The critical step needed to break the cycle for vulnerable children
15 April 2021 at 5:33 pm
Research shows one in five children in Australia do not start school properly equipped to learn
A new project is looking to ensure that the different support systems in place for children and young people are working together effectively, after advocates warned that fragmented and siloed service systems were leaving vulnerable children behind.
The Systems Leadership for Child and Youth Wellbeing Project is a collaboration between Every Child and the Australian and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG).
The project will involve working with leaders across the sector to ensure key supports are aligned – particularly in the areas of health, learning and housing – to allow children to thrive.
Advocates note that urgent action is needed, especially with Australian Early Development Census data showing that one in five children in Australia start school developmentally vulnerable in areas including communication and language.
Every Child co-chair Leith Sterling said the unique focus of the collaboration was to “find ways for health, housing, early years learning and care, schools, and all support systems to work better together”.
She told Pro Bono News that many support systems worked solely on one aspect of the child’s needs and missed the whole picture.
“We need good leadership and an integrated approach so all support systems work together, including those that may not have children’s wellbeing as a core function,” Sterling said.
She added that no child should miss out on the opportunity to be well equipped for school and lead a successful adult life.
“We have decided that this [project] is the most critical step if we are going to break the cycle and support the 20 per cent of children that do not get the best support at a very early age,” Sterling said.
“We know that fragmented and siloed service systems often contribute to this.
“If we are able to change that number so more children have the right supports during their 0 to 5 years, there is evidence that this will bring about the change to our future generations and society.”
Through the project, Every Child and ANZSOG will look to make the wellbeing of children and young people a “nation-building priority”.
It will push for a cross-sectoral National Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy that sets out the key priorities and outcomes needed for all children and young people in Australia to have healthy, productive lives.
The project has already engaged with more than 80 leaders across the tertiary, philanthropic and corporate sectors to discuss opportunities for improving systems leadership and life outcomes for children, young people and their families.
It has also completed a Stage 1 Synthesis Report that looks at the strengths and weaknesses of Australia’s child and youth wellbeing systems.
A key finding from this report was that children and their families bear significant costs from services not being well integrated and aligned, and that a systems leadership approach will help address this.
It noted that putting children, their families and communities at the heart of service delivery drove better outcomes for young people.
Sterling said the project’s main focus right now was sharing the evidence and information gathered for the report.
She said this involved speaking to state and federal ministers and peak bodies to spark action across the country.
“[We need] to start a conversation about system reform that supports integration across the necessary supports for children to have a better start in life,” she said.
“There are examples of this happening across Australia now – how do we boost these for impact?”