Lack of ECEC options impacts community growth in Warrnambool
The regional Victorian city of Warrnambool is experiencing a post COVID-19 population boom as families flock to the area seeking a lifestyle change and more meaningful experiences.
When Dr Alex Umbers moved her family back to the area after six years away, so that she could work in the city’s public hospital, she expected life in the city to be much the same, and was shocked to learn that the lack of available early childhood education and care (ECEC) would impact her ability to work.
While much of regional Victoria has been crying out for doctors, those with young children are finding their ability to work hampered by available resources. Despite her intention to take on a full time position, Dr Umbers is working just two days a week, and has had to employ a private nanny to care for her young son.
“For a lot of people, the knowledge that they may not have a place for their child and therefore may not be able to work, it would potentially discourage people from moving to this wonderful town,” she told the ABC.
Rebecca Perry, Director of 40-place Honey Pot Childcare in Warrnambool said that while her services (in Warrnambool and a 29-place service in nearby Koroit) had waitlists pre-COVID “it certainly wasn’t to the extent it is now”.
The current combined waitlist for both services is approaching 200, and Ms Perry said she is receiving many more enquiries than the services have capacity to cater for.
“We’re getting emails and phone calls from parents who are quite desperate who have [said] they’re going to lose their jobs because they can’t find a place for their child,” she explained, a situation she described as “really quite heartbreaking”.
As a provider, staffing shortages are compounding the challenges, and while Honey Pot Warrnambool will expand its capacity by 22 new spots to cater for demand, the measure is “a drop in the ocean” when it comes to meeting the needs of the community.
“Every single centre in Warrnambool is running at capacity and every single centre in Warrnambool has a waiting list,” Ms Perry said.
The city council is Warrnambool’s biggest childcare provider and it too is struggling to meet demand. In a statement shared with the ABC, a council spokesperson said about 140 families were on waiting lists, but noted they would be on multiple lists across the city.
Multiple factors were exacerbating the issue, outside school hours care program manager Rod Sanderson explained, noting the particularly challenging mix of staffing shortages, a population surge and physical capacity restrictions.
“Like so many industries and services,” Mr Sanderson said, “if you have a substantial migration to an area, existing bricks and mortar and personnel…are going to be stretched.”
To read the ABC coverage of this story please see here.
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