A new story on early childhood

by Nat Kendall-Taylor, FrameWorks Institute, Donna Cross, Telethon Kids Institute, Anna MacTiernan, Telethon Kids Institute

April 20, 2021

For the past two years, the FrameWorks Institute has worked in partnership with Telethon Kids Institute and Minderoo Foundation to investigate perceptions of early childhood in Australia, identifying gaps in public thinking, and areas where the stories told by the science of early childhood diverge, and have developed and tested new ways of talking about early childhood that make this science more accessible.

 

This work has been designed to create better alignment between what we know about early childhood and what we do to support young children and their families. This piece, the first in a series of five, explains how the Institute and the Core Story for Early Childhood Development and Learning Collaboration partners are using this research to tell a new story of early childhood in Australia.

 

We can all agree that we want the best for our children. But our beliefs on what is best vary and sometimes don’t line up with what we are learning from science about what children need to thrive. This translates into less than effective ways that our country supports its young children and families.

 

The Australian Early Development Census shows that too many children (one in five) start school ill-equipped to thrive. There are things that we can do as a society to address this issue and support early childhood development and wellbeing more generally. For example, we could build health services and early education environments that are culturally responsive and family centred. But the way we think about children and their development in Australia is holding us back.

 

For the past two years we have investigated how people think about early childhood in Australia. We have identified where public thinking and the science of early childhood diverge and have developed and tested new ways of talking about early childhood that make this science more accessible. This work has been designed to create better alignment between what we know about early childhood and what we do to support young children and their families. 

 

Over the past ten years, the childhood sector has successfully built public understanding of early childhood development. We have seen increased understanding  of some of the most important concepts in child development: that the brain develops early; that this development is shaped by the experiences and relationships in a young child’s life; and that development matters because it shapes life-long learning and health. People now see that providing support during this time of life is important and that early experiences of adversity can have significant and prolonged negative repercussions.

 

These changes in public thinking have improved the quality of lives of young children and the adults they become. The early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector’s communications have led to shifts in policies and public spending to support children in their earliest years, reduce the adversities they face, and remediate the effects of such adversities when they do happen. 

 

Our research shows that even though people have a better understanding of how children’s development works Australians still don’t see early childhood as a priority social issue. Despite these advances, as a collective we don’t yet demand the changes needed to ensure that all children reach their potential and live healthy and fulfilling lives.

 

There is still a dominant view that child development is a ‘natural’ process that should not be denigrated by science, medicine, or modern life. And some people continue to see a limited role for society and government in providing children with the types of supportive experiences that promote positive development. 

 

In the main, child development is still seen as a parent’s responsibility. Australians play lip service to People nod their heads at the idea that “it takes a village,” but when pressed, most don’t know what they can do, or what needs to be done to more fully support children. We often fall back on the idea that Australia is already doing so much for its children and families that there isn’t much more that can—or should—be done.

 

Here at Telethon Kids and Minderoo Foundation, we believe there is much more that needs to be done to create public goodwill when it comes to supporting young children and their families. In order to build sentiment and create a deeper understanding, To do this we need to start talking about early childhood in a new way – a way that shows that supporting early development builds health and creates fairness for Australia’s children now and in the future.

 

We need to demand that every child in Australia, no matter where they live or were born, has the chance to reach their potential. It means assuring that this opportunity is available to all children, by making sure that every child has what they need to succeed. We call this a Core Story for Early Childhood in Australia and believe strongly that we all need to start telling it.

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