A recent study by The Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy at Victoria University has shone the light on the disparity in access to childcare in over 50,000 neighbourhoods across Australia.
Its findings will be no surprise to many parents who have struggled to find a place for their child in a childcare centre, while others have had a plethora of choices for their child(ren). Ultimately, the study found that when it comes to access to childcare, where you live matters.
A Childcare Desert
Approximately 9 million Australians (35.2% of the population) live in areas the researchers identified as ‘childcare deserts’. ‘The definition of a childcare desert is a populated area where there are less than 0.333 childcare places per child, or more than three children per one childcare place. About 568,700 children aged 0 to 4 years, or 36.5% of children in this age group, live in neighbourhoods we classify as a childcare desert’.
Childcare deserts may have inadequate to no services catering to families and are most commonly found in regional or remote areas. This is not to say major cities areas are unaffected ‒ about 29% of the metropolitan population reside in childcare deserts.
Additionally, areas designated as being of lower socioeconomic access have lesser access to childcare services while, correspondingly, greater access to services are available in neighbourhoods where fees are higher.
Finding Support in Policy
Clause 11 of the Planning Policy Framework identifies that ‘planning is to anticipate and respond to the needs of existing and future communities through provision of zoned and serviced land for housing, employment, recreation and open space, commercial and community facilities and infrastructure’. This is echoed in the concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods where everyday needs are located within a 20-minute walk, cycle or public transport trip from their home.
Preparing Needs Assessments
Recent trends for the location of childcare centres have seen an increase in the number of centres locating within residential areas for myriad of reasons, including the increasing cost of land and the space required for larger centres as well as accessibility for parents. Due to this trend, we are frequently seeing more and more councils requiring applicants to demonstrate the need for a centre as part of their local policy (either specific childcare policies or non-residential uses in residential areas policies).
Whilst need in and of itself should not be a reason to refuse a planning permit, given that it is usually a market forces issue, Ratio Consultants has in-house capabilities to prepare a needs assessment based on current and future population growth and accepted industry standards on participation rates in childcare that can accompany a planning application or provide a client with preliminary advice to assist in the decision-making process.
Should you require assistance in preparing a needs assessment, please contact Hayley Vinecombe.
 Hurley, P., Matthews, H., & Pennicuik, S. (2022). Deserts and oases: How accessible is childcare? Mitchell Institute, Victoria University