More money working for a supermarket: Council study into ECEC
The Sector > Economics > Affordability & Accessibility > More money working in a supermarket – $64,000 ECEC study into availability in Narrabri

More money working in a supermarket – $64,000 ECEC study into availability in Narrabri

by Freya Lucas

March 22, 2023
A small child in a pink shirt is shown with paint on their fingers, adding paint to paper.

A $64,000 study commissioned by the Narrabri Shire Council in regional New South Wales has left councillors confused, identifying that current and projected demand for early childhood education and care (ECEC) in the town would not be sufficient to justify the development and construction of a dedicated service while there is “without doubt” a need for more care. 


Carried out by KU Children’s Services, the report was presented in the February Council business paper, also noting that the community “strongly expressed” the need for additional ECEC services during community consultation.  


Council obtained a grant for $64,510 from the NSW Government to conduct the study, which was discussed in an ordinary Council meeting during which council members were asked to endorse a study about the issue. 


The Council considered the study particularly important given the shire is expected to experience economic growth, increased employment, as well as an increased population over the next five to ten years’.


Three components were identified in the study. The first was a childcare (sic.) needs analysis, to identify current and future demand for ECEC in Narrabri Shire. 


The second component covers various options which the Council has available to support families with their ECEC needs and challenges, while the third component was a service modelling and feasibility assessment for a long day care centre, to provide advice should a centre be established in Narrabri Shire by council or by an external organisation. 


“The study acknowledges that a purpose-built childcare centre in the township of Narrabri will not address all the issues raised and would not be accessible to all families who live and work outside the township,” the report states.


In terms of options to alleviate the pressure experienced by families in and around Narrabri, the following options were put forward:


  • Expand and make more accessible existing long day care services
  • Expand family day care
  • Build on the quality of current services in Narrabri Shire.


Rather than endorsing the Child Care Needs Analysis, Child Care Options, Service Modelling and Feasibility Reports, the councillors voted to “note” the recommendations. 


“I certainly wasn’t happy with endorsing this report but noting it I am happy with,” Cr Cathy Redding said, while Cr Lisa Richardson described the report as “conflicting”.


“They say we need spots but then say there is no need for a facility,” she said, “so I’m torn on what their outcome is.”


Mayor Ron Campbell said the study pointed to staff shortages being a problem, and therefore building more ECEC facilities wasn’t necessarily the solution.


“There’s enough places, they just don’t have the staff to fulfill the places,” he explained, outlining the Council’s dilemma – “do you build another facility knowing there are placements elsewhere, but you can’t fill the staff”.


At one point, during the discussion about how to solve access issues, Cr Campbell said there was a “disaster” in ECEC. 


“We have major issues in childcare, as does everyone else,” he said. “What can we do to make it work?”


A range of different solutions were put forward, including the need to work with current ECEC providers in the region to find a way to recruit more educators, a specifically targeted recruitment drive focused on the sector, and Council sponsored traineeships. 


Not being able to access ECEC has had an ongoing impact on the community, with the local hospital missing out on employing a doctor because no ECEC options were available. 


Councillors identified that ECEC was a profession that was suffering because of the low rates of salary and remuneration. Council’s Director of Planning and Sustainability Donna Ausling said that while a number of services had development approval, such as a 48-place centre in Narrabri and an 80-place service in nearby Wee Waa, with a 60-place Wee Waa service pending approval. 


“Just for some context to help with decision making,” she continued, “people can be earning more money at Coles or Woolworths,” alluding that this may be a contributing factor for locals considering their employment options.


To access recorded meeting minutes please see here. Local coverage of the story, as reported by the Narrabri Courier may be found here

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