Childcare, housing, thorns in country life

Samantha Burns felt a strong setback to her country, Australia.

“I just couldn’t get it out of my being,” the businesswoman told AAP.

Ms Burns had been planning to return to her rural roots for years and was considering moving from Sydney to Orange in central west New South Wales in 2019.

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But two huge obstacles stood in her way: the lack of childcare for her daughter and a shortage of rentals.

Housing issues and essential services like childcare are deeply intertwined across regional Australia. Country towns are expanding, putting pressure on housing affordability, which in turn affects essential workers like early childhood educators.

Ms Burns delayed her move to the country for 18 months to ensure her daughter could be cared for, after learning that waiting lists at all centers were a year or much longer.

Many families in the area say they have been on waiting lists for years and have been told care may not be available until 2023. Some mothers have had to delay returning to work or quit altogether the work market.

“Our economy forces us to work most of the time,” said Ms Burns, founder of fashion brand Ollie and Max.

“We are in a demanding economic environment, you have to be able to work.”

A new report from the Mitchell Institute at the University of Victoria shows that up to 61% of people living in remote areas live in a “childcare desert”, an area where there are more than three children for every childcare space. keep.

Areas with less availability include Daylesford, Victoria, Central Highlands of Queensland, North Central South Australia, Brighton, Tasmania, Manjimup, WA and Broken Hill in New South Wales.

Jacqui Emery, chief executive of the country’s children’s health charity, Royal Far West, said children in rural areas are twice as likely as their city peers to have developmental problems.

“There are wonderful benefits to growing up in the countryside. It’s not all bad,” Ms Emery said.

“But postcodes should not determine the level of service you can access.

“It’s a system that’s broken.”

Another problem is the rural workforce, with essential workers facing difficult workloads, isolation and low wages, she said.

The United Workers Union says these conditions will exacerbate shortages.

“The rising cost of living and lack of housing affordability will only accelerate the workforce crisis in early childhood education as workers leave the jobs they love for a job that pays the bills,” said Helen Gibbons, director of early childhood education at UWU.

Kimberley Townsend, a mother-of-three and mining worker on maternity leave, tried to access home care to cover early mornings and late evenings not covered by Orange childcare.

The cost of home care, preschool and daycare would total $2,000 a week, even with the federal government’s child care subsidy.

Cost and availability issues are discouraging women from returning to work, Ms Townsend said.

“It’s your career. I talk about it with my friends, and the majority are women who have to change roles or jobs.

Her family relies on a grandparent to fill in the gaps in child care.

“It’s sold out. I’m sorry for everyone who doesn’t have support.

Toya J. Bell