In a working family it might be part of the daily routine to pick up and drop off the kids at childcare, but depending on where you live in regional Australia, the journey can take hours out of a parent’s day.
In the region of Padthaway, in south-east South Australia, the closest out-of-school childcare facilities are roughly 50 kilometres away in Naracoorte, Bordertown or Keith.
Lissy Orton, who owns a vineyard with her husband in Padthaway, said on the days she took her kids to childcare all up it took about 180 kilometres.
“It’s two hours [of driving] a day,” she said.
Getting private childcare or before and after-school care services in the region has become one of the key objectives for Padthaway’s grape-growing group, which said a lack of a facilities has made it difficult to attract new and young families to the region.
“[An employer I spoke to recently] wanted to employ a particular person, a person they knew was very suited and well-equipped for the job, and the person was very keen to take the job,” Padthaway Grape Growers’ Association president John Summers said.
“But by living 20–30km to the east, this person found that they couldn’t afford to take the job because not being able to get babysitters, or childcare, or having to drive a long distance to the nearest facility, meant it couldn’t stack up.”
Ms Orton’s four children are now in kindergarten or school in Padthaway, but she used to take her three youngest children to childcare one day a week when things got busy on the farm.
“If the facilities were there it would help people to do more work hours or take on more on the farm,” she said.
“I just did one day because it’s such a big drive — but if there was something more local, your options are open.”
Local school fills gap for those aged three and up
To try and give parents with young children support, the Padthaway Primary School started a program where three-year-old children can join the preschool class.
Padthaway Primary School Principal Olivia English said the three-year-old program has helped parents.
“We just thought this is something we need to drive and need to do for our families,” she said.
But Ms English said for the agricultural and farming families in the region, out-of-school care would be a huge help.
“We take children from age three but … we don’t have that out-of-hours care,” she said.
“We don’t have that capacity to support the parents that need to go back to work when their children are [below three].”
Chicken and egg scenario
But even though the Grape Growers’ Association said there would be demand for before and after-school or childcare services if they were offered, it has been hard to lock in a provider or users.
“The biggest challenge is the ‘chicken and egg’ situation,” Mr Summers said.
“When you don’t have a waiting list of parents looking to have their children in a childcare centre, because the childcare centre doesn’t exist, that is an immediate problem.
“How do you make it stack up if you don’t have the numbers?”
President of the SA Childcare Alliance, Kerry Mahony, said private childcare providers can struggle to make money in regional areas.
The high initial cost of setting up a childcare-appropriate building, and ongoing costs for things like staff and maintenance, make it difficult to break even.
“But a lot of regional areas can’t support a centre that’s licensed for 75 children.”
Recruitment an issue
On top of the costs of setting up a business and registration fees, finding enough qualified childcare workers — one trained person for every 10 three to five-year-old children or one for every four babies, for instance — make it a hard business to pursue in regional areas.
But Mr Summers said if a private provider took a “leap of faith” in Padthaway it could pay off.
“If you had the facility, then you know by logic you would have the numbers,” he said.
“It’s not only the pre-school age children looking for childcare, it’s also the out-of-school hours that we need for parents who perhaps have to start at 7am in the morning, or finish late in the afternoon.
“If we have it, the people will come.”