Access to quality childcare is increasingly critical to Australian children, families and the economy. In the first research of its kind in Australia, the Mitchell Institute has examined access to childcare in over 50,000 neighbourhoods nationwide.
Childcare is essential for many working parents, providing a safe and nurturing environment for their children at work. However, a new report from the Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy at Victoria University reveals that About nine million Australians, 35% of the population, live in neighbourhoods we classify as a childcare desert. A childcare desert is populated with more than three children per childcare place or less than 0.333 places per child aged four or under.
This is where childcare access is most scarce, and there are deserts in all states and territories and all capital cities.
The report's findings are significant because they challenge the prevailing view that oversupply is the dominant challenge facing Australia's early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector. Remote areas experienced the highest degree of childcare scarcity, with over 78% of communities living in childcare deserts in remote and very remote areas. The report also reveals that major cities have very few neighbourhoods with no childcare supply, and regional areas, both inner and outer, have significantly higher proportions of their communities living in childcare deserts. Furthermore, less well-served neighbourhoods tended to be lower socioeconomic and more ethnically and linguistically diverse.
DESERTS ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE IN REGIONAL AREAS
The research results show that childcare deserts in rural and regional areas may mean a total absence of services, or there may be too few places available to meet the potential demand. This impact means families may need to travel much further to access childcare.
About 1.1 million Australians live in regional and remote areas without childcare.
Childcare deserts are an issue in metropolitan areas too. More than 5.3 million Australians who live in major cities, or about 29%, are in places we classify as childcare deserts.
Families living in deserts in major cities may still be able to access childcare, but they may have to travel further or face more competition for available places. In these neighbourhoods, childcare deserts indicate relatively low spatial accessibility to childcare, but childcare access is possible because of the more significant number of providers.
AREAS OF LOWER SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS HAVE LESS ACCESS TO CHILDCARE
High-quality early childhood education and care enable children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to succeed later in life. Overall, children and families who would benefit most from high-quality childcare have the least access.
THERE IS GREATER ACCESS WHERE THERE ARE HIGHER FEES
Part of the reason for this may be the design of the system, where the underlying principles of the childcare system encourage providers to go where there is the lowest risk and the greatest reward.
One way to illustrate this is to explore the correlation between price and accessibility. The data shows the relationship between the median cost per hour of childcare and the average childcare places per child in the five major capital cities with a population of over one million people.
INVESTING IN AUSTRALIA'S EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION & CARE SECTOR
Access to quality childcare enormously impacts Australians' current and future lives. Yet our research shows that current policy settings mean that where Australians live still plays a significant role in whether they can access this essential service.
It doesn't have to be like this. Research from Victoria University's Centre of Policy Studies shows that investment in childcare almost pays for itself, mainly due to higher workforce participation. Another study highlights how Australia can get the most out of childcare by making it more affordable, reforming parental leave, and linking the early learning sector to the health system.
Australians deserve much better access to childcare and a system that supports families to make the decisions they believe is best for them. Most importantly, children need a system that meets their needs to have the best start in life, regardless of where they live or their parent's income.
Join the growing early childhood community and positively impact our future generation and their families lives. Contact us here to learn more about how we can support you on this exciting journey.
SOURCES | Victoria University ‘ Childcare Deserts & Oases: How Accessible is Childcare in Australia’|