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Childcare Drought Must End If Regional Communities Are To Thrive

13 November 2023

The Regional Australia Institute (RAI) has endorsed a new report released today, which has highlighted the vast inequities regional families face in accessing early childhood education and care.

Independent not-for-profit advocacy organisation, The Parenthood’s Choiceless report includes more than 150 stories from regional families about the challenges they continue to face in accessing education and care for their young children.

RAI CEO Liz Ritchie said the report painted a bleak picture about the state of the early childhood education and care sector in regional Australia.

“Early childhood education and care is vitally important in shaping the lives and futures of young children. There are 9.6 million people who call regional Australia home and RAI research has shown a further 3.5 million are considering joining them. All Australians must have access to early childhood education care, regardless of their postcode” Ms Ritchie said.

The RAI’s Regionalisation Ambition 2032 – a 10-year, 20-target framework to help decision-makers prepare our nation for more people living in the regions – lists improving access to early childhood education and care as a key target.

The Ambition aims to halve the population classified as living in a regional ‘childcare desert’ to below two million by 2032, but Ms Ritchie said there was still some way to go before the goal was realised.

“In 2022, 3.7 million Australians lived in a childcare desert in regional Australia. While the number of childcare services overall increased by 5.2% between 2021 and 2022, not all service types have increased with family day care services decreasing by 6.7%,” Ms Ritchie said.

“This issue needs urgent collaborative action from government, business, the not-for-profit sector, and communities. Without such action, our regional kids will continue to miss out on the rich rewards of early childhood education and care.”

Research by the RAI into childcare in the Maranoa and Western Downs region in Queensland found a lack of childcare impacted some parents’ ability to go back to work, work more hours, and to achieve financial stability. For some, the lack of childcare had also impacted their health and wellbeing. Whilst this research was focused on one specific area, the findings resonate across regional Australia.

Ms Ritchie acknowledged The Parenthood’s focus on recommending place-based solutions for communities likely to be affected by market failure and the need for an early childhood sector workforce strategy to address chronic staff shortages.

“The structure of many regional communities is vastly different in comparison to large centres and metropolitan cities. Some areas will need tangible support to address their supply gaps,” Ms Ritchie said.

“Working parents make an extremely valuable contribution to the economies of our regional communities. If we are able to better support them, by ensuring their children can access early childhood education and care, we not only help the next generation to thrive, we also help a regional area thrive too.

”The RAI will release a new research report, Against the Odds: Realising Regional Australia’s Potential Workforce, on Thursday at its Regions Rising NSW event in Orange NSW, which focuses on providing solutions to help fill the 91,000 roles currently vacant in regions, including recommendations to strengthen local workforces and boost regional economies.

Media are welcome and are asked to register their attendance.

The Parenthood Campaign Director, Maddy Butler, will speak at the event.

Against the Odds - Realising Regional Australia’s Workforce Potential was funded by the Australian Government and State Government partners.

For media enquiries contact:

Regional Australia Institute 
Melinda Hayter
Ph: 0498 373 300
E: [email protected]