WARRANDYTE is facing a childcare crisis.
With only one long daycare centre in the area, servicing all of Warrandyte, Warrandyte South, and Wonga Park, the need for childcare places is at breaking point.
Currently, the Warrandyte Childcare & Preschool has a waitlist in its babies’ room of more than 50 families, meaning many babies will never get a place.
This leaves parents unable to return to work — adding to the ongoing employment crisis — or to try and find a childcare place in Ringwood, Templestowe, or Eltham, which takes families out of the community early learning system, with a flow-on effect on enrolments for our kinders and our prep classes.
A 2022 study by Victoria University: Deserts and Oasis: How accessible is childcare in Australia reported that there are 0.135 places per child in the Warrandyte/Wonga Park area, classifying Warrandyte as a childcare desert. Dr Scott Mackay is the chairperson of Warrandyte Childcare & Preschool and says it is deeply concerning that in a highly urbanised and healthy socio-economic area such as Manningham, this situation exists and fails to be a high priority or concern for Manningham.
The Early Years Future Directions Paper published by the Manningham Council in March 2021 foreshadowed that by 2036 Warrandyte/South Warrandyte would have an infrastructure shortfall of 43 long daycare places and 48 sessional kindergarten places. Scott said,
“Based on the centre’s experience of the current demand for long daycare and lengthy waitlist for our centre, we consider this paper’s prediction an underestimation and suspect that the Warrandyte/Warrandyte South community is already getting close to this level of shortfall for long daycare places.
“We need action from the council now to provide our community with improved early childhood educational facilities,” he said.
The Manningham Council’s Draft 10 Year Infrastructure Plan predicts that from 2016 to 2036, Manningham will grow by an additional 1,883 babies and young children (aged 0–6 years), stating:
“Our community is already characterised by a high proportion of families with two working parents and high rates of sessional kindergarten program uptake. Accordingly, the largest share of our community buildings is devoted to Early Years services, and it is this service area where we anticipate the most significant increase in demand.”
The Infrastructure Plan identifies “expansion of Early Years infrastructure to meet need” as a priority for Warrandyte/South Warrandyte.
However, in terms of action, Council has put any upgrades to the centre on the back-burner, listing any works on the centre as a medium-to-long-term priority, meaning any meaningful work towards addressing the centre’s future would not happen for 7–13 years.
Scott told the Diary the Centre has provided a submission to Council about the draft plan, but he said Council’s priority potentially puts the Centre’s future in limbo for the next 10 years.
Currently, the centre only has space capacity for eight babies (0–2), and only three of these can be under one year old.
The Centre’s Director, Kylie Dunscombe, said she has parents going on the waiting list from the moment they know they are pregnant.
“There’s definitely a need for us to expand, but we can’t do it on this current site.
“Without any guarantees from Council — that they’re going to keep this building — the committee don’t want to put money into something that’s not going to be here.
“We wanted to put solar on the roof to be more sustainable, and we were going to pay for it, but then Council said, ‘the roof’s not structurally sound for that, but we’re not going to fix it’.
“So, the centre needs a lot of work — we do a little bit here and there, but we can’t do as much as we want — even though we have the money to do it, we want to spend the money, but Council are just really non-committal, or they just don’t call back,” she said.
Scott noted that they were currently upgrading the area at the front of the building.
The upgrade is partly funded by a Community Bank Warrandyte grant.
“We are fortunate that we are in a strong financial position here, so that helps us, but it’s just the uncertainty.
“We want to upgrade the entire playground area, but we’re not going to in case Council suddenly decide the future of the Centre is no longer at its current site,” he said.
Kylie said the best outcome would be to move the centre into a community hub closer to the centre of Warrandyte.
“Something bespoke, closer to the Warrandyte township, with a better bushfire rating, would be amazing.
“We’re not wanting to be a hundred-plus centre because what we love is that we’re small, but maybe going up another 10–12 spaces would make a huge difference because people are trying to go back to work, and they can’t,” Kylie said.
The Diary asked Council the following questions:
- Given that the building has been deemed to be at its “end of life”, why is the centre only rated as a “medium-to-long-term priority” for any redevelopment or relocation of the centre?
- What is Council’s plans for the centre — redevelop or move to a hub?
- If they move — where to?
- The centre is in a known “childcare desert”, and at capacity, with 50 families on the wait list for their babies’ room, the Warrandyte community desperately needs more childcare places, so without the capacity to expand at this facility, what can Council do to facilitate families needing childcare in Yarra Ward in particular?
Lee Robson, Manningham Council’s Director of Connected Communities, said Council was grateful to the respondents who provided their comments and feedback to the Draft 10 Year Infrastructure Plan, including the Warrandyte Childcare & Preschool.
“The final Community Infrastructure Plan is due to be considered by Council at its September 26 meeting — we will respond to all submissions after that time,” she said.