Giving children a great start

Goal: Every child can reach their potential.

To lead a good life, children need a great education, to stay safe and have the support of a loving family. Children’s growth, development and achievements are highly contingent on their home and learning environments, where they spend most of their time.

Across every life stage, education plays a vital role in providing the skills and confidence people need to reach their full potential. Whether developing basic literacy and numeracy, or specialist skills and knowledge, education provides the foundation for people to learn, think, understand, create meaning and dream. In a prosperous state such as Victoria, children’s potential shouldn’t be limited by their backgrounds. And yet, children from low socioeconomic backgrounds aren’t achieving as well as their peers.

One in eight people experience abuse as a child. We need strong protections to keep children safe, and support their recovery from trauma. But we must aspire to more than simply protecting children from harm: we need to build a culture that supports caring, nurturing parents, and gives them the tools to help their children flourish.

 



 

 Starting learning early

To have a good life, every child needs a great start. Participating in high quality early childhood education lays strong foundations for children’s social and emotional development and improves life-long learning outcomes.

 

 

Give every child 15 hours of kinder each week for two years

Children’s brains are growing most actively in the first five years of life, providing us a small window of opportunity for immense gains from a small investment. Every dollar invested returns between $2.50 and $17. Children who get this opportunity do better at school and throughout adolescence, with the biggest boost for children facing disadvantage.  Victoria can lead the nation in early childhood education by bringing us up to world standards, up with the 20 hours for two years in New Zealand and the 15 hours for two years in the United Kingdom.

 

Build more integrated child and family centres in growth areas

Victoria can plan and invest in a pipeline of early learning centres, expanding existing facilities and building new ones. Victoria’s growth areas are experiencing a baby boom, with 90 babies born each week in Wyndham, and 70 born in Whittlesea. Early learning funds need to be matched with integrated child and family centres on the ground where children live. With a secure funding stream, which could be enabled by expanding the Children’s Facilities Capital Program, we can meet demand in high growth areas and support co-location of early years facilities with schools. These need to be flexible and available to provide wrap-around services.

 

Prioritise playgroups

The Victorian Government can foster children’s early development by expanding supported playgroups and providing enough community playgroups for all children to participate. Playgroups range from parent-led community groups to professionally-led supported playgroups for families experiencing disadvantage, to more intensive ones, such as for families of children with autism.

They foster children’s learning, social and communication skills, and better prepare them for kindergarten and school. With more playgroups, children who would otherwise miss out will be better prepared when starting school.

 

 

 Designing inclusive, engaging and affordable schools

Great schools with outstanding teachers are inclusive and engaging places to learn. Meeting children’s individual needs equips them with the tools to shape their futures.

Inclusive schools embrace diversity and make every student and family feel welcome, make sure no one misses out because of costs, provide every child with the chance to learn and grow, and foster social and emotional health and wellbeing, as well as educational achievement.

 

Match funds to learning needs for children with disability

Victoria can give children with disability their best chance in life by matching their support funding with their actual learning needs. Around one in 25 Victorian students get extra help to learn at school under the Program for Students with Disability (PSD).  However, nearly one in six still need additional funding support.

Children with disability from families facing disadvantage face ‘double jeopardy’. A comprehensive review of the PSD recommended a new approach. The way forward is assessing children’s strengths, their functional learning needs, and broader factors, including family background – instead of solely focusing on their medical diagnoses. This tiered model provides base funding for all schools, a teaching and learning load to help schools support students needing extra help, and targeted funding to students with high needs. This is a fairer, clearer and widely supported funding model. Victoria should adopt it without delay.

 

Make public school free

Victoria can deliver financial relief for parents and a truly free education for every child by investigating the real costs of school participation and topping up school funding to cover them. This can unburden parents who might be struggling to pay the rent and bills from school expectations to pay extra for their children to learn, meaning their kids won’t miss out on fully joining in all school activities.

On average, in government schools, parents are paying $3,489 each year for a child in primary school, and $5,170 for high school. Families are paying extra for digital devices, internet access, uniforms, textbooks, camps, excursions and elective subjects. The Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund and State Schools’ Relief programs help out, but aren’t able to reach everyone or cover everything.

 

Help kids join their friends in local sport

Victoria can help engage every child in sport by funding a transferable sports voucher for children in low-income families to join in. Too many Victorian children miss out on the social, health and emotional benefits of sport because their families can’t afford the costs.

 

Provide free public transport for school kids from families facing disadvantage

Victoria can support the attendance of children and young people at school and reduce the cost of living for low-income families by providing school-aged children with a free public transport pass if their parent or guardian has a health care card. This targeted measure supports children’s learning, and ensures young people are not excluded from after-school or social activities with their peers by the cost of transport. It would also reduce the numbers of young people caught in the fines system, keeping them out of the youth justice system.

 

Keep all children and young people connected to school

Victoria can invest in a suite of transformations and initiatives to engage students in learning and keep them connected to education. Keeping students engaged helps them complete their education, with benefits
for their future employment, income, health, community participation and life satisfaction.

Victoria can keep and build upon its suite of evidence-informed programs shown to improve student retention, including LOOKOUT Education Support Centres, Springboard, Navigator, Reconnect, School Focused Youth Services and Educational Justice Initiative. Having flexible learning alternatives to mainstream school that can tailor education and wrap-around support also helps.

 

Transform schools to be welcoming, safe and inclusive

Victorian schools can focus on creating welcoming and inclusive environments, supporting each student’s individual learning to boost completion rates and student wellbeing. Schools should build staff knowledge and skills in trauma, disability and mental health to help prevent and manage concerning behaviour, including trauma-informed practice, and deliver positive behaviour models.

