Six out of ten regional families struggle to access the ECEC they need

Six out of ten regional families struggle to access the ECEC they need

by Freya Lucas

June 23, 2021

An Australia Talks survey has found that over half of the families living in rural areas of Australia have trouble accessing the early childhood education and care (ECEC) services they need, compared with 41 per cent of families in inner-metro areas. 

 

Sharing her experiences with the ABC, Alanna Wardle, a mother of three from the rural South Australian community, said many in her town struggle to return to work and manage their family obligations when the service’s only ECEC option closed approximately five years ago.

 

Crystal Brook has a population of about 1,500 and almost 400 hundred families, but no childcare, leaving many families needing to travel up to 120 km a day for care. While the town has many major services such as a hospital, medical centre, supermarket, school and retirement village, the lack of childcare means families face challenges. 

 

“We’ve got professionals within our town who just haven’t been able to return to work at all,” Ms Wardle told the ABC. 

 

“If we want to attract young families and those skilled employees, then we really need to be able to provide that childcare service for them in our town.” 

 

Low pay for educators exacerbates issue, Union director says 

 

While rural and regional communities need early education, United Workers Union’s Early Education Director Helen Gibbons said the low rates of pay in ECEC are not attracting staff to the sector, furthering the challenges faced by rural and regional providers. 

 

Tamara Garrett spoke to the ABC about her role as a family day care provider in the Queensland mining town of Mount Isa, where she no longer operates a waiting list after the list became so long, she simply closed the books. 

 

“It’s a very family-orientated town, there are lots of families, so it equals lots of children and there’s just not enough spaces for children in childcare,” she explained

 

The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority predicts the sector will need an extra 39,000 staff by 2023, however Ms Gibbons believes that the significant shortages across the country will only make it harder for rural and regional services to attract the employees they need. 

 

“Frankly the pay is appalling for early education and they have really responsible jobs that contribute to our community,” she said. “They can be paid as little as $22 or $23 an hour. Why would you stay in early education when you can earn 30 per cent more working in a school?”  

 

Her thoughts were supported by Gowrie Tasmania CEO Ros Cornish, who said the question of who should meet the costs of higher wages for educators had been “the elephant in the room” for so long. 

 

“We know that if we pay educators what I truly believe they deserve, who pays? Parents do in fees,” Ms Cornish told the ABC.

 

“I think everybody struggles with the cost of education and care and we have many families who are forced into making a decision on whether it’s worthwhile to return to work because of the cost of care.” 

 

To read the original coverage of this story, as prepared by the ABC, please see here

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