Waiting lists blow out in Queensland as ECEC sector faces staffing shortages
Some Queensland parents are waiting up to 18 months for an early childhood education and care (ECEC) space as the sector struggles with staffing shortages, leaving families seeking alternative in-home care arrangements, or leaving work to care for children.
In rural and regional areas, the situation is the most challenged.
Calliope in Central Queensland is the third hardest place in the state to obtain care, with more than seven children vying for every vacancy. In Biloela, just over three children compete for each spot, resulting in families spending 12-18 months on waiting lists.
Many working families are attracted to towns like Biloela, with its mine and power station, because of the availability of steady work, however a lack of ECEC options limits what parents can take on.
“But there’s no real commitment, rurally, for families to stick around once they’ve been here,” one parent said.
“It’s quite challenging in that sense, that people want rural communities to survive, but with a lack of childcare.”
In the mining and agriculture town of Emerald, mother Emily Hill is considering delaying returning to work because there is no-one to look after her daughter, Raegan.
She approached three different providers a year ago when she was still pregnant and was put on a waitlist, and has been told it’s unlikely there will be a vacancy until early 2023, something she said was really frustrating, given she had hoped to return to work in May.
Providers are also frustrated, with Sandra Hawkins, the operator of a for profit service in Biloela, telling the ABC that she “pours thousands of dollars” into sponsoring overseas residents, a measure that is not enough to cover her labour needs.
“We can’t take children simply because we don’t have the staff to look after them,” she explained. Currently her 75 place service has 45 enrolments, because there isn’t staff to operate at full capacity.
“If I put one extra staff on, I could potentially offer 10 places,” she said. “That’s working parents that could go out and meet the labour shortages.”
Sandra Cheeseman, CEO of the Creche and Kindegarten (C&K) Association acknowledged that there were issues with staffing, remuneration and providing affordable housing in some communities.
The ECEC sector, she said “has been largely left to the market and really lacks any robust planning model, so we are at the mercy of the market”.
Dr Cheeseman said it was more expensive to operate centres in regional communities than it was in Brisbane.
“Providers like C&K, we are a not-for-profit provider and we’re carrying the load of offering childcare provisions in many of these communities where the market won’t go,” she said.
For the ABC coverage of this story, see here.
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