Edenhope’s Childcare Expansion Helps Parents Return to Work

A decades-long campaign to improve childcare in a remote western Victorian town is paying off for a hairdresser who can’t wait to get back to work.

Edenhope’s mother Kirralee Wallis’ sons, Luka and Leo, will be able to attend daycare which was limited to four children because there was only one carer in the town of 900 available to teach them.

But that changed after the local council launched a two-year pilot program to double enrollment to eight.

Ms Wallis said that meant she could start again in her living room at home next week.

Kirralee’s sons, Leo and Luka (on the couch), will soon be going to daycare together.(ABC Wimmera: Alexander Darling )

“It was really a bit scary waiting to find out if we would have a place, if I could go back to work, because the local town needs a hairdresser and if I can’t have childcare, my salon can’t reopen,” she said. said.

Ms Wallis said she and her husband had even considered leaving Edenhope if a childcare place did not arise.

“I was hoping Leo could arrive in three days (like Luka) so I could still work those days and it worked out perfectly, so I feel incredibly lucky,” Ms Wallis said.

“But I know there are people who missed out too, so we need more.”

A survey of teachers, business owners and doctors in the city last year found that 38 families currently needed or would soon need child care in the Edenhope, Apsley and Goroke areas .

A woman with dark, purple-dyed hair smiles in front of shelves of hair products.
Kirralee Wallis will return to work part-time in her living room from home next week.(ABC Wimmera: Alexander Darling)

why is it important

Edenhope’s mother, Shelley Hartle, said securing a childcare place allowed her to spend more hours at Edenhope Hospital at a time when healthcare workers were hard to find.

Ms Hartle was part of a vocal group of working mothers who lobbied the West Wimmera Shire Council last year, which resulted in a $50,000 feasibility study into a funded childcare service by the council rather than on a private service.

Childcare is being rolled out with financial support from the Commonwealth Child Care Subsidy Program.

A woman in a green coat smiles at a baby in a pink top being held by her mother.  There are children's toys on the floor
Rosie, a worker at the new center, greets Shelley Hartle and her daughter Daisy.(Alexander Darling: ABC Wimmera)

Ms Hartle said it was great to see her daughter Daisy in the service she fought for.

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“I guess what we wanted was choice for families of all shapes, colors and sizes, and we’re about to deliver that,” she said.

Ms Hartle hoped the number of places would double from eight to 16 later this year.

West Wimmera Shire Council director James Bentley said recruiting the right staff would be the main obstacle to the service’s growth.

“We can’t bewitch them out of thin air, so we’re very aware that we don’t make promises we can’t keep,” he said.

What works in the bush

Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute released research in March showing how common situations like Edenhope’s were.

Lead researcher Peter Hurley said around 35 per cent of Australia was childcare desert and 1.1 million Australians had no access to childcare, usually in towns across the country. less than 1500 inhabitants.

a man wearing glasses looking and smiling
Dr. Hurley says the economics of operating child care centers are not feasible in small regional towns.(Provided: Victoria University)

“The childcare system in Australia is organized very differently from schools or preschools and kindergartens,” Dr Hurley said.

“What the child care system does is it sets the parameters of the market and it’s up to the providers to open where they think it’s economically viable.

“That means you get places where there’s a greater concentration of childcare available, often in inner suburbs where they may charge higher fees.”

He said the new Labor government had pledged to review the affordability and accessibility of childcare, but no action was likely during that term.

“We will not be able to solve this problem by continuing with the same structure that we have now,” he said.

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Michael A. Bynum