Advocacy News

ECA release pre-Budget submission

Early Childhood Australia have publicly released their pre-Budget submission to the Federal Government for the 2014/2015 Budget.

There is good evidence to suggest that early intervention and prevention programs in the areas of
maternal, child and family health; early childhood education and care; and family support programs
can improve outcomes for children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

ECA makes this submission to the 2014–15 Budget in the context of the Productivity Commission’s
ongoing Inquiry into Child Care and Early Childhood Learning. ECA has welcomed this root and
branch review of the system. It will enable a thorough look at how the system can best meet
Australia’s needs into the future and there are a number of areas that genuinely need reform.

ECA’s submission features 2 priorities 9 recommendations to the Government as they consider their Budget for the upcoming financial year.

Overall, it is fantastic to see ECA advocating strongly for the full implementation of the National Quality Framework in the face of a concerted campaign by private operators (which ECA also represent) to see it rolled back.

The submission also focuses strongly on the needs of those children and families experiencing the greatest disadvantage and vulnerabilities.

ECA also manages the vital National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program, which has had its funding removed by the Federal Government. It’s a critical resource for the sector at a time when professional standards must rise, so I sincerely hope that ECA and the sector’s advocacy on this sees the program fully restored.

Advocacy News

Listening to the voices of children

From April 2014, children from a number of countries will be able to directly take reports of human rights abuses to the United Nations. But not Australian children. Paula Gerber, Associate Professor of Human Rights Law at Monash University, explains.

Australia ratified the convention in 1990 and has also ratified both of its other Optional Protocols, one on child soldiers and the other on the sale of children into prostitution and child pornography. But can we expect Australia to ratify this latest protocol?

The answer is probably “eventually”. In other words, we shouldn’t hold our breath. Although Australia, under the Hawke government, was quick to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has been less keen to submit itself to the complaints procedures under various UN human rights treaties.

 Since the famous Toonen decision in 1994, which found Tasmania’s laws criminalising homosexuality to be a breach of human rights, Australia has been found to have violated the human rights of complainants on at least 33 occasions.

Australia’s history with the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) is complex. Despite ratifying the Convention in 1990, it has been slow to adopt many of the Optional Protocols.

Gerber explains that the UN Committee that oversees the UNCROC has regularly been critical of Australia’s approach to supporting children’s rights. Right now, Australia is actively placing children in danger in immigration detention. We are also receiving horrific stories from the Royal Commission into child abuse on organisational and systemic failings in our support systems for children.

As one of the most prosperous and secure nations on Earth, Australia is in a position to be a standard-bearer for children’s rights. It remains to be seen when, or even if, this will ever be the case.

Advocacy News

UNICEF release State of the World’s Children Report

UNICEF has released its annual “State of the World’s Children Report”.

Thirty years have passed since The State of the World’s Children began to publish tables of standardized global and national statistics aimed at providing a detailed picture of children’s circumstances.

Much has changed in the decades since the first indicators of child well-being were presented. But the basic idea has not: consistent, credible data about children’s situations are critical to the improvement of their lives – and indispensable to realizing the rights of every child.

Data continue to support advocacy and action on behalf of the world’s 2.2 billion children, providing governments with facts on which to base decisions and actions to improve children’s lives. And new ways of collecting and using data will help target investments and interventions to reach the most vulnerable children.

As usual, the report includes some incredible statistics on children’s development, education and how their rights are being upheld (or otherwise).

The site includes some fantastic interactive explorations of the numbers that make up the global picture for children. Some of the incredible statistics include:

  • 1 in 5 children die before the age of 5 in Sierra Leone;
  • In half of the world’s countries, 80% of children 2–14 years old have been subjected to violent discipline

The report is interesting to read alongside “Children’s Chances: How Countries Can Move From Surviving to Thriving”, which also presents a wealth of data on how countries are progressing with children’s rights.

Advocacy Blog

Letter to Sussan Ley, Assistant Minister for Education

In the light of recent public statements on potential changes to the National Quality Framework, I have written to the Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley. I would strongly recommend that advocates for quality children’s education and care do the same. Contact details are here.

To the Honourable Sussan Ley MP,
Assistant Minister for Education

Minister, my name is Liam McNicholas. I am an early childhood teacher working in the Australian Capital Territory.

I have been extremely concerned to read and hear your recent official statements on the early childhood education and care sector. I undertake my role because of the incredible potential to postively affect the lives of children. Not just in the time they are with me and my colleagues, but their entire lives.

