IT'S not the work Lismore mum Annita Little and Coraki mum Robyn Ryan are afraid of ? it's the hours.

Parents like Ms Little, 22, and Ms Ryan, 38, are concerned about new rules, announced in last night's Federal budget.

People receiving parenting payments from July 1, 2006, will be required to look for 15 hours work per week when their children turn six.

To counter that, Treasurer Peter Costello announced the Government would fund an extra 84,300 child care places across Australia, with most providing after-school care and vacation care.

However, child care centres yesterday told The Northern Star few local providers were equipped to cater for schoolage children, even if the places were available.

One who was applying for after-school care places was Ballina's community-based Rainbow Children's Centre, where director Leo Prendergast said there was enough space to cater for school-age children in the afternoons.

Mr Prendergast said Ballina presently had very few places offering after-school and vacation care, despite a rapidly growing population of families and a high number of single parents (sole parents make up more than 18 per cent of Northern Rivers families, compared with a state average of 15 per cent).

Mr Prendergast said it was difficult to know the extent of demand for after-school care, but the region had a lot of families moving to it, many of whom would have left behind their extended families, making them more dependent on services such as child care.

The scarcity of after-school care puts parents like Ms Little and Ms Ryan, both single mothers, into a difficult position.

The last time Ms Ryan tried full-time work ? as a cleaner at Broadwater's Commercial Hotel ? she had to take her son Aaron with her.

"I had to get him out of bed at 3am and take him cleaning," Ms Ryan said.

"I'd take his doona and pillow and he'd sleep under a pool table while I worked."

Aaron is now 12 years old, but Ms Ryan said she would not want to be in the position of having to force her daughter Abbie, now aged 10 months, to go through the same thing.

Even if child care were available, Ms Ryan said she would be reluctant to use it, saying she did not want to be separated from her children for that long.

"What's the point of having children if you're just going to palm them off to everyone because you have to work," she said.

Ms Little agreed, saying she did not want to miss out on watching her three-month-old daughter, Jacinta, or her three-year-old son, Harley, grow up because the Government wanted her to work.

Ms Little said she wanted to return to work eventually ? she previously worked as a secretary.

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