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Sometimes money is not enough

11 April 2022 at 3:39 pm
Sue Shilbury
Investment in children’s access to early learning is always needed, but effective use of the funds is vital, writes Sue Shilbury.

Sue Shilbury | 11 April 2022 at 3:39 pm


Sometimes money is not enough
11 April 2022 at 3:39 pm

Investment in children’s access to early learning is always needed, but effective use of the funds is vital, writes Sue Shilbury.

Another federal budget has come and gone. As with all budgets, there were winners and losers. It seems that each year – for the community sector – there are more often losers, than winners.

But, even when the government is prepared to commit a big dollop of funding for welfare services, new research findings by Uniting show it is not always effective. Often, a critical missing element is a service that helps eligible people, and assist them to navigate an often complex and bureaucratic system, to get that help.

Uniting has just released the findings of its evaluation into the Links to Early Learning (L2EL) program. This is a program that funds “linkers” who work with families who have not placed children in early learning services – despite the fact often they are fully entitled to the funding, or extra in-care support to give their children access.

We know that quality early-learning programs are critical in breaking the poverty cycle. If a child cannot access such a service, it has been shown that they are well behind their peers when they start the school journey. It’s a deficit that some children can never make up – compounded by a failing system and entrenched poverty.

Often, families do not access funding for early learning, despite it being available. This is most common in disadvantaged communities that include families where English is not their first language. There are also numerous cases where children with greater needs are simply rejected by early learning centres – even though there is support for these centres to provide the extra resources and level of care required. 

Uniting’s evaluation of the Links to Early Learning program showed that with help many parents – previously denied access to early learning or not connected with early learning for other reasons – had successfully placed their children in early learning centres. 

It showed that over the last three years, the “linkers” worked with 302 families from 32 different cultural backgrounds. Of those, 119 children were successfully enrolled into early learning, with the children attending an average of more than 19 hours a week. The majority (57 per cent) of those enrolled were expected to meet the minimum 600 hours of early learning. 

Both parents and early learning educators overwhelmingly agreed that early learning helped children develop communications skills, as well as basic literacy and numeracy, and made them more “school ready”.

The program helped parents who could not afford early learning fees, or the bond often required by early learning centres. Some parents who had children with disabilities, who had previously been denied entry to an early learning centre, were able to access additional support that made early learning possible for their child.

So, what does this all have to do with federal budgets?

It highlights how often our advocacy for more funding can be too simplistic. Moreover, it highlights that often funding – even when allocated – ­isn’t always accessible.

We need to educate governments, and perhaps more importantly, voters. We need more money for a host of social services at this time in Australia, but we also need to be smart about this funding, so that it’s not lost in the system.

The government gets their headline, their feel-good moment – but often those in need are no better off. It’s a salient lesson post-federal budget, but an important one to heed during the coming election.

It should inform our advocacy, and our public education, on what needs to happen to help those in our community who most need government support.

Sue Shilbury  |  @ProBonoNews

Sue Shilbury, is director of children youth and families at Uniting. She has worked in clinical and corporate governance for more than 30 years, and has director and board-level experience.  Previously, Sue was CEO of Austin Health in Melbourne.

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