20/04/2022 - 08:00

Childcare needs on the outer

20/04/2022 - 08:00


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Despite interest from developers, childcare centres aren’t always being approved where Perth families need them most.

Childcare needs on the outer
No childcare centres were approved for development in regional WA, despite data suggesting these areas are those most lacking in childcare availability. Photo: Stockphoto

Australia needs childcare centres.

That’s the message from researchers at Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy, at least, who last month released the results of nationwide analysis of access to federally funded childcare centres.

Their findings were damning, with nearly 9 million Australians, or a third of the population, thought to be living in what academics refer to as a ‘childcare desert’.

These are suburbs where there are more than three children per available childcare place.

Perhaps more unflattering was that Western Australia was believed to have the lowest overall childcare accessibility in the country, with data suggesting accessibility was clustered in suburbs that generally already had enough childcare centres.

There’s a fair explanation for why availability is low in regional WA, given the state’s sparse population and the economics behind operating a centre and subsidising demand in these areas.

What’s perhaps more difficult to understand is why centres are being built in suburbs where demand is already being met by supply, a quirk the report’s authors chalk up to the structure of the current childcare subsidy arrangement, which makes providing care to affluent families a more profitable exercise.

“This leaves more disadvantaged areas with lower levels of childcare accessibility,” they wrote.

“As a consequence, Australia is not fully capitalising on the long-term benefits to children from more disadvantaged backgrounds of high-quality early learning.”

While the report doesn’t give exact breakdowns of availability by suburb, data subsequently released to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation appears to show Joondalup and Perth’s western suburbs as the best-performing suburbs in terms of childcare availability.

On the other side of the ledger, much of Fremantle and Perth’s middle-ring suburbs appear subject to a scarcity of available childcare places which, by all appearances, will continue well into the near future.

For this article, Business News reviewed all development approvals lodged in 2021 to see where investors are seeking to build childcare centres in WA and whether that aligns with where the Mitchell Institute’s research suggests the resources are needed.

Of the 58 developments submitted for approval in that time, 49 were given the go ahead, equating to an 85 per cent success rate for developers.

More than half of those proposals were approved for outer-metropolitan suburbs, with parts of City of Gosnells and City of Wanneroo earmarked for 11 new centres between them.

City of Melville, which data indicates is subject to a scarcity of centres, has also attracted significant developer attention despite local councillors frequently opposing their approval in Joint Development Assessment Panels.

City of Joondalup, already well serviced compared to the rest of the state, was also a popular destination, however, councillors managed to knock back four of six developments that went to the JDAP, with the remaining two earning the support of councillors.

At least two of those that were rejected may yet end up built, with the State Administrative Tribunal intervening in February to have a proposed development in Kingsley be reconsidered for approval.

Another facility, to be built in Kallaroo, is also awaiting a SAT determination as of September.

Shockingly, it appears no childcare centres were approved for development in regional WA, despite data suggesting that, outside of regional population centres such as Busselton, Margaret River and Pemberton, these areas are those most lacking in childcare availability.

Jay Weatherill, chief executive of Minderoo Foundation’s Thrive By Five initiative, was particularly critical of childcare shortages for rural and regional Australians who disproportionately fall below the poverty line.

“Early learning can be a great equaliser for children, helping them start formal learning on an equal par with other children,” Mr Weatherill said.

“High-quality early learning has a big impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds as the education they receive provides the stimulation and development trigger that may not be readily available at home or surrounds.

“Children and families in these areas are among the most likely to benefit from early learning, yet structural problems in the system have abandoned them without the access they need.”

Minderoo Foundation partially funded the Mitchell Institute’s research.


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