20,000 km to access preschool: calls to support rural families
How far is too far to ensure a child can attend an early childhood education and care (ECEC) service? The Land, a rural publication based in New South Wales, has reported one family travelling 20,000 km this year to ensure their child can access ECEC – a figure well above the national average motor vehicle use.
The reporting has again drawn attention to ethics of access for those in rural and remote communities. Previously The Sector has reported on the communities of Padthaway, Albury Wodonga, and Weilmoringle, highlighting the challenges faced for families in those communities trying to access ECEC to support work, study and wellbeing obligations.
The Land noted the additional burden placed on those families in NSW, given the drought conditions in many parts of the state. Speaking to The Land, Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association NSW (ICPA) President Claire Butler said this pressure was seeing families consider pulling their children from preschool due to travel costs.
The ICPA has recently passed a motion to request the NSW Transport Minister to provide School Drive Subsidy for remote preschoolers because face to face preschool in remote areas was a “challenge to achieve”. The motion notes the worsening drought conditions, placing pressure on families, both in terms of time spent and financial cost when no travel assistance is provided.
School-aged students, who are not able to access buses in rural communities, are able to access the School Drive Subsidy (around 60 cents/km only one way travel). There is no support available for families of preschool aged students, who are unable to catch school bus runs due to safety concerns.
Ms Butler suggested that allowing preschool aged children to catch the bus with older children may serve two purposes, in relieving the travel burden for parents, and supporting the viability of those buses who were only transporting five or six children, exposing them to the risk of having their services cut.
“The federal government put out a strategy that every child should have access to 600 hours of preschool in the year before school. That’s great but how do we get children to access preschool when they live remotely?” Ms Butler asked via The Land.
The story of Rachael Litchfield, who drives 240 km (around 10,000 km per year) to ensure her son attends preschool, was shared by the local news source as an example of the challenges posed by bureaucracy in rural and regional areas.
Her eldest children are driven by bus to their school, 6 km away, whilst she follows a bus on a different route, towards her son’s preschool. “I literally follow the school bus most of the way there, Will could catch that bus,” Mrs Litchfield said to The Land.
The news source reports a NSW Government Spokesperson as saying that Transport for NSW “was working with the NSW Department of Education to investigate the options available to assist in getting preschool aged children to preschool.”
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