Planning for the near future and the next career move is tough if you’re a new parent trying to find childcare, says Sally McNamara.
Despite putting her 10-month-old on waiting lists for early childhood education and care early on, she said the process has been a challenge, particularly because she had no idea how long the wait would be.
McNamara, whose current role finishes soon, said the uncertainty made the job search difficult.
“How can you look for a job when you don’t know what care you’ve got?” she said. “I feel a bit worried about it, and I don’t want to compromise on the quality either.”
McNamara is not alone. Issues with childcare waiting lists were one of the biggest problems reported by parents and guardians to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which is conducting a survey as part of its inquiry into the market supply of childcare services.
“The waiting lists are difficult to navigate, long, and opaque, and that’s certainly one of the most referenced challenges from parents and guardians,” said the watchdog’s chair, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, adding the amount of feedback on that issue was a concern.
Cass-Gottlieb said parents were sometimes waiting more than a year to be offered a childcare place. That has led to some delaying their return to paid work or study, or working reduced hours.
“They can put their name down and then hear nothing, and not know when they might hear, or how to recontact,” she said.
“Particularly as parents are approaching wanting to return to work, it’s a stressful time, and if you don’t know how you’re going to get the information, it’s adding to the stress of it.”
Cass-Gottlieb said the majority of the more than 2000 families who had responded to the survey so far said they were finding it financially challenging to manage the cost of early childhood education and care.
“Families have also said fees have increased in the past 12 months,” she said.
“In those circumstances, if wages haven’t increased, they’re just facing increased burden in terms of being able to afford it.”
Single caregivers and those who worked outside normal business hours also said they were struggling to find suitable and affordable care, she said.
Georgie Dent, chief executive of non-profit advocacy group The Parenthood, said challenges around getting enough care were a huge burden on families.
“The stories that we’re hearing about wait lists have been really consistent, actually, for the last couple of years, although I would say probably over the last year, the situation has exacerbated,” she said.
“Depending on where you live, you could be waiting three months, you could be waiting six months. It really depends on the exact community that you live in, and the number of services that are operating.”
Those difficulties grew for families with multiple children needing care, Dent said.
“Say you’ve got a four-year-old and a two-year-old, it can be difficult to get a position for both of those children in the same service.”
The ACCC inquiry is also examining government data on early childhood education and care prices, and the number of childcare services, including how accessible those services are around the country. The watchdog is keen to hear from more families in Queensland and Tasmania.
The final report is due at the end of the year, and an interim report will be handed to the government by the end of June.
It’s one of two inquiries the federal government commissioned on early childhood education and care. The Productivity Commission is also looking at the sector, including costs and barriers to care, and will release a draft report in November.
The Albanese government on Sunday announced it was developing a national strategy for the care and support economy that would focus on improving service quality and the availability of decent jobs in early childhood education and care, disability support, veterans’ care and aged care.
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