Being the primary care giver to a child could arguably rank as the world’s toughest gig. So it is no wonder that parents would want and need a reprieve from their responsibilities from time to time.

But what happens when in a situation and more specifically, a location, where a reprieve is not an option? What of our rural counterparts who may not have access to the same opportunities as us city dwellers?

Having lived many of my formative years in remote locations I am well aware of some of the discrepancies in services and facilities between rural and city locations. As a parent I have not had to deal with these so wanted to share with you the perspective of a rural mother and her communities efforts to obtain a common city service – child care.

Please welcome Joanne Fulwood (pictured far right in photo);

Child Care in Rural Areas – is it mutually exclusive?

Most service businesses require just one thing to remain viable – paying customers! But what happens when a small community desperately needs an essential non-government service but can’t support it with population numbers?

On occasion we might see some Government support, but more likely, the service doesn’t exist.  Which is why rural towns miss out on so many services and facilities that our city cousins take for granted.

Child care is an essential service.  But it’s not a service provided by the Government, so in rural towns, it’s up to the community to establish a centre as a business and try to make it sustainable.

Why is child care so important, particularly in rural areas?    Let me explain.

Children who live on rural and remote properties rarely have any significant social interaction until the formal days of kindergarten begin.  That’s four years without networking – could you go that long?

Many women who live in rural areas have limited family support, and so this notion of “dropping Jack at Mum’s for the afternoon” doesn’t happen.  Babysitting isn’t something that rural women have ready access to – there is simply NO RESPITE.  I had three children two years old and under (twins in there!) and had no support from anyone, so some respite or assistance would have made my life a little bit more enjoyable in those early years.

Also, given that 2010 was the driest year ever recorded in Western Australia’s agricultural history, the economic reality has bitten and some rural wives have been forced to find work off farm just to pay the grocery bill.

Three years ago I was part of a community group that started a non-profit community child care centre in our small rural town.  We still struggle for numbers and we barely break even; and we survive because of sustainability assistance funding from the Federal Government, and because we have the support of our community.

It’s an interesting question though – should our centre be allowed to remain open even though our numbers really don’t show that we are financially viable.

The town I live in is small (under 2000), and a significant proportion of the community is ‘lower socio-economic’.  Simply put, based on pure economic principles, not only do we not have enough children to warrant a full-time day care, but our clients don’t have the income to pay our fees either!

The Federal Government’s rules for Long Day Care Centres are complex, but in a nutshell, in order for a family to claim the Child Care Benefit (a subsidy on their fees according to an income test) they must send their child to an approved Long Day Care Centre.  According to the Act, Long Day Care Centres must operate full-time.

It was a catch 22 for us. Our centre didn’t have enough children to operate five days of the week, and being forced to open for five days would have meant losing money so fast we would have closed our doors only weeks after we opened. However, we could sustain three days a week with our numbers.    The catch here though was that our clientele needed to be granted their CCB (or subsidy) to afford child care for their kids.   So we had to be an approved Centre.    We were backed into a corner.

Through out 2009 and 2010 we lobbied the Federal Minister for Child Care, Kate Ellis MP, asking her to change the rules.  After 12 months of letter writing, media campaigning and talking to politicians, we finally received an exemption from the Department which solved our problem.

Someone made a comment to me the other day about a new rural child care centre that had opened in their small rural town – it was lovely, big and had all new resources – this person said that it was ‘over the top” and “unnecessary” for the number of children that this centre was going top attract.

My thoughts are simply this – why should children in rural areas be forced to settle for second best just because of their location or the number of other children in their community?

Why CAN’T they have access to the first class services that those in the city have?

Every child in Australia should be given the same opportunities.  Services for children, particularly essential services such as a child care, shouldn’t be justified on population numbers alone.

Crude economical principles are fine to base your theories on if you live in a metropolitan area. But when we are talking about children, and when these children live in rural and remote areas, I say that all bets are off!

Hon Kate Ellis MP visits the Cunderdin Day Care Centre

Cunderdin Day Care representatives Nat Beard and Jo Fulwood met with Federal Child Care Minister Hon Kate Ellis MP on her tour through Western Australia’s wheatbelt region in early April.
The tour, organised by Federal Member for O’Connor Hon Tony Crook MP, and State Member for the Agricultural Regional Hon Mia Davies MLC, allowed the Minister to see first hand the important role child care centres play in rural and remote Western Australia.
The Minister acknowledged the extensive lobbying campaign undertaken by the Cunderdin Day Care Committee, and other wheatbelt child care committees, to see the re-instatement of the exemption for part time long day care centres.
Cunderdin Chairperson Nat Beard presented the Minister with a letter requesting the exemptions be enshrined in legislation to allow for smaller centres to have business certainty, and to allow new centres opening in the wheatbelt to operate as part time businesses for the purposes of claiming the Child Care Benefit.
The numerous and important benefits of having a child care centre in a rural community were outlined to the Minister, including the creation of jobs, attracting new families to the regions, and the development of first class co-location facilities.