UNICEF says ECEC is an essential service during pandemic, calling for consideration
UNICEF Australia has said that access to early childhood education and care (ECEC) services is critical in order for Australian children to develop, and that the role the sector plays in the lives of children should be seen as essential.
Tony Stuart, CEOof UNICEF Australia, said it is important that society comes to think about ECEC beyond the contribution it makes to boosting workforce participation, and recognise the essential role it plays in setting up our children for the best start in life.
Noting that a number of Australian families are under stress as a result of economic and social pressures arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Stuart said ECEC “provides invaluable support for vulnerable children and families”, and that more attention should be paid to the first 2,000 days in a child’s life which have “a significant bearing on health, development, and educational attainment”, something the services provided by ECEC supports.
On behalf of UNICEF Australia, Mr Stuart commended the cooperation shown between the Victorian and Federal Governments to keep ECEC services open for vulnerable children and children of essential workers, including the additional investment of $33 million by the Federal Government designed to support carers and enable families to maintain their child’s enrolment during periods of lockdown, saying these measures demonstrate the Government’s its commitment to our youngest Australians.
Beyond the pandemic, he continued, “there are enormous untapped opportunities to increase access to ECEC for Australian children”.
By extending financial relief to families at the beginning of the pandemic, he said, one which “opened learning opportunities to children who had not been enrolled before”.
To increase access to early learning opportunities for all Australian children, UNICEF Australia recommends:
- Increasing affordability and access to early learning by lifting the taper rate for low income households from 85 per cent to 95 per cent and removing the activity test for families;
- Providing free early learning to families with a healthcare card;
- Simplifying access to Additional Child Care Subsidy benefits for children at risk;
- Continuing the provision of two days of free preschool/kindergarten for children aged four; and,
- Transitioning to provision of two days of free preschool/kindergarten for children aged three.
For more information about the work of UNICEF Australia, please see here.