Optimism and Opportunity: "Are we there yet?"
Adults and children might have been asking this recently. “Are we at the end of the pandemic? Is winter over? Are we there yet?” 3 years on from the first cases of COVID in Australia, children and families might be looking for new sources of optimism and opportunity. Australian families might feel like they have never completed more surveys about their lives. A range of studies and reports have been launched over the last few years looking at the impact of COVID-19, lockdowns, cost of living pressures and early childhood experiences.
CYDA recently asked families of young children about their experience of early childhood education and care (ECEC) and our initial analysis has shown some interesting insights. Families shared that even small changes, like the location of their child’s bag (due to COVID measures at the ECEC setting), can have a big impact on their child. Not being able to independently access their own comfort item from their bag when they wanted, changed their child’s experience of the day. Families also shared that variable staffing levels directly impacted support available to children with disability or development delay and reasonable adjustments already agreed upon. Stay tuned for more on this.
Many families are thinking about their children starting formal schooling in 2023. Enrolment forms, catchment rules, uniform costs, and before and after school care arrangements are just a few of the logistics to manage. Starting school is an exciting time for young children. From CYDA’s ECEC survey, more than 55% of families wanted their child to attend the same school as their early childhood education and care peers or friends. 21% of families also told us that their child had expressed their view on school preferences.
Children and young people don’t get to make many choices in their lives. Children and young people with disability, even less so. Adults, including their families, make decisions for them and about them. Supporting young children to find their voice and use it, can start from day 1. A young child’s ‘voice’ comes in emerging and different forms – sounds, gestures, looks, and movement. Optimism and opportunity bubble at every interaction between young children and those who nurture and nourish them. Supporting a young child to activate their voice is critical. Role modelling listening and acting on that voice is equally important.
CYDA believes hearing directly from young people with disability about their experiences helps families, caregivers, and communities to have high expectations and aspirations for all children. At our last webinar on inclusion in early childhood, young person Xander shared his top tips for early intervention. These tips are for families of young children and those who support them.
The early years of a child’s development can impact their entire lives. Research tells us, inclusive and accessible early childhood experiences are one of the surest and most sustainable pathways to an inclusive life and all the benefits that brings to the child and their family.
Every child, with or without disability, deserves quality, accessible and inclusive early childhood education and care. CYDA’s preliminary survey results indicate that Young children with disability or developmental delay may not be having an inclusive experience, with or without the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), NDIS Early childhood approach, or Inclusion Support Program.
Early experiences are critical. During CYDA’s webinars, young people with disability have been sharing stories of their early childhood experiences and the memories of fun had with their friends and family – mud, music, parties, playing at the park etc. The wellbeing of Australia’s children is based on all children having their needs met. Needs that span services and support for their health, learning, housing, feeling loved and safe, and feeling good about who they are. We look forward to bringing you more insights from our CYDA ECEC Survey including recommendations. In the meantime, check out Thrive by Five. CYDA is proud to be part of this campaign to make our early learning childcare system inclusive, high quality and universally accessible.
Let’s hope the rest of 2022 fosters optimism and opportunity and brings stability, health and happiness to young children and their families.
Words: Sue Tape
Sue is the Project Coordinator of Inclusive Education at Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA). CYDA is the national representative organisation for children and young people with disability aged 0 - 25 years. CYDA’s vision is that children and young people with disability are valued and living empowered lives with equality of opportunity; and their purpose is to ensure governments, communities, and families, are empowering children and young people with disability to fully exercise their rights and aspirations. To learn more please visit: cyda.org.au
Originally published in Connected Caregiving Winter 2022