Closing the Gap report highlights the need for a greater focus on Indigenous perspectives in the early years

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The Prime Minister Tony Abbott handed down the sixth Closing the Gap Report in the House of Representatives yesterday.

While there have been some successes, primarily in child and maternal health, it is clear that Australia is not moving fast enough or smart enough to meet the 2030 targets.

Tony Abbott, who has regularly spent time in Indigenous communities and has connections with community leaders, has stated that he wants Indigenous Affairs to be a priority in his Government.

A worth aim, but it stands at odds with the Government’s funding cuts to legal services.

Meeting with 2030 targets will require a much higher level of investment, as well as a much greater effort to change attitudes and intolerance within the country. This has to start in early childhood.

Angela Webb in The Australian advocates strongly that targeted support needs to be directed into the early years, citing the wealth of evidence that support in this space reaps enormous benefits down the track.

Indigenous children already remain under-represented in early-years services. Yet there are currently only about 300 indigenous community-controlled early-years services across Australia, servicing a population of 146,714 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from birth to eight years old. This is manifestly inadequate, yet the conversation is not about redressing the vast gap in service coverage but the ongoing survival of the few existing services.

The early childhood education sector has a powerful role to play in addressing Indigenous disadvantage, but it is currently failing to meet that potential. As Webb writes:

At the time of greatest potential to reverse the disadvantage that many indigenous children face, we are letting them down. Funding for indigenous early childhood services, already lagging far behind that for other children, will be cut in June.

The National Quality Framework has included a strong focus on Indigenous perspectives, and is a foundation of the Early Years Learning Framework. However the complexities and challenges of working in this space require significant investment in professional development and training for educators and teachers, which has not been seen as yet.

Quality early learning experiences can support all children to get the best start in life, but given Australia’s past and our responsibility to Australia’s first people, there needs to be a significant and sustained focus on embedding Indigenous perspectives – first with educators, and through them young children and families.

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