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24 Mar 2021

Media releases

Culturally diverse children missing out on early childhood education are more likely to face vulnerability

Early childhood education in the pre-school years is critical to a strong start in life.

However, a detailed analysis of a national census of children starting full-time school has found that children from culturally diverse backgrounds in Australia are missing out on early childhood education and are more likely to be developmentally vulnerable.

Stronger Starts, Brighter Futures, to be launched on March 31, examines trends in how children from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds are faring in comparison to other Australian children in terms of their development and participation in early childhood education.

Settlement Services International (SSI) – a community organisation and social business that supports newcomers and other Australians to reach their potential – partnered with the Telethon Kids Institute – a leading children’s research agency – to carry out the research drawing on data from the Australian Early Development Census, conducted every three years since 2009.

The research found that in 2018 almost 1 in 4 (24 per cent) of children starting school across Australia were from CALD backgrounds, up from 17 per cent in 2009.

“We know that participation in early childhood education benefits children, families and the economy and society in the long term,” said Professor Sally Brinkman from the Telethon Kids Institute.

“With Australia becoming more culturally diverse it is imperative that we examine the developmental trajectories of culturally diverse children and their participation in early childhood education.”

The analysis of the census of children found that:

  • children from CALD backgrounds in Australia continued to be more likely to be developmentally vulnerable at school entry than children from non-CALD backgrounds in each census since 2009, but that the gap has narrowed over time
  • children from CALD backgrounds across Australia are less likely to attend any type of early childhood education compared to non-CALD children in each census and the gap has remained unchanged over time
  • attendance at early childhood education makes a difference for the development of all children: in 2018, CALD children who did not attend were 1.8 times more likely to be developmentally vulnerable compared to CALD children who had attended; non-CALD children who did not attend were 1.9 times more likely to be developmentally vulnerable, compared to their peers who attended

The research points to ways to improve attendance by children and families from CALD backgrounds at early childhood education through a mix of universal and targeted approaches involving governments, policy makers, early education providers and providers of settlement services.

“Children from CALD backgrounds should be able to access early childhood education that is culturally responsive and meets their needs and preferences,” said Yamamah Agha, who leads Settlement Services at SSI.

“We all have a part to play in this.

“Settlement services that work with newly arrived migrants and refugees can help to improve understanding of the benefits of early childhood education with the families and communities that we work with.”

The research recommends government and policy makers plan more effectively for increasing cultural diversity in the early childhood population and implement stronger inclusion efforts to address the lower participation of children from CALD backgrounds.

Early childhood education providers need to embed a more culturally responsive approach to support children and families from CALD backgrounds and promote awareness of the benefits of early childhood learning.

Similarly, settlement programs and others working with migrants and refugees need to actively promote the benefits of early childhood education with families and communities from CALD backgrounds.

Stronger Starts, Brighter Futures will be launched by Anne Hollonds, the Australian National Children’s Commissioner, as part of an online event and panel discussion on Wednesday, March 31, 10:30-12.00pm (AEDT).

Panellists include:

  • Sally Brinkman, Telethon Kids Institute
  • Jay Weatherill, Thrive by Five
  • Yamamah Agha, Settlement Services International
  • Myra Geddes, Goodstart Early Learning

The moderator will be Adam Carey, The Age’s education editor.

Registration information here.

More information on the event and panellists here.

The report can be found online here.

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