Acute shortage of childcare facilities across NT, with at least three children competing for every spot

Benicia Acevedo’s son Xavier was on the childcare waiting list when he was still in the womb, known only as “Baby X”.

Over a year later, he was still on the lists.

It was only thanks to her parents, who were trapped in Alice Springs when COVID-19 hit, that Benicia was able to return to work.

“I was very lucky with the support I had then,” she said.

“I have friends who have postponed their return for up to three years.”

New research by the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University found that people who live in remote parts of Australia are most likely to struggle to find a place for their child in a center day care facility.

About 9 million Australians, or 35 percent of the population, live in places the report’s authors called “childcare deserts” — that is, places where more than three children compete for every childcare space.

In the Northern Territory, 86 percent of regional residents and 22 percent of people in Darwin live in childcare deserts.

According to the research, Alice Springs only has one childcare space available for every four children.

The stats were worse in the Barkly region, where 11 kids competed for every available space.

Lead author Peter Hurley said childcare providers were setting up services where there was more demand and where they were likely to make more profit.

“Our research shows that the most expensive childcare in Australian cities is also in suburbs with more childcare places, suggesting there is an incentive for providers to open in wealthier areas where families can afford to pay higher costs,” he said. he.

Joel Bradford is a fly-in fly-out worker, leaving him and his partner Maddie limited opportunities to care for their newborn full-time.Supplied: Maddie Staff

A setback for women who want to go back to work

The past few months have been a stressful ordeal for Maddie Staff and her partner.

If they don’t get their newborn baby Wyatt — just days old — to a daycare center soon, they fear they’ll have to move out of Katherine.

In the regional city, about 300 kilometers from Darwin, numbers are staggering, with six children under four vying for every available childcare space.

A woman and her partner in hospital after having just given birth to a child.
Maddie Staff and her partner Joel Bradford met their first child Wyatt on March 2, 2022.Supplied: Maddie Staff

“As soon as we knew we were having a baby last year, we reached out to all nurseries to try and get on the waiting list,” said Ms. Staff.

“My partner even started talking to all the directors.

Of the four centers in Katherine, all of which work with a wafer-thin workforce, only two have reached out to confirm the family’s request.

“We are number 30 on the waiting list at Little Mangoes… and we’ve been told we can wait another six months or more,” said Ms. Staff.

“In the worst case scenario, we have to move.”

‘Every child deserves the best possible start in life’: NT government

NT Education and Children Secretary Lauren Moss said the NT government advocated for universal free childcare to better support families and ensure that women with children could participate in the workforce.

“Every child in the Northern Territory deserves the best possible start in life and that includes access to quality early childhood education and care,” said Ms Moss.

The 2021-2022 NT government budget allocated $5.5 million to the Early Childhood Services Grant, which provides financial support to operators of long day care, family day care and three-year kindergartens to help reduce costs for families.”

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