A shortage of child care places in the south-west is forcing desperate parents to stay at home rather than return to work.
Some parents on waiting lists up to 40 people long have been told by centre staff not to expect a place within the next six to 12 months.
The Standard has been told of mums who are due to return to work after maternity leave calling the centre in tears desperate for a childcare place.
Mum Emily Thorne wants to return to work full-time but has been told she will have to wait until mid next year for places her nine-month-old twins.
"There's a 12-month waiting list at the moment," Ms Thorne said. "When I rang up for a Monday they said I'd be waiting until at least the middle of next year.
"I've been trying to return to work and I'm on every single waiting list in town."
The second-year apprentice hairdresser, who is studying social work, has retail and hospitality experience and is prepared to do a range of jobs
"They've all put me on a waiting list, and said they'll call me in September but one of them said 'Look, don't get your hopes up because we're going to prioritise others before we will get you'," she said.
Ms Thorne said she was hoping to slowly build up her work hours but returning part-time wasn't "even an option at the moment".
She said it had been difficult financially relying on one wage and she now faces the prospect of not being able to return to work when she needs to.
"It was real tough. There was weeks where I had to sit down and think 'alright I've got to prioritize this like I've got to get nappies and formula'."
In the meantime she is selling some of the clothing they've outgrown to bring in some extra money.
"Obviously having a job and being able to get them into daycare would give us a bit more financial freedom," she said.
Warrnambool's Koala Childcare and Early Learning Centre service manager Gill Marsden said they were experiencing a huge demand.
"It's absolutely nuts," she said. "I've never seen anything like it. There's a huge demand."
She attributed people moving to town and more babies "made during COVID-19" needing care.
"We're doing tour after tour. We're having to cap them at three tours a day because we just can't keep up with the tours."
"We're licensed for 162 and we're pretty much full every day."
She said it used to have places on a Monday or a Friday, which was no longer the case and when a space opened up desperate parents didn't stipulate a preferred day.
"People are just going 'I'll take whatever I can get'."
She said more people were relying on family or employing carers to look after their children at home.
"I'm making the assumption that we need more centres. We just can't keep up with the demand," Ms Marsden said.
Warrnambool City Council last month approved an expansion at the Honeypot Childcare Centre with councillor Ben Blain saying the city's growing population meant there was always a need for more child care places. The city's population, which is currently 34,750, is expected to grow to more than 46,200 in the next 15 years.
A Warrnambool City Council spokesperson said there was a waitlist at council childcare services due to statewide workforce shortages in early childhood for suitably qualified staff.
He said the capacity of council childcare centres was based around the current staffing availability and vacancies were filled based on the Commonwealth Government's Priority of Access.
The spokesman said COVID-19 had not significantly impacted places at council services. "There are often multiple reasons to explain demand for childcare but as recent housing demand shows, people are looking to relocate to Warrnambool, and a place in childcare is an important part of this."
He said families were encouraged to contact the services as early as possible when wanting to access service.
South West TAFE early childhood teacher Karensa Smith said there was a shortage of educators and they were looking to recruit to help meet the growing demand across the region.
"We're hoping to recruit more into the qualification. Nationally they think that by 2024 there's going to be a need for another 37,000 educators."
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