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Federal Election 2013 Statement from Early Childhood Australia (ECA): Our priorities for a future Government



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Federal Election 2013 Statement from Early Childhood Australia Page 1

Federal Election 2013 Statement from Early Childhood Australia (ECA)

Our priorities for a future Government

1. Recognise the importance of the early years, across policy portfolios, to give every child the best start in life.

Any future government that is concerned with nation building and securing the future of Australia must recognise the importance of the early years (birth to eight). Research shows that what happens to a child in the first three years of its life can have an enormous impact on that child’s brain development, social and emotional wellbeing, and later mental healthi. Paid Parental Leave is a good way to help families immediately after the birth of a child (or multiple children), particularly if complemented with programs of support such as family centres and parent groups that support parent-child attachment and provide help through any difficulties. It is also important that families have affordable housing, workplace flexibility and social support networks—a focus on the wellbeing of children would potentially have a significant impact on a range of policy areas from industrial relations to planning and environment regulations.

Specifically, we call for: o A new emphasis on the rights of children across portfolios as well as a continued commitment to the National Early Childhood Development Strategy. o Mechanisms to routinely review the impact of Federal legislation on young children and their families,

including cooperation with State Governments to ensure attention to these needs in urban and regional planning processes such as new residential and business infrastructure development.

2. Set national targets for reducing disadvantage and improving development outcomes in early childhood.

Australia is often described as the lucky country, but not every young child benefits from our prosperity. One in five Australian children will begin school disadvantaged in one or more developmental domainsii. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children this increases to a staggering one in two—that is half of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children starting school. Children who are living in poverty (an estimated 575 000 across Australia) as well as children with a disability and children with English as a second language are also at increased risk of starting school developmentally behind their peers, this can have long-term negative consequences on their learning outcomes as well as their social and emotional wellbeing.

Specifically, we call for: o National targets to be agreed and built into the Productivity Commission’s annual Report on Government Services for reducing disadvantage and improving development outcomes in early childhood.

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o Increased long-term investment in early childhood education and care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, including a commitment to community controlled service delivery in areas where that is important to local families and impacts on children’s participation.

o Increased investment in services currently providing support to children and families who are geographically or socially isolated including mobile services and limited hours care. ECA fully supports the Mobile Children’s Services Association (MCSA) and their Federal Election Policy Platform.

3. Commit to the full implementation of the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care within the timeframes agreed by all State and Territory Governments.

There are now more than one million children attending education and care services in Australia, this is a significant responsibility. Early childhood services need to be understood as centres for early learning and development with quality education programs and professional staff. There is a solid body of research demonstrating the importance of qualified educators and age appropriate staff-to-child ratios for babies and young children to thrive, form attachments to caregivers and have the rich learning opportunities that provide crucial and important benefitsiii. The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care was agreed by the Council of Australian Governments to commence in 2012 and reach full implementation by 2020. It is an important reform which will deliver a higher standard of education and care for children in the critical areas of early learning education, health and safety and will provide clearer and comprehensive information for families so they can choose the best services for their child. There are challenges—we need more qualified educators, particularly in rural areas and significant capital investment is needed to bring some services up to the standard required but these challenges can be met.

Specifically, we call for: o Commitment to the full implementation of the National Quality Framework by 2020. o Increased support to early childhood services to help those experiencing difficulties with the implementation of the National Quality Framework.

o Implementation of the National Early Childhood Workforce Strategy including increased support for workforce initiatives designed to attract new educators and teachers to the sector and to support educators working in education and care services to upgrade their qualifications, including a HECS exemption for early childhood teachers.

4. Address access issues for families needing early childhood services.

Currently we have areas where demand far outstrips the supply of early childhood services—particularly demand for birth to two years. There is a combination of factors impacting on this—demographic changes, social changes (more women needing to return to work when children are younger) and workforce changes. It can be difficult for the sector to accurately predict demand in local geographic areas, to marshal the capital resources needed to expand or open a new service and successfully navigate the local and state government planning processes. More support from the Federal Government to inform decision-making and increase supply is needed to ensure that families can access services when they need them.

Specifically, we call for: o Identify areas of market failure where demand outstrips the supply of early childhood services causing access issues for families and develop local strategies to address this.

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o Provide capital grants and/or no-interest loans and funding to experienced services providers willing to establish new services (or expand existing services) in areas of unmet demand and high need (similar to the capital grant schemes the Federal Government administers in Aged Care).

