Early childhood education and care (ECEC) is key to addressing one of the largest increases in disadvantage that Australian families have ever faced.
New analysis by The Front Project released today shows how to optimise investment in ECEC to help children and families overcome disadvantage caused by COVID-19 and avoid long-term social and economic impacts for Australia.
The Front Project CEO, Jane Hunt says the paper, Families, Disadvantage and Early Childhood Education and Care in COVID-19, finds that ensuring access to quality ECEC will improve the lives of children and families experiencing disadvantage and should be a national priority.
“We have a window of opportunity to prevent the recession from having lifelong consequences for children and families,” Ms Hunt explained.
“By proactively ensuring that all children are able to access high quality ECEC, we can help the families who are experiencing disadvantage now as well as those who are facing new risks.
“Quality early learning can make the difference for these families because it provides children with the education and nurture they need to develop socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively, while helping parents find work and lift their families out of financial stress or poverty.
“It also provides one of the only opportunities to see and understand children’s experiences and address early signs of disadvantage when they are not participating in regular activities outside of their homes, due to public health restrictions or their families having to save money.”
The findings show that the risk factors that cause children to experience disadvantage are increasing as a result of COVID-19, causing more families to experience disadvantage than ever before and making existing experiences of disadvantage worse.
Parents losing jobs, not having internet or devices to connect with relatives and friends online, and not being able to maintain activities like visiting early learning centres or playgrounds are all risk factors that can cause children to experience disadvantage.
The paper explains that accelerating investment in ECEC to target disadvantage can lower these risks, limit the amount of time that families live with stress and financial insecurity and prevent flow-on impacts to children’s education, health and future wellbeing.
It recommends collecting data about how COVID-19 has impacted children at this time; making sure all families can access ECEC during the recession without worrying about costs, accelerating plans to ensure that children who are experiencing disadvantage are accessing ECEC; and investing in the workforce, recognising their critical role in delivering quality experiences to children and additional support to families who need it.
Ms Hunt said these measures will see more children reach their full potential, help more families get back on track and support our recovery from the effects of COVID-19.
The paper combines research with insights from parents, teachers and educators about the role of ECEC in children’s lives during this time. See more of The Front Project’s work to support children and families during COVID-19 at www.thefrontproject.org.au/early-learning-in-covid-19.