Childcare: New report highlights acute shortages in services in WA, with regional areas hardest hit

WA has the worst childcare availability in the country, with families in regional towns missing out the most, a landmark report reveals.

According to the Mitchell Institute think tank at Victoria University, 68 per cent of West Australians live in areas that are blighted by an “acute shortage of childcare places.”

In some parts of the State there is only one childcare place for every seven children under the age of four, the report stated. Only six areas boasted enough places to meet demand. These were Perth City, Cottesloe and Claremont, South Perth, Joondalup and Fremantle.

Manjimup, the northern Wheatbelt, East Pilbara, Gascoyne and Goldfields were classified as the least accessible to childcare.

As a whole, WA compares poorly with the eastern states, where between 64 per cent and 78 per cent of the population enjoys good childcare availability.

Even Perth City with 1.98 children per childcare place was behind other capital cities like Melbourne (1.4), inner Sydney (1.57), Adelaide (1.37) and inner Hobart (1.17).

Across Australia, childcare places were concentrated in the wealthiest areas and close to major job centres, with a correlation between areas with higher childcare fees and childcare availability. The report’s lead author Dr Peter Hurley from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute said the research showed providers were not only establishing services where there was greater demand, but where they were likely to make greater profits.

“Unlike schools, the early learning sector is made up of for-profit businesses and not-for-profit providers,” he said.

“Our research shows that the most expensive childcare in Australian cities is also in suburbs with more childcare places, suggesting there is an incentive for providers to open in wealthier areas where families can afford to pay higher fees.” “For many regional towns, Australia’s policy approach to early learning results in a complete absence of provision, especially for towns with a population of fewer than 1500 people,” Dr Hurley said.

“These are not thin markets but rather an absence of a market as the current policy settings mean it is not viable for providers to offer childcare.”

This didn’t bode well for young children in these areas.

“There is a huge body of evidence showing the positive long-term impacts produced by high-quality early learning in setting children up for success as they transition to school, with the benefits continuing throughout their life,” he said.

“It is children from a disadvantaged background who benefit the most, but our research shows these children are the ones most likely to live in an area with a shortage of childcare places.” Universal access to schools showed what Australia could achieve in the early learning sector, Dr Hurley added.

“We don’t need to replicate the school system, but the school sector does show that universal access to high quality affordable early learning doesn’t have to be an unattainable dream,” he said.

This story and its contents have been taken from the West Australian Newspaper you can read the original and first published article by clicking here.

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