5. Provide all three and four-year-old children with a quality preschool education program.

Investing in high-quality preschool for three- and four-year-olds can make a substantial long-term difference to education outcomes. A large scale European studyiv found strong evidence that 15-year-olds who attended a preschool education program demonstrated higher academic achievement than those students who didn’t attend, across socio-economic backgrounds. Currently, Australia has a National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood that includes a commitment to universal preschool for at least 15 hours per week for four-year-old children. However, this is not an entitlement and does not guarantee a preschool place that is affordable. Many children are still missing out because their families cannot afford preschool.

Specifically, we call for:

o Strengthen the National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education to provide an entitlement to an affordable preschool program delivered by a qualified educator for every child in the year before school, eventually extending this to three and four-year-old children. It is important to recognise that such programs are provided in a diverse range of settings including long day care services that employ qualified educators.

6. Increase investment in early childhood through streamlined and simplified subsidy arrangements.

Australia does not invest in the early years to the same level as other developed countriesv and we are not achieving the same level of quality in our early childhood services as comparable nationsvi. Families want high-quality services when and where they are needed—this requires a responsive sector that can quickly increase capacity as needed. Families also need services to be affordable, the current subsidies available to families are complicated and poorly targeted. Future Australian Governments need to see this as a social investment that has a clear economic return. ECA supports a Productivity Commission review of early childhood education and care because we are confident that there are sound economic benefits from increased investment but it is important that priority is given to the education and wellbeing outcomes for children in this process and that these are balanced alongside the benefits of increased workforce participation.

Specifically, we call for: o Increased understanding of the economic benefits of quality early childhood services, both in terms of children’s outcomes and the workforce participation capacity of families with young children. o A review of the Child Care Rebate and Child Care Benefit, leading to a simplified and manageable

system that enables families who need it most to access quality early learning services—this might include redirecting rebate payments to services to reduce out-of-pocket expenses to parents.

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7. Professional wages for early childhood educators.

ECA agrees with other peak and representative bodies that the next step in providing a stable and sustainable early childhood sector is to pay professional wages to educators so the sector can attract and retain qualified and professional staff. Pay rates throughout the sector, including Centre Directors, is unequal to their counterparts in other sectors. These result in high turnover which leads to inconsistency in the education and care of children, staff and skills shortages which are a high cost for employers, families and taxpayers. Families and service providers are not in a position to fund the increase in wages that is warranted and so we call on major parties to commit to funding the gap to ensure that children can gain from having consistency with educators and that staff are properly remunerated for their duties as qualified professionals.

Specifically, we call for: o An in-principle commitment to professional wages for early childhood educators. o A pledge to fund pay increases that may flow from the Fair Work Australia process currently reviewing remuneration levels for early childhood educators.

ECA believes that these policy reforms will enable the sector to adequately provide the services required of it now and into the future. The evidence is clear that investment in early learning will have substantial social and economic benefits to the nation. A long-term view on policy design and implementation is required.

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About us Early Childhood Australia (ECA) has a vision for a society in which every young child is thriving and learning. Our role in achieving this vision is to advocate for the rights and opportunities of young children including being a champion for quality outcomes in early childhood education and care.

We specifically acknowledge the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families, and the past and current injustices and realities for them around Australia.

Our work is informed by our: o commitment to children’s rights o knowledge of early childhood development, learning and pedagogy o commitment to an inclusive and just society o respect for the rights and aspirations of families o the active involvement of our members.

i WA Parliament, Education and Health Standing Committee, Child Health - Child Development: the first 3 years, Report No. 13, 2012 ii

Australian Early Development Index (AEDI) ‘Snapshot of Early Childhood Development in Australia 2012’, Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, April 2013. According to the report, 22.0 per cent of children are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domain/s used by the AEDI in Australia. Indigenous children are more than twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable than non-Indigenous children. iii

Early Childhood Australia (2013) Evidence Brief on Staff to Child Ratios and Educator Qualification Requirements of the National Quality Framework. iv

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ‘Does participation in pre-primary education translate into better learning outcomes at school?’, February 2011. The OECD’s PISA 2009 results show that in practically all OECD countries 15-year-old students who had attended some pre-primary school outperformed students who had not. While most students who had attended pre-primary education had come from advantaged backgrounds, the performance gap remains even when comparing students from similar backgrounds. v

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ‘Education at a glance 2013’, 2013. vi Australian Journal of Early Childhood (AJEC) ‘The quality of early childhood education and care services in Australia’, June 2013.