Opportunity to overhaul early years development must be seized

Leading early childhood experts have welcomed the opportunity presented by the Federal Government to take a critical step in improving early years development in Australia.

The four community sector organisations responsible for the establishment of Goodstart Early Learning are urging the Federal Government to use the National Early Years Summit and Strategy that will follow as an opportunity to put the voices and experiences of children, families and carers at the centre of national reform.

The Goodstart Syndicate comprises the Benevolent Society, Mission Australia, Social Ventures Australia and the Brotherhood of St. Laurence.

Goodstart’s founding partners came together in 2009 after the collapse of ABC Learning to address the key source of many of society’s problems – poor childhood experiences. Their work was propelled by a vision to ensure every child in Australia has access to quality early leaning and the best possible start in life, and that mission still drives them today.

The syndicate stepped in to provide a viable and accessible alternative to ABC Learning that was focused on quality outcomes for children, not profit. As a result, the early childhood education and care of 15 percent of Australia’s children was able to continue through the establishment of Goodstart Early Learning.

As leaders and experts in in the early childhood development space, the four organisations are joining together once again on the eve of the Early Years Summit to implore the Federal Government to seize this opportunity to devise and deliver a holistic early childhood development system that caters for children, families and for the country.

At present, one in six Australian children are still living in poverty. One in five start school classified as developmentally vulnerable. Australia is ranked 32 out of 38 wealthy countries on child wellbeing measures.

An integrated approach to early childhood development and education – beginning at birth and spanning both formal early childhood services and home-based support – can counter family disadvantage, stop at-risk children and families from falling through the gaps, and ensure all children have the best possible start in life.

A better early childhood system is the launchpad for better lives and for Australia’s future prosperity. We know there are significant economic advantages to investing in early childhood development – the social, employment and general wellbeing outcomes of those who have a strong start to learning and development early on in life are inarguable and translate to overarching financial and social returns for Australia.

Our current early childhood development system is inaccessible, confusing and unaffordable for the families who need it most. National reform to the early years should:

  • Adopt a child-centred framework
  • Make services more affordable and accessible
  • Embed home-based learning from birth to build parents’ capacity to be their child’s first teacher, recognising that the home learning environment is vitally important
  • Provide a universal offering for all families, with flexible support for priority groups
  • Integrate early childhood services across all three levels of government, including co-located and integrated service models
  • Make the early childhood service system easier to navigate and increase its capacity to outreach and engage proactively with disengaged and deeply excluded families
  • Strengthen the early childhood workforce, including qualified early childhood educators, maternal and child health nurses and allied health professionals.

Untangling complex and intersectional disadvantage in the early education space requires tailored, place-based interventions that are led by the community, as well as responses tailored to First Nations children and families with First Nations leadership, children and families from culturally and linguistically diverse communities and those with complex needs.

The opportunity presented by the National Early Years Strategy to fundamentally change the current state of early childhood development in this country is as significant as the creation of Medicare. It has the potential to be transformative in nature and intergenerational in scope if done correctly.

The initial commitment from the Federal Government – Minister Amanda Rishworth and Minister Anne Aly in particular – to improve how we approach early childhood development, including the National Early Years Summit and the creation of a National Early Years Strategy, is a welcome and overdue national step that will have significant and long-lasting impacts right across Australia. State governments are also taking the lead and have signalled their willingness to make the early years Australia’s number one national reform priority.

The Goodstart Syndicate looks forward to being part of the conversation and ensuring Australia’s approach to early years development is both world-leading and life-changing.

Quote attributable to Travers McLeod, Executive Director, Brotherhood of St. Laurence

“This is a rare and incredibly important opportunity to overhaul how Australia approaches early childhood development. If done properly, this has the potential to be a lifechanging piece of reform that will benefit Australia for decades to come.”

Quote attributable to Lin Hatfield Dodds, Chief Executive Officer, The Benevolent Society

“The evidence is in. We know that quality early childhood education can make a huge difference in the lives of young kids. We know that kids under five from low-income families have lower participation in childcare, compared to their number in the wider community. We need a system proactively designed to ensure that the kids most in need of early childhood education opportunities are the most likely to receive it. We know what to do; our collective challenge is to work together to deliver for children.”

Quote attributable to Sharon Callister, Chief Executive Officer, Mission Australia

“Australian children deserve the best possible start in life with access to a stronger, more affordable childcare system. Having earlier and better-quality access is especially important for vulnerable families and children. We urge the Government to draw together experts to advise on the national reform, particularly the voices and experiences of vulnerable children, families and carers.”

 Quote attributable to Suzie Riddell, Chief Executive Officer, Social Ventures Australia

 “Ensuring all children in Australia get the start in life they deserve – that’s the opportunity on the table with this reform. We have great evidence on what’s needed to ensure our early childhood systems reach all children. We’re excited to support the large-scale change that’s needed to deliver better health and wellbeing for children and families.”