The gaps in our society have been widened by COVID-19 and early childhood education can help bridge them.
Our latest report on children and their families’ experiences of COVID-19 looks at how disadvantage has changed as a result of the pandemic and recession. It shows that more families are at risk of facing disadvantage than ever before, and existing disadvantage is becoming worse.
While the report contains evidence of families enduring new hardships and children experiencing stress and disruption, it highlights opportunities to help children and their families overcome this.
The findings show that it is not too late to reverse the impacts of COVID-19, and the way to do this is by ensuring that families experiencing disadvantage can access quality early childhood education and care (ECEC).
Strengthening our ECEC system will strengthen Australia’s recovery from the effects of COVID-19.
The reason ECEC is so critical is because it provides children with the education and nurture they need, helps parents find work and provides a key opportunity to see, understand and address early signs of disadvantage.
When we talk about disadvantage, we are not talking about a ‘fringe’ issue. There are families in every community in Australia experiencing disadvantage, with knock-on effects impacting future opportunities for children, the wellbeing and cohesion of whole communities, and the strength of our economy. This can stem from things like:
It is crucial that experiences of disadvantage are noticed and understood, so early signs can be addressed.
Some of the only stable and consistent support that has been available to children experiencing disadvantage this year has come from their regular ECEC service. Across Australia, ECEC has sustained children’s wellbeing, kept them safe and provided them with opportunities to continue learning while their lives have been disrupted by restrictions and impacts of the pandemic.
Ensuring all children can access affordable and high-quality early childhood education also helps more parents take up jobs and secure their financial situation, their home, their lifestyle, and their family’s wellbeing. This means more money in pockets, fewer worries about everyday expenses, and more opportunities to invest in the economy.
It is clear that COVID-19 has changed the environments that shape children’s relationships, experiences and development. We can see acknowledgement of this and commitment to ensuring that it does not have lasting impacts on children through the several studies underway that are researching school-aged children’s experiences of disadvantage during COVID-19.
However, there are no studies looking at children’s experiences in the critical early years. This is something that The Front Project hoping to address – we have scoped a study and are looking at ways to pursue it.
We currently have a window of opportunity to prevent the scarring effects of COVID-19 and the potential for long-term health and social costs.
The things we need to do now to make a difference are find out what families are experiencing, and bring forward policies to make sure families who are experiencing disadvantage can access ECEC services right now and throughout the recession, with a workforce that is appropriately trained and ready to support them.
Governments and early childhood teachers, educators and sector representatives have made significant efforts to continue providing early learning to Australian children all year, recognising the critical value it provides families in times of crisis and heightened stress.
Now is the time to galvanise these efforts and to make sure every family can access the support they need to make it through the recession.
You can assist by: