pathway for South Australia to become a nation leader in early childhood development through a variety of measures,” the executive summary of the report outlined.

The report provided recommendations on:

  • How are supports best delivered to families and children from before birth through the first 1000 days of life.
  • The recommended pathway for delivery of universal access to preschool for all three- and four-year-old South Australian children.
  • How to increase the availability and accessibility of out-of-school hours care services in both primary and preschool settings.

The report’s recommendations aim to create a robust early childhood education and care system in South Australia, with significant investments in quality to underpin a universal, effective, and enduring system.

ACCC report

In an interim report, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission examined the price and availability of childcare services, how households select childcare services, and the impact of government contributions.

The interim report released in July drew on information collected from a range of childcare providers around Australia as well as a national voluntary survey of more than 4,000 parents and guardians who use childcare services.

According to the report, during 2022, an estimated 1.09 million children aged 5 and under and 655,000 children aged 6–13 attended a childcare service.

This represented 60 percent of all 0–5-year-old children and 25 percent of all 6–13-year-old children in Australia.

ACCC analysis confirmed that childcare fees rose faster than inflation and wage growth during the past four years, rising by between 20 percent (for centre-based day care and outside school hours care) and 32 percent (for in-home care).

According to the findings, government subsidies meant that actual out-of-pocket expenses for households increased at a slower rate over the same period.

The ACCC found that government subsidies offset more than half of childcare fees on average.

Even so, the report found that after subsidies, out-of-pocket expenses increased by 7 percent for households using centre-based day care services during the past four years, by 12 percent for households using outside school-hours care, and by 15.8 percent for households using family day care.

It highlighted that disadvantaged households spent a greater share of their income on childcare.

Naracoorte Community News 22 November 2023

This article appeared in the Naracoorte Community News.


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