Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Integrated Services in Australian Early Childhood Education and Care: What Can We Learn from Our Past?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Integrated Services in Australian Early Childhood Education and Care: What Can We Learn from Our Past?

Article excerpt


Spurred by contemporary interest in integrated early childhood services, this paper highlights Australia's history in this area. The paper especially focuses upon advocacy for, and provision of, early childhood education and care (ECEC) services that integrate a range of education, health and family supports. We argue that attention to this history is important, not only for acknowledging this innovative work, but also for the potential lessons that can be derived from it. As today, in the past, advocates for integrated services drew upon scientific, nationalistic and, to a lesser extent, social justice discourses, and provision was targeted at disadvantaged communities and driven by philanthropic organisations. However, such activity did not sustain government interest and investment. We suggest that reasons for the lack of sustainability include: divergent beliefs about the role of the state in intervening in the family; entrenched beliefs about the responsibility of mothers for the early care and education of their children; tensions between the role of health and education professionals in the early years; and fragmented service delivery systems across and between Commonwealth and State governments. Reflecting on this history, we caution that whilst nationalistic and scientific discourses have proven powerful for having the value of integrated services recognised, they may fail once again to sustain government support.

The paper begins by defining integrated early childhood education and care services and outlining contemporary provision in Australia. Next, it provides a brief rationale for the use of historical methods to explore contemporary provision and then discusses three pivotal periods in 20th century Australia when integrated services were either established or advocated. We conclude by suggesting alternative framings for integrated service delivery that situate the provision of these services within a child's rights framework.

The contemporary context

This paper relies on a definition of integrated services we developed with colleagues and in close consultation with relevant professionals:

Integrated services provide access to multiple services to children and families in a cohesive and holistic way. They recognise the impact of family and community contexts on children's development and learning and focus on improving outcomes for children, families and communities. Through respectful, collaborative relationships, they seek to maximise the impact of different disciplinary expertise in a shared intent to respond to family and community contexts (Press et al. 2010: 53).

Such services provide a range of child and family supports, including childcare and education, maternal and infant health, social work and early intervention. They can consist of co-located services and/or operate as 'hubs' (with services in different localities but highly connected).

Integration is promoted by researchers, service providers and policy makers as a way to respond effectively and efficiently to the diverse and often complex needs of children and families. Whilst collaboration, coordination and integration between and within services has potential benefits for all children and families (Mattessich et al. 2001; Corbett & Noyes 2008; Moore 2008; Edwards et al. 2009) integrated services are particularly valuable for families requiring a range of social and health supports, such as families with a child with a disability or those with mental health issues and those who are socially and/or culturally marginalised (Horwath & Morrison 2007; Easton et al. 2012).

The field of early intervention, in particular, has drawn attention to the need for a more systemic approach to the provision of services, especially for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities often have multiple needs (for example, physical, medical, social, financial and learning) requiring diverse services (for example, medical and allied health, social work, and education). …

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