Geelong families waiting more than a year for care as sector battles ongoing challenges
Many families in Geelong and surrounding areas are waiting more than 12 months to secure early childhood education and care (ECEC) for their children as the sector faces a spike in demand which is clashing with ongoing staff shortages.
Demand is being driven by the cost of living which is pushing parents to spend more time at work, however availability is being hampered by a lack of ECEC staff, some of whom sought new careers during the COVID 19 pandemic, whilst others have left because of issues with pay and conditions.
Local news source Geelong Times contacted more than 50 ECEC services, with more than half (56 per cent) saying they were at or near capacity.
Corio, Norlane and Lara had the most vacancies, while all the centres contacted in Highton, Grovedale, Waurn Ponds and North Geelong were effectively at capacity with waitlists extending at least a year.
Tiffany Smith, the state manager for Goodstart Early Learning in Victoria West, said the services under her care were ‘quite full’ with occupancy sitting between 70 and 80 per cent.
“Staffing shortages are certainly a sector-wide issue,” Ms Smith said. Without sufficient staffing, services are unable to meet legal ratio requirements, something which has forced many ECEC providers to cap enrolments or close rooms.
There is strong demand for ECEC in the Geelong region, with the owner saying there was room for at least two more providers, however there is no staff to work in the services.
“They could easily open up two more centres and be very successful, but there’s no educators.”
Changing trends in employment mean that services are full, but with fewer families, as is the case at Town & Country Children’s Centre in Highton, where service manager Kerri McKenzie said families two or three years ago would typically access two to three days per week of care, but are now doing three to four days per week.
“We’ve filled the centre this year but with 20 less families,” she explained.
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