New research identifies best locations for Victorian Government’s 20 new early learning centres to maximise impact on children and families

As Premier Andrews decides on the locations for the final 20 of 50 new integrated early learning centres in Victoria, new research commissioned by Social Ventures Australia (SVA) in partnership with the Centre of Child Community Health (CCCH) has identified which communities and children could benefit the most from a new centre.

The research, conducted by Deloitte Access Economics (Deloitte), identifies communities with high levels of disadvantage that also have large numbers of children at risk of falling behind on development milestones and who will benefit most from integrated early learning services, so they reach school on par with their peers.

The analysis identifies a priority list of the top 50 communities where the benefit of a new integrated early learning centre to the community, families and children would be greatest. Communities topping the list include: Morwell, Meadow Heights; Campbellfield – Coolaroo; Broadmeadows, and Fawkner.

Only 13 of the 30 locations announced by the Victorian Government so far are in the top 50 communities identified in the research.

Emma Sydenham, Director of Early Childhood at SVA, welcomed the commitment to building 50 new integrated early learning centres and encouraged Premier Andrews to prioritise children, parents and communities in the greatest need.

“The roll-out of integrated early learning centres across Victoria is a once in a generation opportunity to make sure more children who face some of the biggest challenges are given their best chance in life.”

“We encourage Premier Andrews and Minister Stitt to build the new centres they have promised in communities where they will have the biggest impact on ensuring more Victoria children start school ready and thriving.”

“Children and families with the greatest need often struggle to access services and receive the comprehensive support they require. Integrated child and family centres can overcome these barriers by responding holistically to the needs of children and families.

“The evidence shows that investing in centres like these, with support for kids, mums and dads that go above and beyond early education is one of the most effective actions a government can take to improve the life outcomes for children who are at risk of falling behind.

“Locating the new centres in communities where children and families experiencing disadvantage can access them also maximises the return on investment for the government and the community because the evidence shows that taking part in these services reduces costs on other justice, health and social services later in life.”

The Deloitte research also shows that prior to the recent commitments, Victoria had around only 20 integrated child and family centres across the state, many of which are not in the highest needs areas. Even with the additional 50 centres, there won’t be enough to ensure every child who needs it can access an integrated early learning centre.

“Adding 50 new integrated early learning centres is a fantastic commitment from the Victorian Government and we welcome the staged approach to rolling these out so that we can make sure that children and families have access to high-quality, tailored services in each new centre.

“Unfortunately, our analysis shows that adding 50 centres won’t be enough. The Government should also be looking to bring on-line another 50 integrated early learning centres – whether that’s adapting existing centres and working with existing early learning providers or brand new centres where there are currently service gaps – to ensure that the children and communities with the greatest need can access a centre in their local community.”

Ms Sydenham also stressed the importance of a national approach to providing integrated child and family centres.

“Victoria is not alone in recognising the potential for integrated child and family centres. Other states, territories and the Commonwealth are also looking at the model with plans for new centres in NSW, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, but there is no consistent approach or agreed standards.”

“The current system is a patchwork with many holes. Even the data on what services do exist is patchy, which is one of the reasons we’ve been conducting this research.”

“There is a fantastic opportunity for the Commonwealth to prioritise integrated child and family centres in its upcoming Early Years Strategy and as part of its commitments to improving access to early childhood education and care. The Commonwealth, Victoria and others states and territories should work together to map out a path to providing a national network of high quality, integrated child and family centres in all the communities that need them most.”

Additional background

Until the recent commitment by the Victorian government, the state had been falling behind other jurisdictions in the provision of integrated child and family centres. Prior to the announcement, there was no state-funded model in Victoria. There are 8 community-driven Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander integrated early years centres, 10 philanthropically funded Our Place sites, as well as a small number of local community-run centres.

By comparison:

  • Queensland currently has 56 child and family centres.
  • The Northern Territory currently has 6 child and family centres with plans to build 2 more, as well as 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander integrated early years centres.
  • South Australia currently has 43 child and family centres and 9 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander integrated early years centres.
  • NSW currently has 17 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander integrated early years centres. There are plans to build 6 more.
  • WA currently has 22 child and family centres, 3 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander integrated early years centres and 1 philanthropically funded centre.
  • Tasmania currently has 13 child and family centres, with plans to build 5 more centres. There are also 2 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander integrated early years centres.
  • ACT currently has 3 child and family centres and 1 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander integrated early years centre.

SVA has also examined different integrated child and family centres across the country and found that that there was no consistent model or benchmarks. This research is available here. Based on an analysis of those centres currently in operation and the literature, an evidence based best practice model has been developed, which is outlined here. Our analysis of current available services includes all government-funded models being delivered at scale, as well as other notable models focused on integrated service delivery in the early years.

In the definition developed by SVA and CCCH, a child and family centre is a service and social hub where children and families can access key services and connect with other families. Usually taking the form of a centre that provides a range of child and family services, they provide crucial programs – such as early learning programs, maternal and child health and family support programs intended to improve child development and wellbeing. Child and family centres provide access to a range of tiered services to support families with broader challenges they may be facing and also serve as a “navigator” function. They provide a space where families can come together to socialise and build social networks.

The research commissioned by SVA brings together multiple data sources to assess:

  • Which communities have both high levels of disadvantage, as measured using Australian Bureau of Statistics Socio Economic Indexes for Areas data, and a significant proportion of children not currently meeting development milestones based on the Australia Early Development Census
  • The number children aged birth to six within these identified communities who are experiencing significant disadvantage as measured using the Australian Bureau of Statistics Counting by families data
  • The extent to which additional centres could meet the need of children and families living in areas without an existing service, identified by cross-referencing the list of communities against availability of existing integrated child and family centres.

Media enquiries: Josh Heldarskard