A shared vision for Early Childhood Education and Care in the ACT

10 January 2018

In 2017, ten established ACT early childhood providers joined forces to establish the Children First Alliance, collectively representing 46 early learning centres and more than 3500 children.

Through the Alliance, YWCA Canberra is proud to join Anglicare NSW South, NSW West and ACT, Belconnen Community Services, Communities@Work, Community Services #1, Goodstart Early Learning ACT, MOCCA, Northside Community Service, Woden Community Service and YMCA Canberra, to ensure all children have access to high quality and affordable early childhood education.

To find out more about the Alliance, their shared vision for early childhood education and care in the ACT, and how it all came about, we spoke to Alliance Co-Chairs Amanda Tobler, CEO of Community Services #1, and Darren Black, CEO of YMCA Canberra.

Darren, tell us a bit about yourself, and why it was important to you and to YMCA Canberra to become part of the Children First Alliance?

I come from a Community Service background, having worked in the Community sector for 12 years with a focus on children and youth. I also have three children of my own.

Fundamentally, YMCA Canberra aligns strongly with the belief in quality early childhood care and education (ECEC). It is a big part of our business, and because the agenda of the Alliance is to promote greater investment and appreciation of the importance of the first 5-6 years in a child’s life, it was an important initiative for YMCA Canberra to support.

We know from evidence that children learn the most in the first 5-6 years of their lives, and we also know from the evidence in Australia and the ACT that we are underinvested in terms of resources and time in those early years.

What about for you, Amanda?

I am a born and bred Canberran, and I have been in the community sector for over 22 years. I am passionate about providing high quality services for our community that enable and enhance wellbeing and lives.

Community Services #1 is excited to be part of an Alliance that has a shared vison for children in the ACT that is built upon research, evidence and understanding of the Canberra community.

Community Services #1 has been providing early education and care services in the ACT for over 36 years, and we believe that all children have the right to access high quality education and care.

Darren, tell us about a bit more about the Alliance – how did it come together?

The Alliance came together because of a unifying belief in the importance of early childhood education and the knowledge and insight that it was not being done as well as it could and needed to be.

There is an aligned personal belief across the participating organisations and their CEO’s and this belief is underpinned by strong evidence. It is this evidence that informs us that the investment made in the preschool years is going to have a life time impact on a child’s capacity from a social, academic and future employment perspective.

When we apply a benchmarking approach, we are well behind international best practice in terms of time and resources allocated to early learning and preschool education.

Amanda, why do you believe that it is crucial that all Australian children, and particularly those who are vulnerable, have access to quality and affordable early childhood education and care?

If we as a society want to be able to give every child, regardless of background and social advantage, the best start in life so that they can achieve their potential access to early education and care is the answer.

There is now a well-established body of research that demonstrates the importance of early childhood education and care on a child’s social, emotional, educational and economic wellbeing across the lifespan and we know that access to quality early childhood education can immunise children against future disadvantage and harm.

High quality early childhood programs can return up to $7 to society per $1 invested. Too much money is spent in later years addressing issues that could have been prevented in the early years.

Amanda, what are some of the key outcomes that you and the Children First Alliance hope to see in years to come?

The most immediate action we would like to see from the ACT Government is the development of an Early Years Strategy, which will set clear targets for access to early childhood education and care for children in the ACT, particularly for children who are experiencing disadvantage, children with disabilities, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Within the Strategy, we want to see a multi-faceted approach to the early years that acknowledges the interconnections between health, education, social and economic outcomes.

Research tells us that Australia has some considerable catching up to do in regards to international standards in the provision of accessible, quality and affordable early childhood education. Here in the ACT, this deficit is already apparent, with one in five children being developmentally vulnerable when entering school.

We need to see a renewed commitment from our local and federal governments, and collectively focus on doing everything in our power to support children to reach their full potential from an early age.

This Early Years Strategy is just the first component of the Alliance’s five-point plan that we will work towards in coming years. You can read more about the other four key actions via the Children First Alliance website.

The Children First Alliance recently prepared a Submission to the 2018-19 ACT Budget Consultation process, outlining the immediate areas for action in order to strengthen ECEC in the ACT.

These areas include:

  • Developing an ECEC Innovation Fund and Co-Lab to support program that improve access to ECEC for children experiencing disadvantage.
  • Creating an ACT Early Childhood Educators Professional Development Fund to support the ongoing need for professional development in the ECEC sector.
  • Commission modelling into the cost of extending funded preschool access to three year olds, as part of the Future of Education review process.

You can read the Submission in full, and find out more about the Alliance via the Children First Alliance


This article was first published in the second edition of YAction. YAction shines a light on advocacy of YWCA Canberra, like minded organisations and the issues that are important to our community.Advocacy is core to what YWCA Canberra does – women  must be the crucial actors in any attempt to achieve gender equality.

This publication is about bringing the voices, initiatives and efforts of activists and organisations to the fore – we hope that by doing this we will increase awareness of critical issues and present opportunities for collaboration that our members, friends and supporters can get involved in. Ultimately, we hope to strengthen a movement that works together to achieve gender equality in the ACT, as we believe that this will take a society wide effort. YAction is about bringing current issues to the fore that are being debated in our Parliament and in the news, and that all too often happen in the absence of those voices that are most affected.

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