Yarriambiack Shire Council is continuing its push for a childcare centre to service Minyip, Murtoa and Rupanyup, after government incentives have allowed it to secure kindergarten workers.
On Tuesday, Victorian Minister for Early Childhood Education Ingrid Stitt announced an additional $510,000 to boost early childhood incentives and to achieve.
Under this funding, incentives will range between $9,000 and $50,000 for successful teachers.
The council's chief executive Jessie Holmes said Yarriambiack had lobbied hard for such incentives ahead of universal three-year-old kinder being introduced in the shire at the start of the year.
She said the council had hired two early years workers - one from Melbourne and one from regional Victoria - with the cash incentives.
"We ended up filling all the positions we needed to, so we'll claim a bit of why the state government is rolling out this program more widely," she said.
"We also have four staff members that receive scholarships through the Department of Education to undertake a Bachelor of Early Education."
Universal access to 15 hours of kindergarten a week for three-year-old children began in Yarriambiack, Hindmarsh and Northern Grampians Shires earlier this year. It will be rolled out to Ararat and West Wimmera Shires in 2021.
Yarriambiack Shire oversees six three and four-year-old kinder locations, and childcare centres in Warracknabeal and Hopetoun run by Uniting, but none in the Dunmunkle area.
"We've done research and we believe there would be 27 families there that would use childcare if it were available," Ms Holmes said.
"We will continue to work with the community around what their opportunities are for getting child care in the Dunmukle area, because we know it's a massive gap.
"Council doesn't have the licences to be a childcare provider, and if we did decide to do that it would take up to 18 months to jump through that regulatory space. It would be much better if someone who knew the childcare space could expand, so we've been working with Uniting around that."
Uniting's Early Learning Area Manager South West Victoria Paula Clarke Paula Clarke also welcomed the new incentives.
"We have the one kindergarten in the Wimmera at the moment in Horsham," she said. "In 2022, that's when the state government will be rolling out universal three-year-old kinder to Horsham, and we will then look to recruit a second kindergarten teacher. This incentive will be of benefit then."
Ms Clarke said the commonwealth was also examining how to provide sufficient childcare to areas like the Wimmera.
"The Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority is developing a draft national workforce strategy for the industry, and public consultation on that is due in mid-2021," she said.
"We know the industry nationwide has an aging workforce and there will be a lot of retirements soon."
Ms Holmes said the current childcare funding model did not align well with the requirements and needs of rural childcare.
"For instance, eligibility for childcare subsidies relies on childcare centres being open for 8 hours five days a week, 48 weeks a year," she said. "That's not sustainable in regions considered rural and remote, so there need to be alternatives. There is work being done in that space because I think the government recognises shortages in childcare is an economic development issue."
"People can't get back into the workforce if they can't access childcare."
Hopetoun's childcare centre, run by Uniting Wimmera out of the council's office, closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic due to staff needing to look after their school-aged children. Ms Holmes said it was operational again now.
The state incentives to attract hard-to-staff positions in early years care are now identical to the ones aimed at attracting teachers to regional areas, announced in September 2019.
A DET spokeswoman told the Mail-Times 19 teachers that took advantage of these incentives chose to settle in the Wimmera. The Department is continuing to recruit teachers under this program over the next two years.
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