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New report shows critical gap in regional childcare

March 24 2023

Childcare users in regional Queensland have waited more than 12 months to access services, according to a new study released by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI).

The RAI Childcare Study, funded by Origin Energy as Upstream Operator of Australia Pacific LNG, focused on accessibility, availability, affordability and quality of childcare and its impact on workforce participation, liveability, population attraction and retention of staff in the Maranoa and Western Downs regions of South-West Queensland.

RAI CEO Liz Ritchie said that regional Australia is recognised as an attractive place to live and work, but there is a gap in the provision of available childcare in many areas, including the Maranoa and Western Downs, which is impacting its regional workforce capability.

“We know that 3.7 million regional Australians live in a ‘childcare desert’ – a region where there are three children per childcare place. Childcare deserts are disproportionately located in rural and regional areas, with towns of less than 1,500 the most at risk of a lack of childcare,” Ms Ritchie said.

“For that reason, the RAI Regionalisation Ambition 2032 has identified childcare as a key factor to the liveability of a region and a necessity to rebalancing the nation.

“Of all children in the Maranoa between 0 to 4 age group, the centre-based long day care services can only accommodate 39%. Western Downs has 2,219 children in this age group, with its services able to provide for 22%,” Liz Ritchie said.

“The largest proportion of childcare users in the Maranoa waited between four and six months to access care, while in the Western Downs it was 12 months or more.

The most common concern users held was the lack of availability and flexibility of childcare, which users stated impacted their ability to go back to work, to work more hours and achieve financial stability.

Across the county, the regional job vacancy rate has almost doubled in the in the last five years, with more than 81,000 roles advertised in January. This study confirms that not having access to childcare services is hampering the ability of residents to maximise their contribution to the local workforce.

  • 45% of current childcare users accessing care in the Maranoa reported that the hours they are accessing are not enough, whilst it was 49% in the Western Downs.
  • 48% of childcare users accessing care in the Maranoa would like to be able to access different days, different hours or both, whilst in the Western Downs it is 65%.

“As a working mum, I know the challenges and stress involved in managing childcare issues, while juggling a full-time job. Childcare is a critical component many people look for when deciding to make the move to regional Australia – and we need to do better,” Liz Ritchie said.

Educators and industry stakeholders consistently identified staffing as their most significant issue, with limited relief staff available to cover sick days, holidays and training. The result was children being sent home when staff shortages arose.

However, the study found that there is currently 1.8 people with relevant childcare qualifications for every person employed in the sector in the Maranoa and Western Downs, presenting an opportunity to support the sector through workforce re-engagement.

“The recommendations we have put forward provide the local community with a starting point to facilitate further discussions. It is important that all levels of government, industry, business and the community are at the table to work locally on solutions,” Ms Ritchie said.

These recommendations include:

  • Developing a regional workforce strategy for the childcare industry
  • Establishing a relief pool of childcare workers
  • Promoting start-up support for family childcare providers
  • Supporting the fit-out of community-owned houses for family day care
  • Supporting kindergartens to transition to provide long day care where appropriate

“Solving the challenges facing regional Australia starts with having the collective will to make change. But equally as important it’s about having the facts. I’d like to congratulate Origin for commissioning this report,” Liz Ritchie said.

David Atkin, General Manager Integrated Gas at Origin said Origin is proud to have funded the study, recognising that providing quality childcare services is essential for the wellbeing and growth of local communities.

“We recognise the challenges that families in the Maranoa and Western Downs face when it comes to accessing affordable, high-quality childcare services. By collaborating with our local communities and RAI to address these issues and work together, we hope these research outcomes help to drive positive change,” Mr Atkin said.

To view of copy of the Maranoa and Western Downs Childcare Report, please click here.

For media enquiries contact:

Regional Australia Institute 
Alexandra Macaulay
Ph: 0409 652 465
E: [email protected]