Early learning must be a priority for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

by Freya Lucas

February 12

More than 40 leading child welfare, education and research organisations have endorsed a new call by Early Childhood Australia (ECA) and SNAICC – National Voice for our Children to ensure all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children receive quality early learning and family support.

 

The joint position paper, Working Together to Ensure Equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children in the Early Years, released today, highlights the key issues which impede First Nations children from accessing early childhood education and care (ECEC), and provides recommendations about how to eliminate barriers and improve outcomes.

 

SNAICC Deputy Chairperson Geraldine Atkinson cited data saying that First Nations children are half as likely to attend a service where they are eligible for subsidised care than non-indigenous children.

 

“We’ve known for several years that 15,000 additional early learning places are needed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s enrolment to be level with the general population,” Ms Atkinson said.

 

The documented developmental vulnerabilities faced by First Nations children starting school prompted the call, with research showing that two out of five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are vulnerable when they start school; twice the rate of vulnerability comparative with their peers.

 

Samantha Page, CEO of Early Childhood Australia, said “This is a problem we can solve – it requires the political will to make sure that every single First Nations child has access to, and participates in, quality early learning for at least three days per week in the two years before school.”

 

The position paper noted that key elements to support First Nations children to thrive was ongoing support for culturally appropriate, community-controlled services, help to improve the quality of those services and professional development for their staff.

 

“We can see from the great results in high-quality Aboriginal Child and Family Centres, that families feel welcome, the children love to come, and they make a good transition to school,” Ms Atkinson said.

 

A number of evidence-based, targeted family support services, like Families as First Teachers, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY), Parents as Teachers (PAT) and Best Start (in Western Australia) are benefiting children already, the paper noted, calling for these to continue.

 

The paper called on the Commonwealth Government to work alongside state and territory governments to achieve the following actions:

 

  1. Establish new early childhood development targets to close the gap in the AEDC domains by 2030, and an accompanying strategy – through the Closing the Gap refresh.
  2. Commit to permanently fund universal access to high-quality early education for three and four year olds, including additional funding to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children get access to a minimum of three days per week of high-quality preschool, with bachelor-qualified teachers.
  3. Invest in quality Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled integrated early years services, through a specific early education program, with clear targets to increase coverage in areas of high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, and high levels of disadvantage.

 

The paper further recommended that COAG fund a targeted program to support evidence-informed, culturally safe, integrated early childhood and family-focused programs, across the nurturing care spectrum, in early education and care services that work with high numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

 

“We want to see all First Nations families get this vital support in the early years because supporting parents in the home environment is as important as access to early learning services to improve outcomes for children,” Ms Page said.

 

The paper and its recommendations have been endorsed by peak bodies, children‘s education and care service organisations, and major children’s organisations who all support the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children including:

 

Save the Children

 

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)

 

UNICEF

 

Brotherhood of St Laurence

 

Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS)

 

Murdoch Children’s Research InstituteQueensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak (QATSICPP)

 

Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), and many more.

(A full list of endorsing organisations is available in the position paper.)

 

The broad range of support for these recommendations shows the high level of agreement and concern that action needs to be taken to make sure that Australia improves our support for First Nations children to give them the best start in life,” said Ms Page in closing.


The paper is available here.

PRINT