Eve, 4, Alex, 14 and Rose, 3, with mum Rebecca Lucock at their home in Gulmarrad.
Eve, 4, Alex, 14 and Rose, 3, with mum Rebecca Lucock at their home in Gulmarrad. Adam Hourigan

Care crisis in Clarence Valley

CHILDCARE operators and parents in the Clarence Valley continue to face a financial squeeze as regulations designed to improve the quality of care take their toll on profitability, which in turn is pushing the price of childcare skywards.

The staff-to-child ratio for children under two years was reduced from 1:5 to 1:4 at the start of 2011 by the Federal Government, adding to staffing costs for operators. As a result, many parents have seen a jump in their childcare rates.

But the horizon for childcare centre operators such as Leanne Robinson, of Cubby House for Kids in Maclean, looks even more difficult.

Staff to child ratios for the two years age bracket will be reduced from 1:8 to 1:5 in 2016.

This, said Ms Robinson, meant that instead of two staff taking care of 16 children as happens now, three staff would have to be employed to care for 15 children.

Working on her current fee of $55 per day per child, Ms Robinson said the operating profit on that room would go from $300 per day to $5 per day, making the prospect unviable.

“Some centres in Sydney are talking about price rises of $20 per day but parents around here can't afford that,” she said.

Ms Robinson said parents of children under three needed further assistance to cope with the change and there was little incentive for operators to meet the ever-present demand in this age group.

All three Clarence Valley childcare operators contacted by The Examiner yesterday said there was always a waiting list for childcare places in this age group because some operators did not offer places for children under two.

Ms Robinson said her centre was adding rooms to cope with the high demand for the younger age bracket.

“We have a waiting list of about 30 in the under-twos and about 15 to 20 in the two-year bracket,” she said.

Ms Robinson, just like the other operators contacted, said she had most vacancies in the three-five years age bracket.

Other legislative changes will see an increased level of diploma-qualified staff needed in childcare centres.

Rebecca Lucock, of Gulmarrad, had to quit her job because she couldn't find the right kind of childcare for her two young daughters.

When the girls' family day carer decided she was going to take up work in a childcare centre for personal reasons, Rebecca said she tried looking for other family day carers but couldn't get a place for both children at the same time for three days a week.

Though Rebecca admits she is “fussy”, she has good reason.

Her four-year-old daughter Eve has hearing and speech difficulties and would simply not cope in the busy and often noisy environment of a childcare centre.

Rebecca, who was working as a partnership broker for North Coast Youth Career Connections, said she had to choose between proper care for her daughters or her career.

“I wasn't going to put the girls into long day care in a centre ... (Eve) gets very disorientated in that kind of environment,” Rebecca said.

“It was a huge decision but at the end of the day the job wasn't as important as my kids feeling comfortable and their education.”

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