Childcare users in regional Queensland have waited more than 12 months to access services, according to a new study released by the Regional Australia Institute.
The study focused on affordability and accessibility of childcare in the Maranoa and Western Downs regions of south-west Queensland.
It found that centre-based long day care services in the Maranoa region could only accomodate 39 per cent of children in the region up to four years old. Western Downs has 2,219 children in this age group, with its services able to provide for just 22 per cent.
Regional Australia Institute CEO Liz Ritchie said childcare availability in regional areas was affecting the regional workforce.
"As a working mum, I know the challenges and stress involved in managing childcare issues, while juggling a full-time job.
"Childcare is a critical component many people look for when deciding to make the move to regional Australia - and we need to do better," Ms Ritchie said.
Regional Australia Institute is supporting the fit-out of community-owned houses for family day care, establishing a relief pool of childcare workers and developing a regional workforce strategy for the childcare industry.
The Maranoa and Western Downs areas is home to not only a range of shift workers such as nurses, paramedics and police officers, but also those working in the resources sector on fly in fly out swing shifts.
Regional Australians living in childcare 'deserts'
According to research published by the Mitchell Institute in 2022, about nine million Australians, 35 per cent of the population, lived in neighbourhoods classified as a childcare desert.
A childcare desert is a populated area where there are more than three children per childcare place.
Regional Australians are far more likely to live in a childcare desert than metropolitan residents.
According to the Mitchell Institute, over one million Australians live in regional and remote areas where there is no childcare available at all.
Research conducted by advocacy organisation Thrive by Five found that more than 90 per cent of parents surveyed in regional Australia said childcare costs had risen over the past three years, with 79 per cent of regional parents indicating access to cheaper, high-quality childcare would help their families.
Thrive by Five director Jay Weatherill said that regional Australia is in the midst of a childcare accessibility crisis.
"Being born in regional Australia shouldn't disadvantage any child. Every child, regardless of where they live or how much their parents earn, should be able to access high quality early childhood education and care," he said.
"Yet families living outside Australia's major cities are struggling both with inexcusably long wait lists and high fees to access quality childcare."
Quality childcare can promote health and wellbeing
Access to high quality early childhood education and care promoted healthy development and socialisation in children.
Royal Far West chief executive officer Jacqueline Emery said that early childhood educators played a critical role in identifying development issues early, so that families can seek intervention and care for the long term health and wellbeing of their child.
"One of the benefits of early education and care is that early educators are often the ones that actually are the first to identify that there might be a challenge for a child," she said.
"And while we don't yet fully understand the impact of the pandemic, we're hearing reports that children that are coming through are way behind on their social development.
"That's because children are really invisible to the health system, particularly in rural areas before they start school. And that's because of this lack of access to childcare."
According to the Australian Early Development census the further a child lives from a metropolitan centre the more vulnerable they are to developmental challenges.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Women and essential workers disproportionately impacted
The regions with lower access to childcare also had lower levels of workforce participation for women who have a child aged under five years.
"There's really wonderful things about living in regional Australia, and we saw through COVID a lot of families will be young people actually moving into regional areas.
"But the massive barrier that people face is access to childcare, which then impacts a family's ability, and particularly women's ability, to participate in the workforce," Ms Emery said.
"We hear this all the time, our essential workers like police, ambulance and nurses can't go to work because they can't get childcare. So this is really impacting all of regional Australia's health and well being and economy."