New report presents opportunity for a sustainable, quality, responsive and equitable early childhood education system

From workforce shortages, to maintaining quality and barriers to access, the early childhood education sector (ECEC) faces a range of complex challenges that mean it is unable to meet the needs of many children and families around Australia. 

In response, a new report released this week outlines an approach that could hold the key to ensuring the sustainability and quality of the system that so many Australian families and children rely on. 

Released by leading ECEC organisation, The Front Project, the report sets out the case for system stewardship, a concept where a steward or collection of stewards, are involved in the constant improvement and advancement of the sector. 

System stewardship is a networked form of governance with a strong focus on collaboration, and the horizontal ties between individuals and agencies. 

The Front Project CEO, Jane Hunt, said the concept could be an opportunity for Australia’s ECEC system which is straining under the weight of workforce shortages and financial pressures.

“ECEC plays a profound role in the learning and development of children in Australia, in alleviating inequality, in supporting workforce participation and in driving economic growth,” Ms Hunt said. 

“It makes significant contributions to workforce participation and social equity and the sector works incredibly hard in often trying conditions.

“But the sector faces systemic challenges as it attempts to meet the growing and changing needs of Australian children and families. 

We can only do this with well-designed funding arrangements that support the sustainability, responsiveness, transparency, quality, efficiency and accountability of the system.

“In turn, an improved model can influence the way funders, service providers and system participants interact with each other for the betterment of services and care.

The report draws on peer-reviewed literature, international and intersectoral case studies, and more than 40 consultations with experts and leaders across systems thinking, public administration and ECEC. 

For system stewardship to be successful in the ECEC system, research from other human services shows that several conditions need to be in place, including: 

  • A clear and unified purpose 
  • Rich and transparent information 
  • Strong governance, and 
  • Agility and adaptability. 

“ECEC is a foundational pillar of society,” Ms Hunt said. 

“To address the needs of all children and families in Australia, this research shows that there is a clear case for system stewardship – and we encourage all governments to strongly consider its merits.” 

For more information, and to read a copy of the stewardship report, visit