More than one-third of Australians live in a childcare desert.
For the first time in Australia, the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University has analysed childcare accessibility by location for children aged zero to four years across the nation - and the findings are stark.
The researchers define a "childcare desert" as a neighbourhood or local area where there are more than three children vying for everyone early learning and childcare place.
It shows us childcare deserts are disproportionately located in rural and regional areas and where there are higher proportions of children and families on lower incomes or below the poverty line.
The scarcity of early childhood education and care dramatically increases in regional, rural and remote locations.
About one-third of people living in major cities live in childcare deserts, compared with 63 per cent of people living in outer regional areas, and 87 per cent and 80 per cent of people living in remote and outer remote neighbourhoods.
In some of our more remote communities like Broken Hill and the far west of NSW or the Central Highlands of Queensland, there are no early learning or childcare places available. None at all.
We know early learning can be a great equaliser for children, helping them start formal learning on an equal par with other children.
High-quality early learning has a big impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds as the education they receive provides the stimulation and development trigger that may not be readily available at home or surrounds.
This is not just a report on childcare deserts, it is a call to action for political leaders and our community.
The message to political leaders from all parties is that we need affordable, flexible, high-quality early learning for every Australian child, regardless of their postcode.
The federal government has made a good start with the announcement of a $120 million investment in programs to improve access to preschool for Indigenous children in regional and remote Australia as part of the Closing the Gap implementation plan.
The Queensland government's early childhood education and care package announced last month includes targeted support for attracting more staff to regional and remote areas, and better inclusion for those who have additional learning needs.
But much more is needed.
We need innovation and greater investment in providing better access to appropriate early childhood program opportunities to children living in remote and rural areas, such as mobile early childhood education to children living in remote areas.
The government needs to make at least 15 hours a week of high-quality three-year-old preschool accessible in all Australian states and territories by expanding the new preschool reform agreement to include three-year-olds.
This story and its contents have been taken from The Canberra Times Newspaper. You can read the original and first published article by clicking here.
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