The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains says ground-breaking new research has confirmed what most families have known for years – childcare services across rural and regional Victoria are a massive failure.
Mr Walsh said new data from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute shows large gaps in the provision of childcare is creating crippling financial and emotional pressure on young families.
He said major hubs across Murray Plains have all the signs of struggling to juggle work/family time.
“Kyabram is one of the hardest hit communities in my electorate – there is barely one childcare place for every five children aged four and younger – the research labelled 96.8 per cent of the community as a childcare desert,” Mr Walsh explained.
“Kerang does the best of all – it has a place for almost every second child and its childcare desert percentage is a meagre 3.7,” he added.
“In Echuca it is three children for every one place but a relatively low 16 per cent in a childcare desert while Swan Hill, also three to one spots available, struggles with a childcare desert of 73.5 per cent.
“Cohuna is simply a childcare black hole – it has 10 children for every one space and an 87.6 per cent childcare desert according to the research.
“Some of our smaller communities have absolutely no childcare at all – although in some cases, groups of enterprising mothers have banded together to offer some private, ad hoc support.”
Mr Walsh said the study, which classifies communities as a childcare ‘desert’ or an ‘oasis’, depending on the availability of care, shows most local communities are deserts, with either no childcare service or too few places available to meet potential demand.
In the first research of its kind in Australia, the Mitchell Institute has examined access to childcare in more than 50,000 neighbourhoods across the country; and found when it comes to access to childcare, where you live matters.
And, he added, no-one will be at all surprised to see Melbourne and the big cities have the best access to childcare.
“The research confirms what we already knew; to many parents in our region are having to drive their children long distances to access childcare,” Mr Walsh said.
“Even our larger towns often don’t have enough childcare services to cater for the number of children who live there,” he added.
Mr Walsh said while the region was fortunate to have some great childcare providers, many parents could not return to work because they couldn’t get care.
“At my office, and when I am out and about the electorate, I often talk to women, in particular, who are struggling to return to work because they can’t get their child into care,” he said.
“There is a direct correlation between the accessibility of childcare and the participation of mothers with a child aged under five years in the workforce.
“Access to childcare is important not only for parents but also to giving children a great start in life.
“Research shows that children who have high-quality early childhood education and care are more likely to succeed later in life,” Mr Walsh pointed out.
“It’s also an important plank in ensuring we can grow our regional economy. If we don’t have these services, young people who want to raise their family in the country will struggle.
“I am committed to working with our communities to improve the access local people have to childcare – that will be a fundamental part of our plans to rebuild and recover.”
You can access the report at vu.edu.au/mitchell-institute/early-learning/childcare-deserts-oases-how-accessible-is-childcare-in-australia