Shadow Minister visits Goonellabah to talk ECEC
The Sector > Economics > Affordability & Accessibility > Goonellabah plays host to Federal Member and Shadow Minister to highlight ECEC woes

Goonellabah plays host to Federal Member and Shadow Minister to highlight ECEC woes

by Freya Lucas

June 26, 2024

The lack of early childhood education and care (ECEC) places in the New South Wales communities of Lismore and Goonellabah was highlighted recently when Federal Member for Page Kevin Hogan and Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education Angie Bell hosted young mothers along with two ECEC providers in Goonellabah. 


Families seeking places in the region are consistently met with waiting lists of 12-18 months, despite applying for places on learning of their pregnancy, Mr Hogan said, calling the situation ‘very serious.’ 


“You need it when your babies are born and when they’re young, and we just haven’t got the spots here, and the affordability of it is quite atrocious,” he shared with local news source Lismore App. 


Mr Hogan shared the story of local mother Rachel, who is working night shifts stacking shelves, returning home at midnight, sleeping for a few hours, and then caring for her child during the day while her husband goes to work. 


“They don’t get to see each other, and they’re working outside of hours. This is a very stressful situation for them because part of it is, they couldn’t get a childcare (sic.) spot as well.”


As well as high demand, the communities of Lismore and surrounding areas are still battling challenges from severe flooding, which has left some services closed, and others without the workers they need as people have moved away from the region to secure housing and employment elsewhere. 


Local services cite Council barriers


For ECEC service owner Isabelle McLennan, offering ‘much needed’ care at her two services is a challenge, and expanding to offer more centres is hampered by frustrating delays at Council level. 


“It’s been over two years, four months since floods and a major delay is with the council,” she said


“Unfortunately, they have held it up, basically. I also have another centre in Wollongbar. That centre I applied for two years ago for emergency care. I still only got the DA (development application) approval. l had to go to a full council meeting to get it over a driveway that was five centimetres short. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I could have provided care a year ago. I bought the building a year ago.”


“Council is not helping us get back to where we should be, and they’re not helping us build places for our children. I’ve got 300 families on both waiting lists; that’s 600 children that we can’t supply places for.”


Lack of accommodation for educators 


Mitch Hutchinson is an early childhood teacher (ECT) turned service owner who has experienced first hand the challenges ECEC professionals hoping to work in the community face, saying “to attract and retain high-quality ECTs in an area where there’s zero rentals, a high cost of living is really hard to the award wages that they get paid.”


“Now, as providers we can choose to pay them above the award and make their conditions better. However, that comes from our operating budgets or passing that cost on to families at times as well.”


Finding casual staff is also problematic and exacerbates the challenges regional services face.


During the visit Ms Bell was tight lipped about potential solutions to the issues shared by those she met with, saying “I’m not in a position, right now, to announce the coalition’s policy. But, as we head towards the next election, of course, we’ll be announcing our Policy for early learning and care.”


To read the original coverage of this story please see here

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