There are about 300 children on the waiting list at Kindy Patch Child Care Centre in Brisbane's Paddington – proof aplenty that scoring a childcare spot in the inner city is a competitive business.
Parents are expected to keep in touch with their preferred centres – to show they are really keen – and centres spend hours each week managing waitlists and fielding calls from parents “checking in”.
Many of Brisbane's inner-city childcare centres have waitlists of hundreds of children, and it often takes between six months and two years for babies and young toddlers to get a spot.
Some Brisbane childcare centres have waitlists of hundreds of children. Photo: Louise Kennerly
This lack of vacancies has led to parents putting their children's names on multiple lists, and regularly calling or dropping in to their preferred centres to see if they can leapfrog ahead on the waitlist.
Childcare centres deny that regular contact from parents leads to landing a childcare spot sooner.
But Nebula Wild from C&K at the Queensland University of Technology says that if she's recently heard from a parent and they are next in line, she'll wait a bit longer for them to ring back to accept a spot.
Vickie Toia from Kindy Patch in Paddington also says, “I have parents that call me weekly or monthly, and when I have a spot I look at the last time they called”.
Toia does add that persistence doesn't necessarily pay off, and that there's nothing a parent can do to jump ahead on the list.
But some parents are finding that persistence can sometimes help.
Krista Campion put her son Charlie's name on a waitlist at an inner-city centre when he was six months old. She checked in with the centre when he was a year old, but was told there was no vacancy.
“My girlfriend found out I was interested in getting Charlie into care for two days and called them. She had a child there and was friends with the owner. Within two weeks I was called and offered a spot for Charlie. There seems to be quality childcare but it is very hard to get into unless you have a connection to the centre,” Campion says.
Kiah Abbott was also told to “keep ringing every four to six weeks to check in” when she put her son's name on a waitlist. He was 15 months old at the time, and she was told she should have put him on the list when she was four months pregnant.
Inner-city waitlists are not just a headache for parents, though. The management of long waitlists is an administrative overhead for centres.
Wild from C&K says she keeps waiting lists for only six months and then emails parents to see if they want to stay on the list. She says, “we can't keep a list of everyone, it gets very messy. Every time [a spot is available] you are ringing 50 people. It's a lot of wasted time.”
Many parents are on up to 10 waitlists, so the real waiting time is difficult to calculate.
There are a handful of centralised waitlists run by councils or groups of centres in Australia. But because they don't cover all centres in a particular area, they have similar problems.
The City of Melbourne runs a centralised waitlist for five inner-city centres, with more than 550 families on the current list. Administrator Danielle Goodvinn often calls up to 20 families to fill two vacant spots. She says that most parents on her list are on other waitlists too.
“It's hard to manage the waitlist because every time you call someone, you've got the wrong number, the phone is disconnected or you don't have the correct details,” Goodvinn says.
Even if a central waitlisting system could alleviate some of the frustration with finding a childcare place, at the end of the day there are just not enough inner-city spots to go around.
This is due to land availability and zoning issues, according to federal Early Childhood and Child Care Minister Kate Ellis.
A spokeswoman for Ms Ellis said the federal government has no limit on the number of childcare spots it will fund with the childcare rebate, so demand is increasing while supply isn't keeping pace.
"We're looking at all options and are prepared to look at any way we can work with the states and territories to overcome planning barriers and we will start the discussion with states and territory governments at the first available opportunity at the next ministerial council meeting,'' she said.
"We are asking state and local governments to look at best practice in their jurisdiction and bring their ideas to the table about how we can find solutions to create child care places.
"We need other levels of government to do their bit and make sure that there are places available.''
The spokeswoman said there was a 7.7 per cent increase in the number of families in Queensland using child-care services over the past year.
The issue is now formally on the agenda for the next Ministerial Council Meeting in December.
But even decisive action there will take time to filter down to those overflowing lists.