From July, the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector will face some significant changes to the way support to improve quality approaches is provided. The Federal Government will cease funding Professional Support Coordinators (PSCs) in each State and Territory, while Inclusion Support Providers (ISPs) will continue with an expanded funding framework.
Additional funding to support inclusion issues is of course very welcome. The current Inclusion Support system has been underfunded for many years, particularly in the funding able to be provided to services to be able to raise the educator:child ratio to support inclusive practice. But what will this additional funding achieve, and is it worth the loss of the PSCs?
Inclusion is a very broad term, and can mean very different things for individual children, families, services, organisations, educators and communities. But at its most fundamental level, it means that every child is supported to access quality education and care. Crucially, this doesn’t just mean attending a service, but actively participating and moving towards the Learning Outcomes.
Inclusion is often used to refer specifically to children with a diagnosed disability, who do often require particular supports to actively participate, but it’s important to remember that every child may at one point or another require specific, contextual support to participate. A physically healthy and nurtured child may still experience significant separation anxiety, and educators will need to draw on inclusive strategies to support them. Children (and their families) can move in and out of vulnerable situations during their time with us – and for some children we may not ever fully understand what is happening for them outside of the centre.
This is where the loss of the PSCs will have a significant effect on ECEC services improving their inclusive practices. Early Childhood Australia (ECA) and Early Childhood
Intervention Australia’s (ECIA) “Position statement on the inclusion of children with a disability in early childhood education and care” states that:
ECEC services and support professionals must be resourced and supported to the level required to fully include children with a disability and to achieve high quality outcomes for all children.
The Statement also lists Government support for “a stable and skilled ECEC workforce with relevant skills, knowledge and access to ongoing professional development and support” as a key action required to improve inclusive practice in the sector. The PSCs were in a perfect position to complement and enhance the work of ISPs in this area. Services and educators should remember that it’s important to always be working on advocacy in this area. Child Australia’s “Inclusion: Our Statement” makes this clear:
We actively seek to inspire, develop and support inclusive policy and practice at all levels of government and with non-government agencies.
We know that high quality early childhood learning environments can support all children, and particularly children in need of early intervention. Supporting ECEC services to be more inclusive should be a fundamental principle of Federal Government policy and funding, and while a boost to the ISP funding may achieve some short-term benefit, cutting away crucial professional development at this time will mean that inclusive approaches and practices will not be embedded.
In the end, as well as making engaging in inclusion more difficult for services, this will ultimately negatively affect the children in our community.