parent opinion

'I am 100 people deep on wait lists'. The reality of trying to find childcare right now.

It usually haunts me after a middle-of-the night resettle.

As I crawl back into my bed after tending to my nine-month-old baby, I have to actively stop the thoughts from creeping in. Because if I open the floodgates, there goes another hour of sleep. 

Yup. I am at the point where daycare is keeping me up at night for longer than my baby. Because right now there is a very strong possibility that I will not get a place at a centre in time for my return to work in January, 2024.

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I live in Sydney's east, which I am told is one of the worst places to be trying to nab a spot right now.

I've been on numerous waitlists since I was about four months pregnant. 

I am currently on about 10. Some of them (the ones I panic joined way too late), I am 100 people deep on. 

The single daycare that has so far offered me a spot, made me cry. It's not the kind of place I feel comfortable leaving my son. 


My preferred daycare - the one I turned up at when my bump was barely showing, tells me that they're currently placing internal families who have siblings in need of a spot. Then they'll move on to the external waitlist and I've been assured I will find out if I've been successful six-eight weeks before my preferred start date.

But the rooms only have a few dozen spots. There're heaps of siblings. My chances come down to a handful of potential spaces. 

I want three days of care for my soon to be one-year-old. Thankfully, I can be flexible on days. Thankfully, my employer understands that my 'start date' might have to be shifted back. Thankfully, I work in an industry that allows me to freelance late at night and during my baby's naps so I can bring in a little bit of income while I wait. 

I became a new mum in January, 2023. Image: Supplied.


But not every parent has that luxury, and my mother's group - who are all sitting, waiting, on the same lists - are all in the same state of panicked limbo. 

In fact, parents across the country are all in the same boat. In some NSW regional areas, the lists are up to three years long, I'm told.

For some families in Brisbane and Canberra it's over a year.

In Perth and South Australia I've chatted to parents who've been waiting 18 months.

"I was on a waitlist for some places from birth and still did not get a place by two years," one parent told me.

I've been quizzing the daycare directors during tours of their facilities, trying to understand why there is such a lack of care available for particularly the younger children. 

One tired centre manager told me COVID had a lot to do with it. She lost a lot of staff during the pandemic who decided they didn't want to risk working around people while the virus was at large.


She added that the pay they get isn't enough to attract them back. Most of them do it for the love of children, not the money. 

According to SEEK, the average annual salary for a childcare worker in Australia ranges from $55,000 to $65,000. 

In the past few weeks the media has been littered with stories of childcare centres being forced to close because of this very issue - there's simply not enough staff to keep them going. 

COVID also led to a baby boom, and so we have a bottleneck forming; more babies, less staff, fewer spots. 

There's generally a bit more space in the older rooms because they have lower staff ratio requirements.

Word on the grapevine amongst parents is that the waitlists are also a little bit bullshit. Apparently I have to call - weekly - and basically beg for a spot. 

I've heard numerous stories about parents calling, in tears, at the eleventh hour only to be 'slipped' a space.

That's where we're at right now in Australia. Parents are crying down phone lines for what should be a normal, essential service in this country.

I have plans to return to the office in 2024, but three months out, I'm struggling to find care. Image: Supplied.


I am at the point where I don't care what they're planning to charge me, which is crazy, because the cost of daycare is insane.

Once I'm in, my eyes will likely bulge at the amount of money I'm dishing over from my family's weekly pay-packet. As money expert Victoria Divine wrote this month for the Sydney Morning Herald, "One in three families spends more on childcare than groceries, and many families are paying more in childcare costs than they are towards their mortgages".


But the astronomical cost of childcare is currently only my secondary problem. My first problem is actually gaining access to it in the first place.

As I sit, waiting, I feel angry.

Angry that our government keeps talking about their desire for equality and getting women 'back to work', while ignoring this big fat reason as to why so many of us are not. 

Angry that many parents (mainly women), don't and can't return to jobs and careers they love because the cost of daycare isn't worth it. 

Angry that as a society we do not prioritise the careers of those who choose to care for our children while we are away from them. 

It's desperately frustrating that in 2023 something as fundamental and important to the workings of a society as childcare, is struggling in such a flawed system. 

And it's not like this happened overnight, it's been flawed for decades. Even chatting to parents of grown-up children they can remember dealing with similar problems and similar waitlists. 

So when is enough, enough? How many generations will it take to see change?

Childcare workers deserve better. Our children deserve better. We deserve better.

Feature image: Supplied.