Disadvantage can be reversed through quality ECEC, Front Project report says
Providing access to quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) services could reverse the growing disadvantage facing Australian families, new analysis by The Front Project shows.
Released yesterday, the Families, Disadvantage and Early Childhood Education and Care in COVID-19 paper finds that ensuring access to quality ECEC will improve the lives of children and families experiencing disadvantage and should be a national priority.
By optimising investment in ECEC, authors found, children and families can overcome disadvantages caused by COVID-19 and avoid long-term social and economic impacts for Australia.
“We have a window of opportunity to prevent the recession from having lifelong consequences for children and families,” The Front Project CEO, Jane Hunt said.
“By proactively ensuring that all children are able to access high quality ECEC, we can help the families who are experiencing disadvantage now as well as those who are facing new risks.”
With access to quality early learning, children gain access to “the education and nurture they need to develop socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively, while helping parents find work and lift their families out of financial stress or poverty,” Ms Hunt added.
The report findings show that the risk factors that cause children to experience disadvantage are increasing as a result of COVID-19, causing more families to experience disadvantage than ever before and making existing experiences of disadvantage worse.
“COVID-19 adds new difficulties for families experiencing hardship who are just trying to go about their everyday lives. For one mother when there were toilet roll shortages, she was told there would be toilet rolls at night when the supermarket had a delivery, but she has four children and is on her own without a car. She can’t leave them alone and walk to the supermarket. All these new things build up, have an impact on families and can add to their stress,” Amber Marks, an early childhood educator explained.
Parents losing jobs, not having internet or devices to connect with relatives and friends online, and not being able to maintain activities like visiting early learning centres or playgrounds are all risk factors that can cause children to experience disadvantage.
“When we consider the impacts of the pandemic on children, one of the most concerning parts is that we just don’t know yet. For many children we don’t have a clear picture of what is going on for them right now…This means everything from speech therapy referrals to family violence reporting is delayed or deferred while children are not connected to their usual supports. The key issue is that not much is known about how the most disadvantaged children are going in 2020 because they and their families are not seen,” Dr Anne Kennedy said.
The paper explains that accelerating investment in ECEC to target disadvantage can lower these risks, limit the amount of time that families live with stress and financial insecurity and prevent flow-on impacts to children’s education, health and future wellbeing.
Key recommendations in the report include:
- The need to collect data about how COVID-19 has impacted children at this time;
- Making sure all families can access ECEC during the recession without worrying about costs;
- accelerating plans to ensure that children who are experiencing disadvantage are accessing ECEC; and
- investing in the workforce, recognising their critical role in delivering quality experiences to children and additional support to families who need it.
Such measures, Ms Hunt said, would see more children reach their full potential, help more families get back on track and support Australia’s recovery from the effects of COVID-19.
The paper combines research with insights from parents, teachers and educators about the role of ECEC in children’s lives during this time. It is available to read here.