The Office for the Early Years
The Office for the Early Years is working across the universal early years sector to make South AUstralia the best place in the world to be born and grow up.
We’re passionate about supporting young South Australians to thrive so we were delighted to speak to Jackie Bray, Head of the Office for the Early Years, and look forward to seeing some of these exciting initiatives unfold.
Children’s formative experiences determine their lifelong outcomes. The early years define who the child is and who they will become.
The Office for the Early Years in the Department for Education, formed in October 2021, recognises that children’s early development is profoundly important. The office has been established to drive strategic reform across the early years sector to make it even better.
We lead the universal early years system in South Australia and are responsible for ensuring that government acts in concert to deliver an integrated and effective early years system. The office has a mandate to increase the proportion of children developmentally on track when starting school.
As Head of the Office for the Early Years, I am determined to place children at the forefront of our thinking.
As a community, we all have a duty to do the best for our children. We must work together to ensure our children thrive. We all must be involved in improving the outcomes for every South Australian child.
This communal view is at the heart of my philosophy for the early years. My vision is a society that thinks of children as citizens.
We need to encourage a shift in the way society can think of children as people with needs that must be met, or as recipients of services, to children as citizens.
By shifting our thinking, we can shift our approach to the way we support children to thrive.
We have wonderful programs and services in the early years space, both in the government and in the non-government sectors, but there is always more we can do. We know that there are gaps in our services and that some children don’t always get the services they need.
There’s a lot we could do in this space, but we also know that we need to start somewhere. One starting point for the office has been working with our partners to expand the reach of child development checks.
Checks are a vital component of the early years system. Early detection of developmental issues means that parents can access information and supports as early as possible, improving outcomes for their child.
Our colleagues in the health sector, especially the Child and Family Health Service, do a wonderful job of providing health and development checks to children. Contact with a trusted health professional is the gold standard, but there are a lot of children who aren’t accessing these checks. We want to know why that is and whether there are different models that might help us address that.
Starting from July 2022, we are running a range of pilots to evaluate different models and see what
works best. We’ll then take these learnings commission services on a broader scale.
We are also designing an app specifically for the South Australian context that will remind families when checks are due. The app also directs families to a suite of resources, with links to trusted South Australian services when more support is needed.
The office also has an essential part to play in early childhood education and care by supporting preschool, playgroups, childcare, and children’s centres. The office is leading reforms to provide responsive local programs that support community priorities and to provide strong support to families as their children’s first teachers.
A big priority on the horizon for us is the government’s commitment to universal preschool for three-year-olds – this stands to be a generational change in our early years system. And, in the shorter term, we are also reducing barriers to increasing participation in early education, particularly how we can increase quality participation in preschool for Aboriginal children.
The Office for the Early Years is only new, and these are just some of the examples of the work we want to get done with our partners in the sector. Working together, I believe that all of us, across the sector, and across the state, can make South Australia the best place to be born and to grow up.
Words: Jackie Bray
Jackie is the Head of the Office for the Early Years in the Department of Education
Originally published in Connected Caregiving Winter 2022