Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Reconceptualising Child Care in Rural Areas: Meeting the Needs?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Reconceptualising Child Care in Rural Areas: Meeting the Needs?

Article excerpt

Individuals living in rural areas of Australia face severe difficulties in accessing a range of services which include child care. Research (McKenzie, 1986; Tasker & Siemon, 1998; Townsend, Mohoney, Nesbitt & Hallebone, 1999) have found that state and federal governments have been actively decreasing funding in real terms, in the areas of health, welfare, and education, as a way of rationalising expenditure in rural areas. Townsend et al. (1999) argue that the long-term viability of many rural towns has been compromised by the decrease in funding to rural development initiatives and, as a result, service provision has declined. These cutbacks have serious repercussions in terms of the quality of life in rural areas, especially for women. Coorey (1990a) found that rural women have become impoverished because of these cutbacks, both in financial terms and in terms of social power.

Social power is dependent on such things as an individual's access, and freedom, to work, and their ability to access health and welfare services. It follows that reliable and affordable child care is very important in order to give women the opportunity to work outside the home, further their education, or even allow them to engage in recreational activities. However, it has been argued that recent government initiatives such as the removal of operational subsidies to centres and the need for centres to be accredited for parents to be eligible for fee relief (Broadside, 1990a; 1990b; 1992; 1996; 1998) have affected many families' ability to afford formal child care.

Families living in rural and remote areas face particular challenges, including the affordability of services, in trying to access child care. Beach (1997) delineates a number of these difficulties, such as the limited availability of formal services, including centre-based care and family day care, and the increased reliance upon unregistered carers such as paid baby-sitters, family, and friends. Another major barrier in terms of accessing services is geographic isolation and the fact that families are forced to travel long distances to available services (Bailey & Warford, 1995; Dale, 1994; McGowan, 1994). Related to the barrier of distance is the increased cost, both in terms of time spent away from work and money, of trying to access services (Coorey, 1990b; McGowan, 1994). Increased costs are also apparent in terms of setting up child care services. Costs in providing child care services increase substantially in areas where populations are small in size and highly dispersed (McGowan, 1994). In addition, rural areas tend to lack large employers who are able to contribute to, and help subsidise, child care services (Bailey & Warford, 1995).

Other problems faced by providers of child care services include the difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified staff (Bailey & Warford, 1995; Dale, 1994) and accessibility of services. Even when suitable carers are available, there is the additional problem of having services that are not accessible at times needed by many rural families (Coorey, 1990b). For instance, farming families work long hours and traditionally there are increased pressures in terms of peak farming periods (Bailey & Warford, 1995), when the need for child care intensifies. Therefore, there needs to be greater flexibility in the provision of child care which fulfils the particular needs of rural families. Another problem is the possible lack of information about available services (Coorey, 1990b). Families may not be aware of the services available or they may be misinformed about the purpose of the services, i.e. family day care is only for working mothers (McGowan, 1994).

Coorey (1990b) outlines further difficulties in service delivery to rural areas. These are the appropriateness and the acceptability of urban-style service models in rural areas. For example, there may be an increased need for weekend care in rural areas, which is not part of urban service models. …

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