Childcare survey reveals inequities

Available, affordable, high-quality care is still out of reach for many families.
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03.Waiting lists

Respondents' comments:

Child playing with blocks

  • “I live in a small town (population 8000) and we’re required to line up outside the daycare centre as early as possible in the morning (5am onwards) on the day that they take applications for the next six-month period.”
    - Sara, Queensland.
  • “All the centres we saw, the first thing out of their mouths [was] no places for at least a year and a half and that was seven months before the baby was born. Sometimes you felt you had to settle for inferior centres, just to get a place until something better appears.”
    - Jennifer, NSW.
  • “I found plenty of childcare centres in my area, but waiting lists were very long and most of them weren’t of high quality anyway.”
    - Leanne, Queensland.

Survey findings

While recent government figures indicate an oversupply of childcare in some areas, our survey revealed that other areas face shortages.

  • The biggest obstacle faced by our respondents when looking for childcare was long waiting lists (see Table 2) — 64% of people who completed the survey reported them. On a state basis, even in bestcase WA and SA around 50% of survey respondents mentioned long waiting lists.
  • Waiting lists are also generally more of a difficulty in cities than regional areas.

Parents spoke of waiting lists that were sometimes as long as two or three years. One respondent was shocked to be told that they should have put their name down at a childcare centre before their child was born, but many parents said they’d done just that and still had trouble getting a place.

And there were even cases of parents who’d had to refuse work because of lack of available care.

Some parents also thought waiting lists weren’t very systematic:

  • 12% of parents who answered our survey said people who’d apparently been behind them on the waiting lists had got places before they had. This may be because some centres give siblings priority, or because government policy gives priority for at-risk children, but it added to the frustration of those still waiting for a place.
  • 44% of those surveyed said they’d been unable to get the days they wanted, while 38% had problems getting the number of days they needed.
    Getting childcare outside normal working hours proved a problem for 14% of our respondents.

The Minister's view

The Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA), Mal Brough, says waiting lists aren’t a reliable measure of demand "… as they are often out of date and people routinely join multiple lists”.

This seems a feeble reason for dismissing the significance of widespread long waiting lists: surely parents wouldn’t put their names on multiple lists if they were confident they’d get into the centre they’d prefer.

The fact that lists are out of date and duplicated also adds stress to parents trying to return to work or study.

As one respondent said: “There is so much duplication … you don’t really know what realistic chance you have of getting in by the date that you require it for.”


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