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If you want the economy to recover, do more for children

2 min read

At the moment, our focus is on public health and rebuilding the economy. Unless we widen our perspective, our recovery will always be stunted. We need to do more.

While most Australian children are doing well, about 20 percent are consistently at risk of not meeting developmental milestones. That’s 20 percent of our national potential we are squandering, to say nothing of the effects on children and their families (AIHW, 2020). This inequality is being compounded by the pandemic crisis.

The cost of late action – of not providing timely support to children and families – has been estimated at $15 billion annually (Teager, Fox & Stafford, 2019). The need to invest early to prevent problems arising is even more imperative and cost effective given Australia’s current economic situation.

While the Federal Government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis should be broadly commended, now is the time to do more for the many children who don’t have access to quality child care, early learning, education and health services, and a decent home and family income. With a renewed economic focus because of the pandemic, there is a real opportunity to help turn this around.

The national Every Child campaign has set-out six priority actions to help build back Australian communities and improve the resilience and quality of life for all children, young people and families.

Every Child’s “Build Back Better” priority actions:

1. Continue the National Cabinet: This mechanism has been highly effective in driving timely decisions that promote economic stimulus and public health. The evidence-based decision-making of federal, state and territory leaders has increased public confidence and social cohesion. We need this co-operation through the COVID-19 recovery and rebuilding stages.

2. Elevate the wellbeing and prosperity of children and young people as a nation-building priority: The COVID-19 experience has compounded the hardship and divide in Australia among children. The divide between the children who have access to computers and internet; stable, safe home environments; decent family income, and those that don’t, is stark. We must increase investment in infrastructure for children and young people.

3. Implement an Every Child Support Guarantee: Ensure that every child will have access to quality child care and early learning; education and health services, and a decent home and family income.

4. Large scale national roll-out of Early Years Centres: A flagship program of child and family, health and wellbeing centres that offer integrated health, education, housing, disability, home visitation and related support services in regions across Australia, will improve child development.

5. Invest in a 20-year nation-building Affordable Housing Strategy: Ensure that all children and young people have a secure place to call home.

6. Report annually on a Prosperous Children Report Card: This must feature wellbeing targets for children and young.

We have arrived at an important moment to build back a better Australia. Our country has been an international leader in its COVID-19 response; we can now be a leader in how we manage our post-COVID-19 future.

Instead of “snapping back” to pre-existing systems, we must maximise this opportunity to build back Australian communities with economic infrastructure (such as affordable housing) and program infrastructure that significantly improves the resilience and quality of life for all children, young people and families.

The case for change has never been stronger. #buildbackbettertogether

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Kirsty is the Executive Director for Strategic Engagement, Research and Advocacy at The Benevolent Society. She co-Chairs two national campaigns: Every Child, which aims to ensure the wellbeing of all Australian children so they can thrive and EveryAGE Counts, which aims to tackle ageism in Australia. Kirsty holds a PhD in international law and politics.


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