The peak body for Australia’s early childhood sector says it has become increasingly difficult to hire and retain early childcare staff in the ACT, as centres across the territory struggle with understaffing.
Early Childhood Australia CEO Samantha Page said that around 30 new centres had opened across the nation’s capital in the past couple of years, spreading teachers and educators thin across the sector.
Ms Page said the growth in the sector, as well as the introduction of stronger qualification requirements which were introduced in 2012, had seen a shortage of staff as centres struggled to attract teachers and educators from interstate.
“We have heard early childhood service complaints about the difficulty of attracting and retaining staff in the ACT,” Ms Page told Region Media.
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“I don’t know if it is every service across the territory but certainly a high proportion of services are reporting that it has been hard to attract particularly teachers but also educators.”
Over the last decade, Ms Page said ACT’s early childhood sector has seen a sudden shift from long waiting lists for daycares to now an oversupply of service, calling on the ACT Government needs to address the urgent problem.
She said there is no information available for prospective service providers about where there is a demand for services and believes the ACT Government needs to inform providers about where the needs lie across the territory.
“A few years ago, it was really hard to get into daycare in the ACT. You had to go on a waiting list and you were lucky to get a place by the time your child was ready to start,” Ms Page said.
“Now there is a lot of spare capacity in the services due to the number of new services that have come online, creating an increase in the number of positions and increasing competition for staff.
“There have been calls for a long time from the sector for better planning of services, so the market does not have these boom and bust cycles. One minute there is undersupply and the next there is an oversupply.”
According to an ABC report, Child Education and Care Assurance investigators had found understaffing in at least 18 centres in Canberra, including centres run by the YMCA, Sherpa Kids, Anglicare, Guardian Early Learning, Kids Club Child Care and Communities@Work.
Investigators’ documents, which were released under freedom of information laws also highlighted security concerns across the sector, with several incidents of children being left unsupervised and having wandered out of centres.
Despite the systemic issues in the sector, Ms Page said there was no excuse to cut corners and was appaled by the alleged incidents.
“I am not excusing poor practice and not for one minute am I suggesting that this is the only reason or even the primary reason why we are seeing examples of terrible practice,” she said. “Nothing justifies things like falsifying records or leaving children unsupervised. That is not okay.”
ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry said early childhood educator centres need to do more to attract and keep educators in the sector.
“The Government is acutely aware of the need to value educators working in the early childhood education sector and develop this workforce,” Ms Berry said. “The early childhood strategy will elevate this issue as one of its key priorities, with initiatives and investment directed to increased professionalisation of educators.
“It is also vital that providers value their workers with fair pay conditions and by providing professional development. These factors will help attract and keep educators in the sector.
“As the Government works towards implementing universal free three-year-old early childhood education, it has been focused on an approach that will account for workforce issues. The additional government investment through this initiative will help provide funding to develop the workforce.”