High quality, accessible and affordable early childhood services provide a strong foundation for a child’s learning, development and life opportunities, as well as being a key driver of economic growth, productivity and social progress. Providing all children with access to high quality, early childhood services that optimise their learning, development and life opportunities, from the antenatal period through to the early years of primary school needs to be central to the goal of making Victoria the ‘Education State’.
VCOSS’ submission: Addressing the impacts of poverty and disadvantage on children makes a number recommendations to help create a more inclusive and supportive early childhood education and care system for all children, to promote their health, wellbeing and development. It builds on other recent VCOSS submissions to the Education State and the Strengthening DET Regional Relationships and Support Review.
The early years of life are a critical period for children’s healthy development, and are considered among the most formative in shaping the way children learn, develop and form relationships. During this time, children’s brains experience enormous development and plasticity, and the neural pathways formed are heavily influenced by their experiences and environments. While positive early experiences can provide children with strong foundations for healthy development, exposure to risk factors can place children at risk of adverse early childhood development.
Children experiencing poverty and disadvantage are more likely than other children to be exposed to a range of developmental risk factors. Living in poverty can negatively affect children’s wellbeing and development across all domains, including health, socioemotional, cognitive and language development, particularly when combined with other risk factors, such as witnessing family violence, poor parenting behaviours, or limited cognitive stimulation. Developmental gaps between children from socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds generally emerge from birth and widen over time. Without effective intervention this can negatively affect children’s future education and employment opportunities and their wellbeing.
High quality, accessible universal early childhood services combined with intensive early family interventions, can help prevent these issues from developing through supporting children’s learning and development and creating supportive home environments, setting them on a positive trajectory. Yet, despite the enormous benefits, a significant number of vulnerable children and their families are either not participating in universal early years programs or accessing the additional supports they need as their vulnerability increases. These families may experience a number of barriers reducing their ability to participate in services, such as the cost, poor physical accessibility, lack of access to transport options or lack of knowledge about available services.
To help address the impacts of poverty and disadvantage, the early years service system should be structured and resourced to operate so children and families facing disadvantage are supported to benefit from universal services and more targeted interventions proportionate to their need.
In particular the Addressing the impacts of poverty and disadvantage on children submission highlights the need to:
- Strengthen the universal early years services to make the system inclusive and accessible to all families and better support vulnerable children who are otherwise unlikely to access universal services
- Increase investment in and expand the reach of the Maternal and Children Health service to increase engagement with vulnerable families
- Better recognise the role of playgroups in promoting early childhood development for vulnerable children
- Expand universal early childhood education and care (ECEC) services, including funding universal access to three-year-old kindergarten and improving vulnerable children’s rate of participation in three and four year old kindergarten
- Recongise the importance of high quality ECEC, including supporting the National Quality Framework and building the capacity of early childhood workforce to support vulnerable children and families
- Understand and remove the barriers to access for early years and ECEC services to increase vulnerable children’s participation
- Provide early intervention and prevention for families experiencing disadvantage and supports high quality home environments, including strategies that build the skills of vulnerable parents and care-givers
- Better support children to transition between early childhood education and care and into school
- Facilitate integrated services and place-based models to tackle the barriers faced by children and their families, particularly in areas of high disadvantage.
 C Gong, J McNamara and R Cassells, AMP.NATSEM Income and Wealth Report: Issue 28 – Little Australians: Differences in early childhood development, Sydney, AMP.NATSEM, April 2011.
 T Moore, Understanding the nature and significance of early childhood: New evidence and its implications, Presentation at Centre for Community Child Health seminar Investing in Early Childhood—the future of early childhood education and care in Australia, Centre for Community Child Health, The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, 2014. P.11
 S Fox, A Southwell, N Stafford, R Goodhue, D Jackson and C Smith, Better Systems, Better Chances: A Review of Research and Practice for Prevention and Early Intervention, Canberra, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), 2015, p.5.
 In brief: The Found at ions of Lifelong Health, Centre on the developing child, Harvard University, http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-the-foundations-of-lifelong-health/
 S Mathers, N Eisenstadt, K Sylva, E Soukakou, K Ereky-Stevens, Sound Foundations: A Review of the Research Evidence on Quality of Early Childhood Education and Care for Children Under Three: Implications for Policy and Practice,The Sutton Trust, University of Oxford, 2014.
 T Moore, Op. Cit.