Parents are flying in family members from interstate or resigning from jobs to fill the void of a dire childcare shortage in South Australia’s Far North, a new study has found.

Key points:

  • A study is collating the experiences of people accessing childcare in Far North South Australia 
  • A Roxby Downs mother says she resigned from her job after it was too hard to get childcare services
  • Potential solutions are hoped to be formed from the study

Far North Regional Development Australia is undertaking community consultation to understand the extent of the region’s childcare crisis.

It has included meetings in towns with parents and stakeholders in places including Port Augusta, according to Maz McGann, the consultant involved in the study.

“Their jobs are at risk because they can’t get the childcare they need,” she said.

“In this day and age with the cost-of-living crisis and interest rates going up, being in gainful employment is pretty critical.

“I think one of the big things that people are doing is actually flying grandparents in from other parts of the country or even overseas to come and care for their children.”

Mum’s battle in Roxby Downs

Mother of two Sonia Lawrie said finding childcare in her hometown of Roxby Downs had been a trial.

She said she withdrew her second child from childcare when COVID hit the town.

“I was told I would be able to get her back in but would have to wait for a maximum of a month,” she said.

“That then turned into a year-and-a-half of waiting.

“Within that period, I resigned from my job because it was just too much looking after her and trying to work at the same time.”

Ms Lawrie said improvements needed to be made to help mothers re-enter the workforce.

“They need more workers in the childcare facility, and they need a bigger facility to be able to cater for the town, so mums or parents can re-enter the workplace when they have young children,” she said.

“I enjoy work, I think it’s good for mental health as well as to keep the brain stimulated and it gives me a bit of independence … and being out and about in the community rather than sitting at home.”

Small-town struggle

Childcare services are about to dry up in the Flinders Ranges town of Quorn, according to mayor Ken Anderson.

“We only had one private service which is a backyard private home care and that’s about to end so we won’t have any childcare services at all, and we’ve had limited services anyway,” he said.

“The closest is 45 kilometres away at Port Augusta but all the spots have filled as we understand it, so we’re severely lacking in the area.”

Mr Anderson has initiated a childcare feasibility study for the Quorn and Hawker area, separate to the current Regional Development Australia report.

He said he wanted to present the findings of the report to the state government in a bid to get a childcare centre funded at the local school.

“We have had good discussions with the school board and the principal and education department, and that’s in regard to possible locations of it,” Mr Anderson said.

Roxby Downs is in Far North South Australia.(Supplied: Emma Cochrane)

“And some of the ways of cost saving and making sure it’s going to be long lasting in a small community, and make sure it’s got multi-use facilities so when age groups change, we can use those multi-functional facilities to cater for the kids as they grow up.”

Understanding the need

Ms McGann said she hoped the broader Regional Development Australia Far North study could help demonstrate a need for services in particular areas.

“It’s really important to collect some evidence on that so we’ve got a really clear picture of actually what is going on,” Ms McGann said.

A survey is available to residents online to reflect their access to childcare experiences.

“After that, we need to write up the research and a response in terms of what our findings are and then what are some of the strategies to tackle those issues,” she said.