Olivia lives with the rare Kleefstra Syndrome.

Building a Victoria without poverty: Help every child get the best start in life to address the education gap Analysis

Building a Victoria without poverty: Help every child get the best start in life to address the education gap

sbspagebannerThe 2015-16 state budget, to be presented in May 2015, presents an excellent opportunity for the Victorian Government to fund initiatives that will ensure every child get the best start in life. There is now irrefutable evidence that the early years before school lay the foundations for optimal development, and for later success at school.

Children who begin school with good early development will remain on educational trajectories that are superior to children who begin school with poor early development[1]. Developmental vulnerability at school entry is more likely to be associated with children from low socio-economic backgrounds. The Australian Early Development Census results tell us almost one in three children (31.7 per cent) from the most disadvantaged communities are developmentally vulnerable when they enter school and nearly 43.2 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are developmentally vulnerable[2].

Prevention and early intervention are more cost effective in the long term, and have better outcomes for children as at school and beyond.  The proposals put forward by VCOSS to ensure every child gets the best start in life before school are:

Expand intensive support for vulnerable children and parents from pregnancy through to early childhood.

There are a number of evidence-based models currently being trialled and evaluated in Victoria that provide intensive support for children from the ante-natal period. The evidence from the research into the right@home Sustained Home Visiting Program and the Cradle to Kinder program can be used by state government to develop policy and programs to support vulnerable children who may be at risk of entering the child protection system and to prevent developmental vulnerability.

Fund supported playgroups to increase family engagement

The state government can support vulnerable children and families by expanding the Supported Playgroups and Parent Groups Initiative (SPPI), and other innovative supported playgroups across Victoria. This will increase opportunities for vulnerable children to learn and develop through play, and for parents to expand social networks and link to other services.

Increase the reach of Maternal and Child Health (MCH) to vulnerable families

The state government can help more families facing disadvantage access Maternal and Child Health (MCH) services, and access more intensive services as required, by expanding universal and targeted MCH services. This could include delivering more MCH services co-located with early childhood community services and English language services, extending ‘cultural competency’ training for MCH nurses and increasing their ability to make home visits after the first visit. Whilst MCH is a strong universal platform for enhancing child development and parenting skills, more needs to be done to engage vulnerable families, whose participation in the service drops off in the first twelve months of life.

Fund 3 and 4 year old kindergarten to make early learning truly universal

Participation in high quality early childhood education enhances the development and later learning outcomes for all children, but benefits those living in disadvantaged circumstances the most. The state government can support the development of all children and prevent poor developmental outcomes and later disengagement from education by providing funding and working with the federal government to ensure all children can access 15 hours a week of high quality four-year-old kindergarten, and five hours a week of three-year-old kindergarten.

Steps are also needed to ensure vulnerable children’s access to, and participation in, Early Start Kindergarten as there are significant numbers of children who may be eligible who are not accessing the program.

Fund salary increases required for a high quality early childhood education workforce

The state government can support early years learning by funding the early learning sector to cover salary increases required to attract and retain a high quality professionalised workforce, while preventing cost shifting to families in the form of higher fees or reduced service provision.

The importance of high quality early childhood education has been recognised through the setting of worker qualifications and minimum skill requirements through the National Quality Framework and the National Quality Standard.

The 2015-16 budget presents an opportunity for the Victorian Government to fund initiatives to address the education gap, which begins in early childhood. VCOSS looks forward to further announcements in the budget.

[1] Australian Government, 2014, Research Snapshot The impact of socio-economics and school readiness for life course educational trajectories