Advocates call for rural childcare funding

·2-min read

Navigating dirt roads and country highways, the Skipworth family drove 120 kilometres to get their twins to and from preschool most days.

Mother-of-four Fiona Skipworth is used to travelling for essential services from the family's property near Trundle, in central west NSW, but accessing preschool was particularly difficult and expensive.

The twins' preschool fees were $300 a week, on top of daycare costs and petrol.

"It's very frustrating. There's a massive gap out here to get any type of early intervention for our children, much less for families who are struggling as it is," Ms Skipworth told AAP.

Life is a little more straightforward now that her 12-year-old son, the nine-year-old twins, who have special needs, and her five-year-old daughter are at school.

A national plan to help families like the Skipworths and address early education shortages in rural areas is being unveiled at NSW Parliament House on Wednesday night.

Campaign group Thrive By Five has drafted a five-point plan to improve access and affordability, calling for a dedicated funding model for rural early education services.

The plan, backed by several rural groups including Royal Far West children's charity, also urges the childcare subsidy be made available to all children, regardless of parents' income and employment.

The push comes after a Victoria University study found nine million Australians live in childcare deserts, which are defined as areas where there are three children for every childcare place.

The shortage is stark in the country, with 44 per cent of people in inner regional and 61 per cent in outer regional areas living in childcare deserts.

Royal Far West chief executive Jacqui Emery said rural children are twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable when they start school, compared to city kids.

"Being born in the regions shouldn't disadvantage any Australian child, hold back their development, or make it tougher for families," Ms Emery said in a statement.

The plan also urges a review of early learning workers' pay and conditions to resolve a skills shortage.

Georgie Dent, executive director of advocacy group The Parenthood, said the sector needs this kind of shift.

"Australia should be in a position where every single child, regardless of their postcode, regardless of their parents' working patterns, should have access to quality early learning before they start school," Ms Dent told AAP.

"These five points provide a a blueprint. We absolutely need, as a matter of urgency, to look at the workforce situation."

Ms Skipworth, who works in a community family support service, said many rural children were falling through the cracks.

She said country people deserved better.

"We can't afford to live in the city. And if we're not out here, who's going to grow your food?

"We're the backbone of Australia."

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