Goodstart Syndicate opinion piece in the Canberra Times (22/11): Early childhood strategy needs to nationally unify

22 November 2023

Bold and considered reframing of the early years to benefit our youngest

As our early years framework stands right now, too many children miss out on the support and early learning they need to thrive. One in five children start school facing developmental vulnerability, and that figure is even higher for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Over the next year, we have a rare opportunity to redefine Australia’s approach to early childhood development at a national level.

With significant and overdue investment in the early years pledged from all levels of government and major strategies, reviews and inquiries all landing in coming months, the current level of attention in the early years is unprecedented. 

On the horizon is the National Early Years Strategy, National Vision for Early Childhood Education and Care developed through National Cabinet, Productivity Commission Inquiry into Early Childhood Education and Care, ACCC Childcare Inquiry and the NDIS Review.

This focus presents our best chance to move towards a nationally consistent early childhood system that is the launchpad for better lives and for Australia’s future prosperity. To realise this ambition and reboot what is currently a fragmented and confused national system, these important reform efforts need to be aligned. 

The National Early Years Strategy is the overarching piece – we should take the time to get it right. The Commonwealth must take the lead on a national approach to ensure the early years reform agenda is cohesive and moves forward in a connected way, creating a better early childhood development system no matter which state or territory a child grows up in.

As members of the Goodstart Syndicate, we know the importance of coordinated investment in the early years. There is no single intervention that sets a child up for life. Rather, as the recently released South Australian Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education and Care finds, “stacking multiple evidence-based services improves outcomes for children in the first 1,000 days”. 

This includes support across the spectrum of high-quality early childhood education and care, parenting programs to help parents in their role as first and best educators of their child, child and maternal health services, and broader supports like secure housing and income. 

It is the combination of these supports – available for all families who want and need them – from as soon as a child is born, that will make sure no child gets left behind. Reforms to our early years system must recognise the importance of all these building blocks working together to give our youngest the best possible start in life.

We must also consider what we need to leave in the past to move towards a better early childhood system, which should start with a no regrets decisions to abolish the frequently criticised, highly flawed activity test for childcare subsidies. This punitive measure makes it harder for children from the lowest-income households to access the early childhood education and care they need, and creates a barrier for their parents to participate in the workforce.

Charting a course to universal early childhood education and care was a key pillar of the skills agenda presented in the Working Future White Paper released last month. Through this, the Government recognises the important role early childhood education plays in building the skills that are “fundamental to lifelong learning and achievement”, and “helping to break cycles of disadvantage”. 

It was also echoed in the Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce 10-year plan for women’s economic equality released recently, with calls to legislate to establish and invest in universal, high quality and affordable early childhood education and care.

High quality early learning benefits every child, but the paradoxical fact is that disadvantaged children are the least likely to access early childhood education and care, and the most likely to benefit from it. We need to ensure we’re building a system that makes sure the kids most in need of early childhood education opportunities are the most likely to receive it.

We’re currently on the cusp of being able to change the trajectory of these young lives with smart and bold policy decisions on how we approach early years development in Australia. This is too important an opportunity to pass up – a nationally consistent direction through the Early Years Strategy will be imperative. 

Now is the time to be coordinated and unified in working towards Australia being the best place to be and to raise a child. We owe our kids that much.

Travers McLeod, Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, Lin Hatfield Dodds, CEO of the Benevolent Society, Sharon Callister, CEO of Mission Australia and Suzie Riddell, CEO of Social Ventures Australia lead the four community sector organisations responsible for the establishment of Goodstart Early Learning. Goodstart was established in 2009 after the collapse of ABC Learning to ensure every child in Australia has access to quality early learning and the best possible start in life.

Read the piece in the Canberra Times here .