Farming families are a mainstay of the grains industry. But a lack of quality childcare in rural and remote areas is placing growing pressure on young families across the grains sector.
GrainGrowers’ CareConnect project is an ongoing initiative aimed at addressing the pressing challenges of childcare in rural and remote regions of Australia. It follows GrainGrowers’ Childcare Roundtable in May 2023, which highlighted key barriers in rural and remote childcare accessibility.
The upcoming CareConnect strategy session in Canberra on Wednesday 11 October is set to be a game-changer. Our mission? To bring together key people in this space to develop a comprehensive strategy for improving childcare services in rural and remote Australia. In the lead up, GrainGrowers has been delving into the key factors affecting childcare access and affordability, as well as the necessary steps for change.
As part of this, we’ve interviewed a comprehensive list of highly qualified individuals, including growers and childcare operators, to create a foundation for the discussion. This groundwork will help stimulate grower-focused solutions and extend the input from the wider industry.
Why is rural and remote childcare a burning issue for Aussie growers?
Workforce issues such as labour shortages have been flagged by growers year on year and are a top priority for GrainGrowers. Farming communities rely on attracting and retaining young, motivated people and families to work on farm, and growers with young families will know of the challenges of maintaining a farm business while raising children. Affordability and accessibility of childcare in rural and remote Australia plays a huge role in keeping family businesses running and attracting new staff to the sector.
When childcare is not available, growers struggle to get workers. While conducting these interviews, it was unfortunate to hear of situations where farming families were forced to relocate to seek better opportunities for their children. In one case, we even heard of parents living separately to navigate the commute needed to access childcare services.
While growers across Australia are facing worker shortages, it’s essential we look at the untapped talent pool of working parents, as well as ways to keep families on farm and operating sustainable, profitable farm businesses.
What are the key issues that we need to tackle?
Staff availability: One significant factor impacting childcare in rural and remote areas is the limited availability of qualified childcare staff. With a shortage of trained professionals, it becomes challenging to provide adequate childcare services to families in these regions.
Poor infrastructure: Inadequate childcare infrastructure is another hurdle. Many childcare centres in these areas lack proper facilities and safety specifications, making it difficult to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children.
Financially unsustainable models: Financial sustainability is a significant concern in rural and remote childcare. Existing models often struggle to cover operational costs, leading to the closure of facilities and reduced accessibility.
Legislative and regulatory barriers: Various legislative and regulatory barriers, such as inequitable restrictions on accessing childcare subsidies, hinder families from accessing essential childcare services.
How do we address these issues?
The CareConnect project is an ongoing initiative through GrainGrowers aimed at addressing the pressing challenges of childcare accessibility and availability in rural and remote regions of Australia.
To address these pressing challenges, a collaborative effort is essential. This includes:
Identifying and removing legislative barriers: Changing legislation and regulations to remove roadblocks and make subsidies and resources more accessible to rural and remote childcare providers. One example is the legislation that is attached to in-home childcare subsidy. While the subsidy has benefits, it also holds restrictions in some circumstances.
Developing a comprehensive approach to staffing: Creating a comprehensive approach to staffing that includes recruitment, training and support for childcare professionals in these regions. Recruiting new workers to rural and remote childcare services is increasingly expensive. Building the capacity of communities to encourage the local workforce into early childhood education careers, for the long term, is important.
Bolstering mobile services: Mobile childcare services play a crucial role in filling the gap in areas with no fixed childcare centres. Ensuring their sustainability and effectiveness is vital. In many cases, mobile services are fulfilling a need where other options simply don’t exist.
Building strong leadership teams: Strong leadership in childcare centres is essential for effective operations. Adequate training and support for directors can lead to better outcomes. Childcare needs to be equally effective, on top of being accessible.
Funding reform: Reforming funding models to ensure sustainability and ease of access for childcare service providers in remote areas. Funding models, such as grant funding, can often include countless barriers and need to be more accessible for the communities that depend on them.
Competitive wages for childcare workers: Addressing the issue of low wages in the childcare sector, which drives professionals away and hampers service quality. Rural and remote communities are seeing childcare staff leaving the sector due to low wages, and this issue is crucial in both attracting and retaining childcare workers.
Legislative change for business expenses: Changing legislation to allow growers to claim childcare expenses as legitimate business expenses, acknowledging the importance of childcare in supporting the agriculture sector. For example, growers have noted that changes are needed for farming families to claim a nanny is a legitimate business expense.
CareConnect and looking to the future.
CareConnect is a critical initiative aimed at bringing practical solutions and driving meaningful change in the childcare sector in rural and remote Australia. It is a platform for experts, stakeholders, and impacted parties to collaborate and work towards a brighter future and GrainGrowers’ work in this space extends beyond the upcoming summit.
The long-term goal is to continue working on the comprehensive plan developed during the strategy session. With a joint effort, we aim to develop actionable strategies that can significantly improve childcare accessibility in the areas most in need.
By collectively identifying challenges, the project aims to formulate strategies that will tangibly enhance childcare accessibility and availability. This initiative strives to forge a future where childcare becomes more accessible, efficient, and supportive, benefiting rural and remote communities, industries, and families alike.