"Early moments matter in a child’s life, more than many of us realise.
The first 1,000 days in a child’s life have a profound effect on their health,
development, ability to learn - and even on their lifetime earnings.."
- Tony Stuart, UNICEF Australia CEO
Just 15 per cent of three-year-olds in Australia attend early learning, compared to an average of 69 per cent in other developed countries. Developmental vulnerabilities including language and cognitive difficulties affect 1 in 5 Australian children starting school, with even more in areas of socio-economic disadvantage.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are half as likely to attend preschool as non-Indigenous children and are more than twice as likely to start school with developmental difficulties.
We know if children fall behind in the first five years of life, this ‘lost education’ is incredibly difficult for them to catch up.
Access to early childhood education for families, also provides many benefits for parents, whose wellbeing is critical to the wellbeing of the child.
During times of crisis such as now, childcare provides mental health respite for parents who are under stress, it provides time for parents to seek employment or further training, it provides parenting support and resources, and a network of carers and other parents to lean on.
During times of crisis and beyond, it’s imperative we have structures in place to support our most vulnerable. This must include equal access to quality and affordable early childhood education and care for every child and every family. While this is not likely to be a free system for everyone, we shouldn’t make the mistake of reverting back without realising the opportunity to remove some of the barriers to participation for Australia’s most vulnerable children.
Already, Australia is lagging in early childhood learning, ranked below the OECD average in access, participation, affordability and investment in early childhood education and care. We cannot afford for Australian children’s learning to be further compromised.
A continuation of targeted investment towards vulnerable children in early learning would be money well spent to give all Australian children an equal start. This begins with a continuation of the current free childcare until the end of the Job Keeper period. We must ensure that disadvantaged children and struggling families are not the first to be impacted by a premature withdrawal of Government support.