An ever-growing body of research consistently demonstrates that there is no more important time in the development of a human being than their first five years. Australia’s early childhood education and care sector has an incredible potential to address inequality for children, and set them up for their future success.

But there is also potential to have negative impacts.

Early childhood educators have some of the worst wages in this country. Turnover of educators is extremely high. There are not enough educators to properly support children, particulary the youngest infants.

Services are not directly funded by the Federal Government, so must always struggle to find a balance between charging enough to do our jobs properly and ensure it is accessible to all families.

In a system with these pressures, the potential for children to be harmed is high. Not just physical or mental harm, but in such a crucial period of their development if there are negative impacts on a child it could follow them their entire life.

It is clearly cruical that we get this work right.

The National Quality Framework has been a successful project in ensuring that there is a national standard on quality for all children accessing an ECEC service. It also holds those services accountable.

It is extremely concering to hear you, and your colleagues, describe it as “drowning in red tape” or a “bureaucratic nightmare”.

Really, Minister? Keeping children safe is too much of a “nightmare” for the services and people you are speaking to?

I’ve worked in the ECEC sector for 12 years. I have always worked for community not-for-profit operations, as I believe this is the only current ethical way to support children’s learning and wellbeing in the sector.

I have been a teacher, a Centre Director and an Area Manager. Regulations are not burdensome, they are the framework that supports us to do our job well.

It forces those in the for-profit sector who would rather just make a quick buck to meet a minmum standard.

My suggestion to you when you meet with people in the sector who complain about “red tape” is to suggest they find another job to do. No-one is forcing them to stay.

If meeting 58 standards is too much like hard work, find something easier to do. Find something that won’t directly impact on the lives of Australia’s youngest citizens.

This work is crucial. It should be hard.

I implore you to show leadership in your new role, Minister. Consult and engage with a wider group of people than the private sector, who do not have the best interests of children at heart – only their profits.

I implore you to stop using easy, damaging and false language like “drowning in red tape”. Are you seriously of the belief that people and organisations working with young children shouldn’t have to fill in a bit of paperwork?

The ratio and qualification requirements at the foundation of the NQF are essential to the ongoing quality improvements in the sector. I will be advocating strongly that they are carried out, and indeed extended.

My motivation for that advocacy is the best interests of children.

I ask you to question what the motivations of those who would halt or wind back the National Quality Framework are.

I doubt children are in there. I am sure dollar signs are.

You have a leadership role in our sector Minister Ley, and I would welcome any opportunities to engage with you on this critical issue.

Yours sincerely

Liam McNicholas

Advocacy Blog

2014: The Year of Early Childhood Education and Care

2014 is going to be a huge year for the early childhood education and care sector.

The Productivity Commission has been tasked by the new Federal Government with running an inquiry into the “childcare and early learning” system. There has been no such look into the mechanics of the sector since the 1990s.

Fair Work Australia will be considering a wage equity case for Australia’s early childhood education and care workforce.

ACECQA will be undertaking a full review of the implementation of the National Quality Framework.

Throughout December, I will be launching a new advocacy initiative – Children’s Agenda.

For today, can I ask three things of you.

Follow @ChildrenAgenda on Twitter. “Like” Children’s Agenda on Facebook. Share these both with your friends and colleagues.

2014 will decide the future of early childhood education in this country. The decisions made in this year will impact Australian children, families and educators for decades.

Now is the time to step up, raise your voice, and have your say.

Advocacy Blog

Early childhood education: the next great Australian project?

I was fortunate enough to attend a breakfast event at Parliament House this morning, hosted by Goodstart Early Learning and Early Childhood Australia.

As well as featuring MPs (including the Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley), Professor Frank Oberklaid spoke on the importance of investment in public policy aimed at the early years.

As the Founding Director of the Centre for Community Child Health at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Professor Oberklaid is an expert on the development of young children – particularly their brains.

He made a strong argument for a greater, bipartisan focus on funding investments in early years programs, particularly early childhood education and care.

As all the most recent research tells us, children exposed to vulnerable situations will start life on the back foot – and will most likely never escape that handicap.

Yet the evidence also shows that quality early childhood programs can help to close that gap, at a significantly lesser cost than trying to close it later in life.

I was particularly struck by Professor Oberklaid’s challenge to view investment in the early years as Australia’s “next Snowy Mountain” project. This chimes with my own frustrations on current public policy in the early years, which is more “fiddling around the edges” of existing systems.

It would be incredible to see a bipartisan commitment to undertaking the big reforms that are needed – not to change the odd regulation, or add another bit here, but to fundamentally alter how we support young children and families in Australia.