Culturally diverse children miss out on early childhood education, so more vulnerable

Attendance at early childhood education makes a difference for the development of all children but children from diverse backgrounds are less likely to go.
Mar 25, 2021
Culturally diverse children need to be included in early childhood education

Almost 1 in 4 (24 per cent) of children starting school across Australia were from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, up from 17 per cent in 2009.

These children continue to be more likely to be developmentally vulnerable at school entry than children from non-CALD backgrounds in each census since 2009, but that the gap has narrowed over time.

Children from CALD backgrounds across Australia are less likely to attend any type of early childhood education compared to non-CALD children in each census and the gap has remained unchanged over time.

Attendance at early childhood education makes a difference for the development of all children: in 2018, CALD children who did not attend were 1.8 times more likely to be developmentally vulnerable compared to CALD children who had attended; non-CALD children who did not attend were 1.9 times more likely to be developmentally vulnerable, compared to their peers who attended early childhood education and are more likely to be developmentally vulnerable.

Stronger Starts, Brighter Futures, to be launched on March 31, examines trends in how children from (CALD) backgrounds are faring in comparison to other Australian children in terms of their development and participation in early childhood education.

The research recommends government and policy makers plan more effectively for increasing cultural diversity in the early childhood population and implement stronger inclusion efforts to address the lower participation of children from CALD backgrounds.

Early childhood education providers need to embed a more culturally responsive approach to support children and families from CALD backgrounds and promote awareness of the benefits of early childhood learning.

Similarly, settlement programs and others working with migrants and refugees need to actively promote the benefits of early education.

Settlement Services International (SSI) – a community organisation and social business that supports newcomers and other Australians to reach their potential – partnered with the Telethon Kids Institute – a leading children’s research agency – to carry out the research drawing on data from the Australian Early Development Census, conducted every three years since 2009.

“We know that participation in early childhood education benefits children, families and the economy and society in the long term,” said Professor Sally Brinkman from the Telethon Kids Institute.

“With Australia becoming more culturally diverse it is imperative that we examine the developmental trajectories of culturally diverse children and their participation in early childhood education.”

The research points to ways to improve attendance by children and families from CALD backgrounds at early childhood education through a mix of universal and targeted approaches involving governments, policy makers, early education providers and providers of settlement services.

“Children from CALD backgrounds should be able to access early childhood education that is culturally responsive and meets their needs and preferences,” said Yamamah Agha, who leads Settlement Services at SSI.

“Settlement services that work with newly arrived migrants and refugees can help to improve understanding of the benefits of early childhood education with the families and communities that we work with.”

It’s recommended that the Australian Government should examine the effectiveness of inclusion initiatives to address disparities in access to early childhood education and care, including early professional support for children from CALD backgrounds.

And there needs to be an expansion of targeted initiatives, delivered by organisations with culturally responsive capabilities.

Stronger Starts, Brighter Futures will be launched by Anne Hollonds, the Australian National Children’s Commissioner, as part of an online event and panel discussion on Wednesday, March 31, 10:30-12.00pm (AEDT).

Panellists include:

  • Sally Brinkman, Telethon Kids Institute
  • Jay Weatherill, Thrive by Five
  • Yamamah Agha, Settlement Services International
  • Myra Geddes, Goodstart Early Learning

The moderator will be Adam Carey, The Age's education editor.

Photo by Scott Webb from Pexels