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New alliance of childhood dev’t leaders to help more young children thrive

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Social Ventures Australia (SVA) has announced the Early Childhood Development Field Catalyst, a new alliance which will bring together leaders and researchers from across children and family services to reengineer the current fragmented early-years system so that all Australian children get what they need in the early years, when they need it, to have the best chance in life.

The group of 13 leaders driving this process will work to foster a system-wide approach to addressing the root causes of disadvantage for young children from birth to 5 years. This will include supporting the development, adoption and implementation of an Early Years Blueprint to overhaul the way that the system operates, along with how services are funded, regulated and delivered.

This initiative is enabled through an investment of AU$1 million from the BHP Foundation to pioneer and test this Early Years Catalyst approach over 18 months.

“Systemic change requires evidence, innovation and collaboration,” said James Ensor, BHP Foundation Chief Executive. “And through this initiative, collective action across the early years sector has the potential to significantly improve the lives of young children in Australia, which aligns with the Foundation’s ambitions to give young people every chance to fulfill their potential.”

The leaders come from across the spectrum of sectors that interact with children including: early childhood education and care, child and maternal health, mental health, family support, housing, social services and child protection. The alliance was formed following the National Early Years Summit in March 2020 which brought together approximately 550 experts across diverse parts of the system.

Project co-chair and CEO of Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, Penny Dakin, said this approach will be crucial to developing a system that works for children and for driving change across the system.

“We need a circuit breaker. We have excellent and growing evidence of what children need to be able to thrive, but the system is not set up to allow us to work together across the different services to ensure supports are available to families before they hit crisis point,” Dakin said.

“We know that 90% of a child’s brain is grown by age 5. This makes early childhood a critical period in a child’s development that has consequences for the rest of their life,” Project co-chair and CEO of The Front Project Jane Hunt added.

“We can make lasting, positive change in early childhood through better understanding of the constraints in the way the system currently operates that are leading to poor outcomes for children, and what needs to change to see more of our children flourishing,’ she said.

During the 18-month test period, SVA will provide the backbone for the initiative and manage the project on behalf of the alliance.

In a media release, the group said they aim to “deliver improved early childhood outcomes in Australia by bringing different parts of the sector together to more effectively support young children and design new solutions, and advocate for policy change and evidence-informed approaches where necessary, and creating a National Early Years Blueprint for improving the lives of young children.”

“All children should be able to thrive, and live happy and fulfilling lives. We see a very different reality in Australia now with nearly 1 in 5 children living in poverty,” says Emma Sydenham, Director of Early Childhood at SVA. 

“We know from our work at SVA that not only is early childhood the best time to maximise social impact, it’s also the most cost-effective investment which saves governments and communities many millions of dollars in reduced health, welfare and justice expenses.” Sydenham said.  

As its first task, this collaborative group will come together to map the current system to better understand the root causes of problems, and identify the leverage points for change. The mapping project will look at the interconnected systems that impact the early years, including early childhood education and care, child and maternal health, mental health, family support, housing, social services and child protection. 

This will be followed by a longer process to seek to change elements of the current child and family system and inform future policy to allow more young children to thrive in Australia. 

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