Parents demand support in southeast Vic

·2-min read

Early parenting services in southeast Victoria are lagging other parts of the state, with exhausted parents forced to drive to Melbourne for support.

Sleep-deprived and trying to raise three children aged under two, Starliene Azzopardi and her husband sought professional help.

"When your babies are screaming all night and you just can't settle them, you start thinking that you're doing something wrong, that you're a bad mum," Mrs Azzopardi said.

She was referred to the Queen Elizabeth Centre (QEC), a residential early parenting centre in Noble Park, more than an hour from her home in Neerim, Gippsland.

Early parenting centres offer free support to parents with children under five with issues such as sleeping, behaviour, nutrition and literacy.

"That one-on-one support makes all the difference," Mrs Azzopardi said.

"We're in a much better place now where we can just enjoy being a family. I honestly don't know where we would be today if we didn't get that help," she said.

A recent study by Monash University and the QEC found early parenting centres in high-demand areas such as Geelong, Shepparton, Bendigo and Ballarat were generally well-funded by the Victorian government. Gippsland was a notable exception.

QEC chief executive Sue White said the study also found a lack of culturally appropriate early parenting services for Indigenous Victorians.

"The research tells us the Gippsland region, and Aboriginal communities across Victoria, are at risk of being under-served as the population of children aged zero to four grows through to 2050," Ms White said.

"When we give parents the skills they need ... the positive impact lasts a lifetime. Every family should be able to access these services for free, and closer to home."

Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the Andrews government had failed to plan for growth in the regions.

"It is the most vulnerable families in our state that are being left behind," Ms Crozier told AAP.

"Regional parents shouldn't be forced to drive their children to Melbourne for support."

A Victorian government spokesperson said the Andrews government had invested $148 million to expand its early parenting centre network.

"Regional Victorian families will benefit from the EPC expansion with new facilities in Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Shepparton," the spokesperson said.

While each facility will be further than Melbourne from Starliene's home in Neerim, the government said it would consider the study findings.

"We'll review the recommendations made in the report and if more work needs to be done in specific growth areas, we'll look at ways we can achieve that," the spokesperson said.

Mrs Azzopardi hoped people would understand the need for early parenting services in her area.

"Families with newborns are already exhausted, the last thing we need is hours of driving," she said.

"When you need help, you should be able to get it close to home."