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Home » In regional NSW I can’t access enough childcare, and it’s amplifying cost of living pressures tenfold

In regional NSW I can’t access enough childcare, and it’s amplifying cost of living pressures tenfold

by News Desk

When my partner and I made the decision to move up north two years ago, we saw it as a sensible choice.

Although we’d loved living in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, real estate was skyrocketing and we knew it wasn’t a realistic prospect to own anything there that didn’t resemble a mouldy, shoe box.

In northern NSW, we could afford a comfortable home for our small but growing family. We stretched slightly, to push for a bigger backyard, but I still felt like we’d been fiscally astute. We had a good buffer if interest rates pushed up; which is what we expected.

Push forward 24 months, and that buffer has dwindled to nada. In a year, our mortgage repayments have soared to an additional $1500 a month, and with the Reserve Bank’s shock move to lift the rate once again 3 weeks ago, the threat of more rises is certainly a real one.

Then there’s the other cost of living pressures escalating on the daily: groceries, electricity, gas…

And with two children now, the cost of childcare (even after subsidy) sits at more than $400 a week.

But, as I noted on a LinkedIn post last week, the cost of childcare isn’t even the biggest issue we’re facing as a family. The bigger problem is that we can’t access it properly.

My three year-old son thankfully goes to an excellent centre five days a week. The educators are wonderful, and he thrives. I’m filled with pride and gratitude about the person they’re helping to shape him into.

My 11 month-old daughter attends the same centre and is equally happy, but I’ve only been able to secure three days of care for her. The baby room is pushed to the hilt and the educators are already doubling down to help local working families manage.

Moreover, the centre she’s in, is the only one in our town that accepts children under age two. The closest neighbouring centre is 15 minutes drive away, which has a waitlist too. Our income doesn’t stretch to having a nanny and neither set of grandparents live close by.

So, for 2 days a week, my partner (who’s a teacher’s assistant) and I, scramble. We scramble hard.

Co-managing a small media business really demands full time hours. So, with my baby home, I call on friends, work around naps and put hours in over the weekend and in the wee hours. I try not to let things slip, but invariably feel guilty or disappointed with either my work output or my home one. I know I could be/should be doing more. I wish I could feel less like the furiously paddling proverbial duck.

I’m frustrated that I can’t work and parent in the way that I want to and the way that’s best for my family.

And yet, I’m also incredibly lucky.

I’m lucky because my kids are at least in brilliant childcare with educators who are making them better people.

I’m lucky because I established my career to some degree before having kids and now get to work flexibly and within a supportive, inclusive team with a business partner who understands the juggle better than most.

I’m lucky because my partner understands and shares the load.

And I’m lucky because villages do exist– especially in small towns. And the community of female friends around me really rallies without judgement.

But, this period of time that I’m finding more challenging than ever, serves as a bigger reminder of the other families who are struggling twice as hard with fewer lifelines in place.

Those women who aren’t so fortunate; who can’t access good childcare at all and make things work at a time when things are more socially and economically precarious than they’ve ever been. Those women who don’t have supportive partners or ready social networks.

How do they survive through this? If they can’t work because of inadequate accessibility to childcare but need the extra income, how do they survive?

And if we don’t fix it quickly, the whole country misses out. Our pipeline of talent will dwindle and our economy will buckle.

So, my message to the government is this: Childcare reform needs to go beyond upping the subsidy in July.

It needs to be about paying educators, who are overwhelmingly experiencing burnout, what they rightly deserve. The same educators who are falling over themselves to support regional working families are the same people who have experienced devastating hardships. Two of the female educators at my children’s centre lost their homes in the floods. Their resilience is mind boggling.

This will go a long way to ensuring equitable access to quality, affordable childcare for everyone. Something which will lead to a far healthier economy, happier people, and better educated, fulfilled kids. The modelling’s there.

Because, while the cuddles are great, I could get a whole lot more done with two hands free.

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