Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Indigenous Child Care-Leading the Way

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Indigenous Child Care-Leading the Way

Article excerpt

We are not doing well

EARLY CHILDHOOD SERVICES in Australia are fragmented and operate from a range of jurisdictions (Press & Hayes, 2001). Some children attend out-of-home services such as child care. These children tend to be children of parents who are either in employment or who are preparing for employment through education and/or training. Other children (from three-five years) attend kindergartens or preschools. These may be sessional or part-time, and at least one parent of each of the children attending these services may not be in employment. Another type of service available to young children with at least one parent not in employment is playgroups. In some areas there may be family support services available to enhance the quality of parenting and consequently support improvements in child outcomes. Generally, these services tend to operate in areas targeted as at-risk or be specifically directed towards those families identified as at-risk.

There is increasing concern about escalating poor outcomes for children across the developed world, and it appears outcomes for Australian children are no better.

   ... in spite of increasing economic prosperity
   and 'globalisation' enabling greater access to
   opportunities, many key indicators of the health,
   development and wellbeing of their children and
   youth are not improving and many are worsening.
   And the social gradients (we call them inequalities)--the
   differences in outcomes between the advantaged
   and disadvantaged groups in the population--are
   actually growing larger, not smaller as promised
   (Stanley, Prior & Richardson, 2005, p. 2).

Clearly, current systems are not effective; we need to rethink what is offered to children and their families. Neurobiological research (Mustard, 2005; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000) indicates that the most effective changes arise from interventions in the early years. Economic analyses support this. For example, Heckman (2006) suggests that we can obtain an eight-fold return on our investment for interventions in the early years compared to a three-fold return on investments in the school years. Therefore it would be timely to critically analyse the services we offer in the early years, especially if we wish to improve outcomes for children, their families and our society.

We do not believe we can effect the magnitude of change we need in outcomes by trying to improve a flawed system. Tinkering with qualifications, with standards of accreditation and with funding to enable us to improve what we already do will not make sufficient change to impact significantly on our future as a nation. We need to rethink the services we offer, we need to recommit to improving the lives of all Australian young children and their families, and we need to advocate for the resources to make the substantial changes required.

We do not need to think about these changes in a vacuum. There is ample evidence from research overseas about the sorts of programs and initiatives that work. There is also ample evidence from within our own country about the kinds of things we can do to make a difference. In this paper we present this evidence as well as our own vision of a possible future for early childhood in Australia.

The international evidence

The international evidence is compelling. People such as Fraser Mustard have played a significant role in presenting that evidence. The original McCain and Mustard report (1999) was responsible for providing evidence regarding the importance of the early years which helped shape the direction of Canadian government policy over successive years. The recent release of their second report (McCain, Mustard & Shanker, 2007) provides a summary of the research evidence from those years. Early childhood services in Canada under the leadership of Fraser Mustard have developed an integrated approach typified by early childhood and parenting centres. …

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