Regions need childcare

Somerset Regional Council approved a development application for a childcare centre in Lowood at its ordinary meeting on 29 May, prompting councillors to seek further opportunities for childcare throughout the region. Picture: LOWOOD ELC DA APPLICATION

Somerset Regional Council has added its voice to the call for more childcare centres in regional and rural towns.

At its ordinary meeting on 29 May, SRC approved a development application for a childcare centre in Lowood.

Later in the meeting, Deputy Mayor Helen Brieschke requested council investigate further opportunities for childcare in central Somerset towns.

“I was encouraged by the application for another early childhood centre for Lowood in the agenda, but I keep on wondering how we’re going to entice investors up this end of the region,” Cr Brieschke said.

“Esk and Toogoolawah are particularly screaming for another early childhood centre or day care.

“The waiting list at Toogoolawah is huge.”

Council resolved to discuss potential options at a future meeting.

“I would like to see how we can entice an investor up this way for another centre,” Cr Brieschke said.

“I don’t really care where it is, I dare say Esk residents would like Esk, but it would be beneficial for our area.”

Cr Brieschke’s comments echo the calls for change from a new ‘Childcare Coalition’ announced last week, consisting of more than 50 organisations including the Regional Australia Institute and National Farmers Federation.

RAI CEO Liz Ritchie said the coalition referred to recent research for the Regionalisation Ambition – a holistic 10 year plan for regional Australia addressing key themes such as jobs and skills, liveability, and population.

“Regional Australia’s population has grown by 6% over the last five years and is now home to nearly 10 million people, but far too many of those people still struggle to access the early childhood education and care they both deserve and require,” Ms Ritchie said.

“In 2022, nearly four million regional Australians lived in a ‘childcare desert’.

“This must change, otherwise the aspirations the government has for the regions to lead the nation’s transition to a low-carbon economy will be difficult to achieve.”

NFF CEO Tony Mahar said the juggle of raising a family and running a farm business was tricky at the best of times.

“Add into the equation limited or even no childcare options, and farming families are really left behind,” Mr Mahar said.

“Childcare services in the regions are waning and, in some cases, they are non-existent, at a time when demand is growing and the agricultural sector is crying out for workers.

Mr Mahar said when the pitter-patter of tiny feet arrived leadership journeys were often put on ice due to a lack of care options.

“We’re proud to have a growing number of women employed in agriculture and women in leadership roles, but we need to support this trajectory through the child rearing years,” he said.

“The Federal Government has made a commitment to a universal early education system and we need to hold the government to account, because right now, bush families are being left behind.”