Regional NSW town of Armidale under pressure as ECEC workforce crisis impacts
Nicky Lavender is an early childhood educator who is under stress, warning anyone who will listen that “if there isn’t an overhaul to the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector regional communities are going to decline.”
Parents are under stress, children are overwhelmed and businesses are feeling the pressure, she told local newspaper The Armidale Express warning that people are leaving her regional town of Armidale because they cannot access care.
In her capacity as CEO of Inverell District Family Services Mrs Lavender oversees 10 early education services operating long day care, community preschools, mobile preschools, family daycare and vacation care.
While all facets of ECEC are feeling the pinch there is particularly high demand for care for children from birth to three years of age, something Mrs Lavender believes has arisen because of Australia’s disparate funding system where places for children from birth to three years of age receive federal funding while places for three to five year olds are funded at a state level.
“The problem is, in my opinion, that for the last four to five years the NSW government has really invested in community-based preschools and increased the licenced spaces with a lot of capital works grants,” she said.
“But it’s the nought to threes that are falling behind. Family daycare services across the state have been declining at a rapid rate of knots.”
The number of family day care educators has decreased by around 40 per cent in the last five years, she continued, noting that in recent years vaccine mandates had also impacted.
Mrs Lavender estimates that about 50 per cent of families in the region need to use multiple services to access the amount of care they need, leaving her concerned about children’s mental health and capacity to form strong bonds with trusted and familiar educators.
A rapid change
Moree mother of two, Emily Moore, has seen the rapid shift in the sector over the past five years. When her first child, now five years of age, required care the process was straightforward, with care available for her newborn four days a week.
In the space of three short years everything in the ECEC landscape changed, and Mrs Moore has had her second child on a waiting list for two years across three different services.
While she has been offered one day of care, this limits her capacity to work, and she has had to turn down job offers because she cannot access care.
“I had a job lined-up but because I couldn’t get my daughter into daycare I had to pass up that opportunity. It was a really big step back for me,” she told the paper.
“Unfortunately I’m living on Centrelink which isn’t very supportive for my family. It doesn’t feel good to be handed money.”
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