Early moments matter: addressing disadvantage in the early years so that all Australian children receive the best start in life.  

Children who receive adequate health, nutrition, learning opportunities, care and protection – especially in their first 1,000 days of life – tend to have increased cognitive, language and psychosocial development. This enhanced brain development translates into an increased capacity to learn and better academic achievement once they start school.  

It is in those early moments that we learn the most in our lives. An estimated 80 per cent of a child’s brain structure is formed in the first 1,000 days of life: from conception to two years of age. The earlier the intervention the greater the effectiveness, hence the sense of urgency.

Australia is rapidly falling behind the rest of the developed world in the provision of early childhood development programs.


Only 15 per cent* of three-year olds in Australia participate in pre-primary education, which falls well below the OECD average of 68 per cent.  

Concerningly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are half as likely to access these services as non-Indigenous children. To close this gap and ensure that Indigenous children have access to life-changing health, wellbeing and education, it is critical that early childhood education programs have the necessary funding and support. 

Supporting early childhood development in Australia  


Investment in early learning and health care

UNICEF Australia is partnering with local Indigenous community organisations and supporting education and development for children aged 0-5 years. This will give children in remote areas of the Northern Territory the best start in life and improve their school readiness. In addition, early childhood development programs support the promotion of good healthcare for children with improved accessibility to health services and removal of nutrition barriers to reduce risk of developing chronic diseases.



Advocating for access to early childhood development programs 

As the United Nations children’s agency, a core part of UNICEF’s work is to ensure the Australian Government protect children’s rights. This work includes advocating for universal access to early childhood education and care for children in Australia aged 3-4 years old. As well as addressing the participation gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, delivered through Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-led services.


Promoting family-friendly policies at work 

Investing in family-friendly policies is good for the family, business, and the economy. But for too many parents in Australia, policies, such as paid parental leave, breastfeeding breaks and childcare are not a reality.  Not only do family-friendly policies pay off in healthier, better-educated children, greater gender equality and sustainable growth, they are linked to better workforce productivity and the ability to attract, motivate, and retain employees. 

The good news is that momentum for change is growing. An increasing number of businesses are beginning to see the value of offering family-friendly policies.  UNICEF Australia has partnered with Parents at Work to promote family-friendly workplaces so people and businesses can thrive.

Ensuring education continues for young Indigenous children in the Northern Territory during the COVID-19 pandemic 

© InidiKindi
Pre-school pupils at the UNICEF Australia-supported Indi Kindi program learn the importance of washing hands during the COVID-19 pandemic. Early childhood educators are continuing to deliver an adapted outreach program within community during the pandemic. This program focuses on education, health, and wellbeing for children under five and their families.

UNICEF Australia and partners recognise the importance of investing in early childhood development programs which support a child’s cognitive and physical development during the first 1,000 days of life. By providing good nutrition, healthcare, and education in this critical phase of life, we are laying a solid foundation for children to thrive.