Programs like Safe Schools help foster supportive school environments for everyone including LGBTI students, tackle bullying and harassment, and prevent suicide and self-harm. Similarly, the Respectful Relationships program promotes positive, respectful relationships. More qualified youth, health and wellbeing workers including youth workers, Koorie Engagement Support Officers, and specialist allied health supports can help build student resilience, health and wellbeing.

 

Ensure there is no equity gap in education

Victoria can keep and expand extra equity funding, allowing schools to give extra help to students facing disadvantage. The extra funding works, and lets schools tailor interventions to support disadvantaged students’ participation and learning; for example, by employing extra literacy and numeracy teachers or introducing new student learning support programs.

 

Support students in the ‘middle years’.

Victoria can develop a Middle Years Transition Framework and deliver age-specific prevention and early intervention services to support students in year five to year eight stay engaged, connected to education, and transition from primary to secondary school. These ‘middle years’ are a period where children face significant social, behavioural and developmental challenges, and need a different approach from older children to address their needs.

 

Keep children safe and stimulated after school

Victoria can adopt a Before and After School Care Fund to help deliver up to 45,000 extra out-of-school hours care (OSHC) places, keeping children safe and stimulated if their parents have to work or study before and after school or during school holidays. The fund, modelled on its NSW equivalent, can help Victorian schools, councils and service providers with grants to upgrade OSHC spaces and equipment, or with project management to bring new programs online.

 

 

 Nurturing strong, resilient children and families

Enriching and strengthening families and relationships has far-reaching benefits, including better health and education for children. Victoria can foster children’s healthy development and prevent or minimise the likelihood of abuse and neglect by investing in intensive prevention and early intervention support services that strengthen vulnerable families, helping them provide optimal environments for their children. This helps ensure children have cognitive stimulation in the home, secure caregiver-child attachments and high quality early learning services.

 

Support parents to nurture strong, resilient kids

Victoria can help ensure children grow up in safe, nurturing homes by guaranteeing family access to universal prevention and early intervention support services. If we provide a universal service, any parent can get help to improve their parenting skills, without the stigma of having their child classified as being at risk by child protection services.

Victoria can guarantee parents have access to a selection of specialised support, counselling and advice services that help foster stronger parent-child relationships, and ensure more families receive sustained, engaging home visits. These help improve outcomes for children and their families by building parents’ capacity to provide safe, responsive care that meets their children’s needs. This would give parents access when they need it, rather than waiting until problems have escalated to crisis point and involving child protection services. This approach can build on the knowledge and expertise in Child FIRST, Integrated Family Systems, Early Parenting Centres and maternal and child health nurses.

Currently, intensive support services have to prioritise high needs families due to escalating demand.

 

Support new and expecting mothers’ mental health

The Victorian Government should expand the availability and resourcing of mental health support programs to meet the needs of expecting and new mothers, and their babies. More than one in ten women experience depression during pregnancy, and one in seven women in the year following birth. To better help and support mothers and their babies, an expansion is required in the availability and resourcing of perinatal mental health support programs. Investing in the prevention, detection, treatment and management of mental health issues in the perinatal period will better support new mothers and their babies.

 

 

 Keeping vulnerable children safe and supported

Victoria can better protect the over 8,000 children in out-of-home care by ensuring they are placed in well-supported kinship and foster families, or high-quality residential services, to improve their recovery from trauma, their educational attendance and engagement, and social and emotional wellbeing.

 

Keep Aboriginal children in the care of their communities

Victoria should continue to transfer guardianship of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to support children’s connection to culture and community. Given Aboriginal children are 12.9 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than other children, we must ensure their cultural connection and care is self-determined by Aboriginal communities. Better outcomes for Aboriginal children can also be delivered by targeted services supporting children to safely return to their community’s care.

 

Raise allowances and support for foster and kinship carers

Victoria can increase foster and kinship carer payments by at least $88 per week to ease financial pressures on carers, and provide access to professional skills to meet children’s needs. Victorian children must enter care, they should be placed whenever possible with an appropriate kinship or foster family.

But there is a shortage of families, in part due to the lack of financial and professional support for them. Kinship and foster care is not only better for children’s wellbeing, it is far more cost-effective, with a placement costing around $15,000 per year, compared with $280,000 for residential care. In particular, the disparity between kinship and foster carers demands attention, with over 95 per cent of kinship carers receiving the lowest payment level. This can also assist the aims of Victoria’s Targeted Care Packages, which provide holistic help for children to transfer from residential care into other arrangements and promote better personal, social and economic outcomes.

 

Provide world-class care that allows children to heal

The Victorian Government can ensure all children and young people in out-of-home care have high quality, therapeutic placements. Therapeutic care recognises the trauma children have experienced, and uses professionally supported, skilled staff to help children manage their behaviour and successfully transition from care to independent living.

 

Guarantee the home stretch for young care-leavers

Extending the support available to young care-leavers until they are 21 will better equip them with the skills and educational opportunities they need to succeed in life. Most young people continue to get support from family long after turning 18, and care-leavers need the same. Both the Tasmanian and South Australian governments have recently committed to extending this support. Guaranteeing support after age 18 helps young care-leavers achieve better life experiences, including secure housing, engagement in education and work, staying healthy and avoiding the youth justice system.

 

BACK TO CONTENTS
NEXT CHAPTER