Starting Now: The first steps to delivering the best early childhood system for Australia
Our investment in the early years should deliver a triple dividend to the nation – improving outcomes for children, supporting workforce participation and boosting the economy. Major new commitments from Commonwealth, State and Territory governments recognise that there is more work to be done if we are to fully realise the promise of this investment.
Recent Commonwealth and State announcements of significantly increased funding on the Child Care Subsidy, preschool programs, infrastructure and capacity increases as well as workforce sustainability,
are important steps to address the affordability and accessibility of high-quality early childhood education and care. These commitments are critical building blocks to achieving the shared vision of universal provision.
Universal early childhood education and care should provide the backbone of an integrated early childhood development system. It is the much-needed starting point for long-term, nation building work to turn what is currently a complex and fragmented approach to the early years into a system that meets the needs of all children and families, regardless of where they live or their circumstances.
But the full benefit of these commitments won’t be achieved if departments and governments act
in isolation. To deliver a high-quality system that is underpinned by a valued and highly skilled workforce, that brings together the range of services children and families need and can respond to children who need additional support, Commonwealth, State and Territory governments must work in collaboration. Strong incentives must also ensure all relevant Commonwealth agencies work together to secure that triple dividend.
Now is the time for all governments to work in partnership, with the sector and communities, to put the foundations in place for a new approach to early childhood development in Australia – a high quality, universal system that delivers for all children, for all families and the economy.
The Commonwealth Government has committed to increased investment in the Child Care Subsidy combined with mechanisms to improve transparency and regulation of the price of childcare and the relationship between service fees, profits, wages and conditions. These are important first steps to addressing the affordability and accessibility of early childhood education and care, and to achieving the Prime Minister’s vision of universal child care.
A staged reform process enables this down payment investment to be made now, while the key features of high-quality, universal early childhood education and care that meets the needs of all children and families are put in place, in partnership with States and Territories. This work builds on previous national collaborative efforts and existing investments in the National Quality Framework and Early Years Learning Framework.
A staged approach also means governments can start now on the urgent action needed to build the strong workforce pipeline required to deliver a high quality, universal system.
This will enable universal early childhood education and care to be the backbone of a broader universal early childhood development system that delivers the holistic range of services and supports that help all young children and families to flourish regardless of where they live and their circumstances.
Following 2021’s Starting Better report which provided a long-term vision for the best early childhood system for Australia, Starting Now gives leaders a roadmap with concrete achievable steps over the next 12 months.
There are three key areas our leaders should focus on to take this opportunity:
Action to give parents the confidence to balance work and home by ensuring education and care is available and affordable. This includes; accelerated changes to subsidy arrangements, ensuring all families can access at least 3 days a week of care, measures that ensure public spending flows through to families, educators and teachers, and smarter spending coordination between governments.
Action on rewarding, secure early childhood careers so children and families can work with early childhood professionals they know and trust. This includes appropriate valuation of early educators’ work, making early childhood careers a priority at the national Jobs and Skills summit, a tripartite dialogue between unions, employers and government, training incentives for early childhood careers, and lifelong learning for early childhood professionals
A national mission for a universal early childhood system. This includes a formal agreement between First Ministers to work together on a universal early childhood system, a reform task force to implement it, a special commissioner to lead a Productivity Commission review into a universal early childhood education and care, and long-term funding agree
Now is the time to reap the triple dividend from our investment in the early years. There is significant momentum for change from families, business and early childhood services, which is matched by the priorities of Commonwealth, State and Territory governments. This is the opportunity for governments to work together, with the sector and communities, to achieve ambitious, nation building reform – a universal, high-quality early childhood development system on which every family can rely.
To read more about the decade-long reform that can put our nation on track for a brighter 21st century and make Australia the best place in the world to be, and raise a child, visit cpd.org.au
Special thank you to the Centre for Policy Development, Dr Akwasi Ampofo, Sarah Fernandes, Jacki Hayes, Dr Isabel Hanson, Frances Kitt, Professor Leslie Loble, Caitlin McCaffrie, Matthew McLean, Dr Travers McLeod, Caroline Reed, Georgia Wilkinson, Stephen Wylie, Dr Jen Jackson, Peter Mares, Sek-loong Tan, Owain Emslie, Minderoo Foundation and the Ian Potter Foundation.
Originally published in Connected Caregiving Summer 2023