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Childcare shortage is forcing Murray Bridge families into difficult choices
Parents are being forced to consider quitting their jobs or taking unpaid time off because of a lack of OSHC and vacation care options.
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Starting a new job is usually an exciting time, but for Jade Krebbekx, the positive feelings are tinged with worry.
She doesn’t have any leave built up yet – so where will her boys go during the school holidays, seven weeks from now?
“I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said.
“They’re not going to want me to take two weeks off this early into (a new job).
“I’m going to be juggling things.”
She is not alone.
Childcare is becoming harder to come by in Murray Bridge, and especially vacation care for school-aged children.
About 2000 young people between the ages of five and 14 live in the regional centre, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
But there are only about 100 or fewer vacation care places available at three local centres: 40 at Murray Bridge North School’s OSHC (out-of-school hours care), 10-20 at Murray Bridge Community Children’s Centre, and a few more at Tyndale Christian School’s OSHC.
World of Learning offered vacation care up until this summer, but will now focus on preschool-aged children.
Camp Australia offers before- and after-school care at St Joseph’s, but not school holiday care.
It is not yet clear what types of care will be offered at a childcare centre being built as part of the Newbridge housing development.
Several families approached Murray Bridge News this month to raise their concerns.
How could there be six primary schools in Murray Bridge, Kris Murphy wondered, but only two which offered vacation care?
“So many of us are in the same situation: come April, there’s nowhere to go,” she said.
“I’m a single parent.
“If I can’t get (my daughter) into the North School (OSHC), I’ll have to take time off work, which I can’t afford to do.”
The lack of childcare options wasn’t just unfair to families, either, Chris Thompson pointed out – it was unfair to businesses who employed parents of young children.
It’s even harder for families whose children have special needs
The lack of options meant it was hard to find appropriate care for children with specific needs, such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the parents who spoke with Murray Bridge News noted.
Mr Thompson said he had had to keep his eight-year-old son at a service where his needs weren’t being well met because there was nowhere else to go.
“Being autistic, he likes his routine,” Mr Thompson said.
“With the school holiday roster, quite often they haven’t been doing things (according to the roster) and it sets him off.
“They don’t have a separate room for kids with learning impairments (either); if it gets too loud, Trevor needs a room which is nice and quiet, but they don’t have one.”
What’s the solution, then?
Catherine Thompson recently wrote to state MP Adrian Pederick, arguing that at least one additional OSHC and/or vacation care provider was needed in Murray Bridge.
Could the state government step into the gap and provide one until a long-term operator could be found?
“We have a growing population in Murray Bridge, with the new developments and re-opening of Thomas Foods,” she said.
“We need a service that caters for all five- to 12-year-olds from all schools, including any disabilities.”
She suggested a service be located close to North School, which was a hub for school bus routes: “staff could collect the children from the buses and take them to the service if they attend another school”.
Mr Pederick told Murray Bridge News he had raised the issue with state Education Minister Blair Boyer and the Murray Bridge council.
“We’ve seen multiple childcare operations open throughout Murray Bridge, but it’s about having those extended options,” he said.
“It looks like we need more (OSHC providers) to meet the need.”
Having more childcare available would give more parents an opportunity to contribute to the community, he said.
“With pressures like the cost of living and rising interest rates, (families) need to be supported and children need to be adequately catered to.”
Find a childcare service: www.startingblocks.gov.au.
Disclosure: The author is a member of the governing council at Murray Bridge North School, which oversees the OSHC there.
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