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Alarming childcare accessibility across the region

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Grace Frost
Grace Frost
Hi, I'm Grace Frost. I was honoured to report for the Review as their Digital Journalist from mid-2022 to the beginning of 2024. Ive since made a move to the Herald Sun.

ACCESS to childcare is becoming more limited across Victoria, with a study revealing the lack of spaces in Mitchell Shire and surrounding childcare centres.

A report released last year from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute found about nine million Australians live in neighbourhoods labelled as a ‘childcare desert’ – meaning a populated area where there are more than three children per childcare place, or less than 0.333 places per child aged four or under.

Mitchell Shire had several childcare deserts, with the Seymour region – that also includes Puckapunyal and Pyalong – averaging 0.2 places per child, while Seymour itself was at 0.5 places per child.

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Kilmore and Wallan were 0.3 places in childcare per child, while smaller towns such as Tooborac had no childcare at all.

In Whittlesea, childcare accessibility was similar to Mitchell Shire areas, averaging at 0.3.

Member for Euroa Annabelle Cleeland organised a survey to show the state of childcare across the electorate, with responses sharing concerning experiences to accessing childcare.

Some issues raised, specifically in towns such as Broadford and Wallan, were the multi-year waitlists, lack of childcare options and not enough subsided hours for working parents.

Ms Cleeland said the lack of childcare facilities was restricting parents from returning to work during a cost-of-living crisis.

“From both the survey and my conversations in the community, it is clear there are so many parents wanting to get back into the workforce but can’t because they are unable to get their kids into childcare,” she said.

“This is a real handbrake for our community and places a hurdle in front of young people who want to raise their family in the country.”

The government has committed $14 billion to expand kindergarten programs across the state.

As part of the State Government’s Best Start, Best Life reform, the government has committed $14 billion to expand kindergarten programs across the state, with 50 new learning centres including a site in Seymour.

The government-owned and government-run centres, which will be located alongside schools, hospitals, TAFEs, and other major employers, will provide childcare, three and four-year-old kindergarten, and transition to include pre-prep.

While an early education centre is planned for Seymour, only four were announced to open in 2025, with the other 46 other sites to be operational by 2028.

Ms Cleeland said the 2028 deadline for Seymour demonstrated the lack of ‘genuine concern’ for the community’s needs.

“Despite our region being regarded as a ‘childcare desert’ under this government, three out of the four centres set to open by 2025 are located in Labor seats,” she said.

Ms Cleeland’s survey remains open and can be completed online at www.annabellecleeland.com.au/petitions.

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