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Working parents struggle to find carers for children
Working parents struggle to find carers for children

WA's childcare sector is at breaking point, with critical shortages forcing parents to cut back their work hours or resort to hiring nannies.

The Federal Government's MyChild website, designed to help parents find childcare vacancies, claims 170 of the more than 400 centres in Perth have full-time vacancies for infants up to the age of two.

But only 50 of the 155 centres that responded to inquiries from _The West Australian _had full-time vacancies and many of those only had room for one or two more children.

Forty-two centres were completely booked for 0-24 month olds - with waiting lists as long as 12 months - while others had part-time availability.

Debbie Mashford, from Goodstart Early Learning in Edgewater, said the shortage was partly the result of more parents returning to work sooner.

"In the 13 years I've been in child care I have never known demand as big as what it is this year," she said.

Leederville Early Childhood Centre director Alisha Berry said she had stopped taking applications for 0-15 month olds because the waiting list was too long.

"We had to close the waiting list, we can't even put their names down," she said.

"Some parents are a little bit upset and frustrated because they are hearing the same thing everywhere and they feel there's nothing they can do."

Mary Yacoub, from the Meela Child Care Centre in Mt Lawley, described the waiting list for the babies' room as "phenomenal".

"We are fully booked, we've had some parents waiting since February for a place, it's crazy," she said.

WA Childcare Association president Evan Hicks acknowledged there was a crisis in the sector.

"I can't think of a time when there wasn't a crisis for baby places . . . because of the higher cost involved," he said.

He said babies were far more expensive to care for, requiring one carer for every four children, compared with a one-to-10 ratio for older children.

The association is calling for a 30 per increase in the childcare benefit for parents of under-threes, which they claim would encourage more parents back to work and allow centres to fund more places.

"Provided there is more money for those under-threes, centres would be more willing to have higher numbers in those age groups," Mr Hicks said.

"The Government is getting huge revenue for all these parents who are going to work and not having to pay them the Family Tax Benefit."

The association's chief executive, Rachelle Tucker, said the shortages were most noticeable in inner-city areas.

She denied there was a crisis but said the biggest issue was affordability, with prices likely to rise further owing to sweeping national reforms.

The reforms will force centres with more than 26 children to employ early childhood teachers from 2014.

Ms Tucker said operators would have to increase fees in order to employ more staff.

Goodstart Early Learning State manager Todd Dawson said the company's 45 centres across Perth and Mandurah had an average occupancy rate of 75 per cent, with at least one vacancy in each centre.

Mr Dawson confirmed Goodstart, Australia's largest childcare group, was in talks with the Federal Government to offer more flexible opening hours to meet the changing needs of families.

Federal Minister for Early Childhood Kate Ellis said the Government wanted to remove the obstacles to longer opening hours at childcare centres.

"So many parents have the stress of having to ensure they rush out of work by ten past five to get through the traffic and collect their children by 6pm," she said.

"As Australian families change and Australian workplaces change, we need to ensure that our early childhood services also adapt to meet these emerging needs."