The Centre for Policy Development (CPD) today released the Starting Better report, recommending a decade of reforms across all levels of government to provide children and their families with tools they need to do well.
The study revealed a need for Australia to put into place a “Guarantee for Young Children and Families”, including universal access to a minimum three days a week of free or low cost quality early education and care from birth to school age, up to twenty-five visits from maternal and child health nurses for new parents, and more paid parental leave shared between partners to give babies more time with parents in the crucial early months of life.
The Guarantee is the CPD’s attempts to offer an alternative to the myriad of pricey services and schemes currently available to young families.
Accomplishing the Guarantee’s goals would return a triple dividend of setting children up to thrive, improved work-life balance for families and more secure jobs in the early childhood sector.
The Guarantee would require an estimated initial annual investment of $2 billion, rising to $20 billion by 2030. By then, it is projected to be cost neutral and deliver a net economic return of $15 billion annually before 2045.
Travers McLeod, CEO at CPD, believes the Guarantee will ensure the country continues to build on Medicare and social guarantees like primary and secondary schooling.
“Early childhood is the launchpad for life,” McLeod said in a statement. “By delivering this Guarantee over the next decade we can make Australia the best place in the world to be a child, and to raise one.”
“Right now we are not delivering for young children and their families. Too many children and families start behind and never catch up.”
“Early education is expensive and hard to access. Parents don’t have enough time with their children in those crucial early months, and support is often hardest to access for families who need it most.”
The Guarantee will generate returns from higher wages, increased workforce participation, savings on health and crime, and job creation for early childhood workers.
“Our children will flourish, families will more comfortably balance work and home, and we will create rewarding, secure careers in the early childhood sector,” McLeod added.
The Starting Better report twelve months’ worth of work from the Centre’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) Initiative and draws on the work of the Centre’s informal intergovernmental Early Childhood Development Council, including senior officials, ECD experts and sector leaders.
Leslie Loble, Centre for Policy Development Fellow and ECD Council co-chair, said that the Guarantee was an ambitious and necessary reform program that would underpin Australian prosperity in the 21st Century.
“The Guarantee for Young Children and Families articulated by Starting Better represents the foundations of a more prosperous, fair and flourishing Australia in the decades to come,” Loble said.
“It is the kind of nation-building reform that requires a committed consensus of policymakers, industry leaders and early education experts working together to reshape a nation so it more perfectly reflects the aspirations of its citizens and the best ambitions of its leaders.
“As the co-chair of the Council for Early Childhood Development I believe the path towards a future where all children in our country are supported to thrive has been laid out in Starting Better. If the Guarantee for Children and Families becomes part of the fabric of Australia it will deliver social, economic and educational gains for many decades to come.”
National Children’s Commissioner, Anne Hollonds believes this latest report and the Guarantee makes children a national priority.
“We need a vision and a plan to accelerate change so that Australia can be the best place to raise a child and to be a child,” she said.
“Our existing fragmented and ineffective services are failing our children. Affordable improvements can be achieved by action based on the evidence, but we need to start now.”
“Starting Better offers the evidence and the inspiration of a promise to our children and their families. There is no purpose more compelling than the development and wellbeing of our children and a better future for us all.”
Dr Ken Henry, former commonwealth Treasury Secretary, wrote in The Australian, that the report presents “a strong case for expecting a “triple dividend” of benefits from this investment.”
“Children growing up healthier and happier, leading more productive and fulfilling lives; less stress on families and better opportunities to work, especially for women; and more rewarding careers for early childhood professionals,” he wrote.
“This is a good time to be thinking about what we need to do to provide the best start for Australia’s children.
“Since European settlement, every generation of Australians has been confident they would pass onto their children a higher standard of living. Today’s Australians cannot be so confident.”
Sam Page, CEO, Early Childhood Australia, said her Canberra-based organisation supports the call for a guarantee to ensure “…every child, in every community, regardless of their circumstances, can access the services they need to thrive and learn the foundation skills for lifelong learning.”
“High quality early education and care sets children up for a lifetime of engagement in education, the benefits are long lasting across education achievement, employment outcomes, healthy relationships as well as wellbeing and mental health well into adulthood,” she said.
“This is the best investment we can make to improve life outcomes for all Australian children.”
Helen Gibbons, Executive Director of Early Education, United Workers Union, believes Australia needs a conversation about early education and the support we provide young children.
“We all know we can and should do better – for children, for families, for the workforce and for the community,” she said. “This report frames the conversation as a promise. Children understand promises and their importance. Let’s not let them down.”
According to Dr Nicola Forrest AO, co-founder, Minderoo Foundation, Australia can judge its performance as a nation on how well we equip our children to be kind, capable, productive and resilient, yet right now, we are letting children and families down.
“The early years of our children’s lives are where Australia can make the biggest difference — for them, their families and for the nation,” she said.
“For the first time in my two decades of advocacy on early childhood, Starting Better provides a concrete, comprehensive and measurable path to long-term solutions through the ‘Guarantee for Children and their Families’.”
“When this Guarantee is enacted it will support generations of Australians to thrive for decades to come.”
The Parenthood’s Executive Director, Georgie Dent, added that the extent to which too many children miss out in Australia is not widely known.
“There is an assumption that as a nation we prioritise the wellbeing, development and education of young children which isn’t the case,” she explained.
“Between the critical years between 0-5 every child needs support to thrive, and support for children begins with supporting their parents and caregivers. By implementing the Starting Better guarantee we would profoundly improve the lives and wellbeing of children and in doing so we would transform the future of Australia.”
Read the full report here.