A new 124-place childcare centre in Warrnambool, due to open next year, will help to alleviate some of the huge demand desperate families are facing.
Works on the centre to be constructed in Verdon Street, at the former Bells Garden Centre, will begin soon.
Veuve Property Group chief executive Vin Harink said the project, which Warrnambool City Council approved in 2019, was held up in 2020 due to COVID-19. It will employ 23 people.
"We are finalising a construction contract with Fairbrother Constructions and expect construction to commence shortly," Mr Harink said. "The 124-place centre will be opened by mid 2022 and operated by an experienced national operator with some 25 centres nationally."
The Standard this weekreported this week that the region was facing a huge childcare shortage with families facing a six to 12 month wait. Calls to outlying towns have further highlighted challenges in the sector.
Koroit's Honeypot Early Learning Centre is fully booked with about 20 families waiting for a place. Its Warrnambool's childcare centre has 190 children on its list.
Director Rebecca Perry said the phone at the Koroit centre was "ringing off the hook", receiving about eight enquiries daily.
Mrs Perry said a pregnant mum contacted her this week wondering if she needed to put her unborn child's name down for 2022. "Coming out of COVID-19 there has been a massive demand," Mrs Perry said. "We've just found since coming out of the second lockdown it has been crazy. Whether it's new people moving to the area or people going back to work. I'm not sure.
"You would have thought with COVID-19 that there'd be more people working from home and the demand wouldn't be there, whereas we're seeing quite the opposite here in regional Victoria, that's for sure."
"We've always been fully booked but we've never seen the waiting lists and the demand we're seeing."
Mrs Perry said that waiting list numbers across the region weren't a true reflection of the need as some families could be on multiple centres' lists.
Moyne Shire Council community and corporate services director Kevin Leddin said its centres at Port Fairy, Hawkesdale and Chatsworth, like others statewide, were seeing higher demand.
Works are underway at the Port Fairy Community Services Centre to increase its capacity from 79 to 112.
He said while most of the new places were for three-year-old kinder from 2022, there would be some places and encouraged families to register early.
He said the demand was due to more people moving to regional areas since the pandemic, families requiring more days of care, parents returning to work sooner after maternity leave and not having family support.
Mr Leddin said there also appeared to be a statewide rise in birth rates with babies needing more places.
Terang's Buckle My Shoe Early Learning Centre's second-in charge Lily Convey said its 32-place centre was "choc-a-block". "We get phone calls daily about spots from parents crying out for help. It is really, really hard," Miss Convey said.
"We run a funded kindergarten program and that's already full for next year. We're just about to put out (next year's) enrolments, but I don't think we'll be able to take any new families on because we're already full with the families that we have, which is so sad."
Camperdown's Banana Splits Childcare Centre owner/director Karin Vaughan said it was full and had 10 families on its waiting list.
Mrs Vaughan said it was hard to know when places would become available as it relied on parents' changing circumstances and there was less movement mid-year.
"I would think some of the families will get in this year, and other families won't get in until next year," she said.
Mortlake's Peas in a Pod Children's Centre is fully booked with 15 children daily and a handful of people on waiting lists.
Childcare worker Georgina Buck said families were "getting their kids in wherever they can at the moment".
"We have one family coming from Cudgee and a family from Garvoc came and had a look," she said.
"There's a few from the Mortlake area but we get some out of towners as well. I've been here 10 years and this is probably the busiest year we've had," Miss Buck said.