More than one in every five Riverina children are behind their peers when they begin school and the lack of available childcare spots across the region could be to blame, according to new analysis.
A national study conducted by Victoria University's Mitchell Institute has reported a link between poor early education development and electorates with childcare shortages.
In the Riverina, 21.8 per cent of children are being deemed "developmentally vulnerable" when they start schooling, which the report links to the fact there are 2.6 children competing for each childcare spot.
Children are deemed developmentally vulnerable if they show a lower than average ability in their first year of school based on their physical health, emotional maturity and language skills.
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Author of the study Dr Peter Hurley said his analysis shows the electorates with the biggest childcare shortages, such as Parkes and Cowper in NSW, also have the highest rates of developmentally vulnerable children.
"This is a really big problem because there is a lot of evidence that shows children who start school behind, stay behind," he said.
The Riverina's childcare shortage has been brought into the limelight in recent years, with carers and parents alike being put under pressure by the lack of available spots.
Kristen Whiticker, director of Possums Early Learning Centre, said there are "very little" vacancies in Wagga, which is causing many children to miss out.
Because of this, Ms Whiticker said she wasn't surprised by the number of the region's children being deemed developmentally vulnerable.
"Childcare is really crucial for their social skills because it teaches them how to look after their belongings, take themselves to the toilet and communicate with friends," she said.
"So then when they go to school they can focus on the actual learning rather than how to connect to other people."
Ms Whiticker said the children who miss out on developing those skills before kindergarten would be "naturally behind" the rest of their class.
The increase in developmentally vulnerable children has been noticed by Wagga Christian College principal Phillip Wilson - however he does not believe childcare access is the sole contributor.
"In the last year I would say there has definitely been more children who are anxious and needing more time for social skills," he said.
"But I would put it down to a whole range of things, including that families themselves haven't really been able to go out and socialise over the past two years."
Mr Wilson said schools are looking to provide the students with more social opportunities to counter the rise.
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