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Australian Reports on Early Childhood Development

This document is to provide Thrive By Five leaders and staff with background information on important Reports on early childhood development. The list is not exhaustive and focuses on early childhood education and care (ECEC).

Section 1 - General ECEC System

1.1 Moving Early Childhood Up the Agenda (2020) - [Referred to as the ‘Core Story’ Report]
CoLab (Minderoo Foundation and Telethon Kids Institute)

Produced by CoLab, a partnership between the Minderoo Foundation and the Telethon Kids Institute. The Frameworks Institute (Washington DC based) was contracted to produce the Report.
The Report used communication science (intensive and extensive market research) to develop a narrative that better resonates with the public and policymakers with the goal of moving early childhood development up the policy agenda. It proposes a ‘new’ narrative based around the concepts of “Health and Fairness.” The Report outlines an in-depth exploration of a series of frames highlighting different aspects of these concepts.

The Report proposes the key narrative that supporting early development builds health and creates fairness for Australia’s children now and in the future. The goal of the ‘Core Story Project’ was to have many organisations and people use this new communications approach. This would increase the likelihood of moving early childhood up the national agenda.

1.2. Potential of 'stacking' early childhood interventions to reduce inequities in learning outcomes (2019) ‘Restacking the Odds’ Project
Authors - Carly Molloy , Meredith O'Connor , Shuaijun Guo , Colleen Lin , Christopher Harrop , Nicholas Perini , Sharon Goldfeld (Best known author Professor Sharon Goldfeld – MCRI)

Authored Early childhood interventions are critical for reducing child health and development inequities. While most research focuses on the efficacy of single interventions, combining multiple evidence-based strategies over the early years of a child’s life may yield greater impact. This study examined the association between exposure to a combination of five evidence-based services from 0 to 5 years on children’s reading at 8-9 years.
The study found that the cumulative benefit effect of participation in more services and a cumulative risk effect when exposed to more risks was found. Each additional service that the child attended was associated with an increase in reading scores. Conversely, each additional risk that the child was exposed to was associated with a decrease in reading skills. Effects were similar for disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children. This study supports the potential value of ‘stacking’ (having multiple) early interventions across the early years of a child’s life to maximise impacts on child outcomes.

1.3. State of Early Learning (2019 and 2017)

Second Report produced in 2019 by the Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign (led by Early Childhood Australia), in conjunction with the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) at the University of Queensland.
The State of Early Learning in Australia 2019 Report provides a comprehensive summary of the early learning sector (Early Childhood Education and Care, Preschool). The Report collects data mostly from Government Reports (e.g., ROGS, ACECQA) and reports on the key areas related to Access, Funding, Workforce, Provision, and Quality. Data is mostly presented for Australia and for each state and territory. The Report nominates national goals and performance indicators to help track progress in the future; and a simple scorecard for each state and territory reporting on one aspect that is positive and negative (tick and cross).

1.4. Lifting Our Game (2017)
Commissioned by the States and Territories of Australia (not the Commonwealth). Authors – Susan Pascoe AM, Professor Deborah Brennan.

The Report’s official title is ‘Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools through Early Childhood Interventions’.  It was asked to consider, and make recommendations on, the most effective interventions to be deployed in early childhood, with a focus on school readiness, improving achievement in schools and future success in employment or further education. The Review found that quality early childhood education makes a significant contribution to achieving educational excellence in schools; There is growing evidence that participation in quality early childhood education improves school readiness and lifts NAPLAN results and PISA scores.  It stated that quality early childhood education and care is best considered as an investment, not a cost.  The Reports recommendations included:

  • Embedding foundations for future reform and improved education and life outcomes through a commitment to ongoing, adequate funding of Universal Access in the year before school.
  • Progressively expanding access to quality early childhood education, for example preschool, for all three-year-olds
  • Targeting additional support for some children and families to promote access, equity, and inclusion
  • Focussing on quality improvement and workforce issues.

Note: The Report was produced at a time when long-term national funding arrangements for early childhood education were uncertain (e.g., 4-Year UANP)

1.5 Child Care and Early Learning (2015)
Productivity Commission.

The Australian Government asked the Productivity Commission to undertake a public inquiry into future options for childcare and early childhood learning, with a focus on developing a system that supports workforce participation and addresses children’s learning and development needs.

Key Findings Included:

  • Formal and informal Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services play a vital role in the development of Australian children and their preparation for school, and in enabling parents to work.
  • The number of formal ECEC services has expanded substantially over the past decade. Over the same period, Australian Government funding has almost tripled to around $7 billion per year, and now covers two thirds of total ECEC costs. Despite this, many parents report difficulties in finding ECEC at a location, price, quality, and hours that they want.
  • Current ECEC arrangements are complex and costly to administer and difficult for parents and providers to navigate. There are over 20 Australian Government assistance programs, some poorly targeted. Assessing service quality is cumbersome and time consuming.
  • he benefits from participation in preschool for children’s development and transition to school are largely undisputed. There also appear to be benefits from early identification of, and intervention for, children with development vulnerabilities.
  • The National Quality Framework must be retained, modified, and extended to all Government funded ECEC services.
  • The Commission’s recommended reforms will achieve, at minimal additional cost, an ECEC system that is simpler, more accessible, and flexible, with greater early learning opportunities for children with additional needs. Assistance should focus on three priority areas:
  • mainstream support through a single child-based subsidy that is: means- and activity- tested, paid directly to the family’s choice of approved services,
  • support the inclusion of children with additional needs in mainstream services, delivery of services for children in highly disadvantaged communities and the integration of ECEC with schools and other child and family services.
  • Approved preschool programs funded on a per child basis, for all children, regardless of whether they are dedicated preschools or part of a long day care centre.

Note: The Productivity Commission’s recommended model for ECEC received mixed reviews from stakeholders and was never fully implemented.

1.6. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Early Childhood Strategy (Current)
SNAICC – National Voice for our Children. Co-funded by the National Indigenous Australians Agency.

SNAICC is developing a strategy that will align with the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and their community-controlled services to lead the responses to children’s needs. It will address outcomes across all aspects of young children’s lives, including early learning, health, disability, wellbeing, care, and development.  To date (July 2021) it has provided a Framework to inform the development of a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Early Education Strategy. This Framework identifies five goals/priority areas for consultation:

·       Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are born and remain healthy and strong.

·       Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are supported to thrive in their early years.

·       Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are supported to establish and maintain strong connections to culture, country, and language

·       Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children grow up in safe nurturing homes, supported by strong families and communities

·       Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities are active partners in building a better service system

Section 2 - Economics of ECEC

2.1 Cheaper childcare: A practical plan to boost female workforce participation (2020)
Grattan Institute. Danielle Wood, Kate Griffiths, and Owain Emslie

This major Report identified a range of policy and social barriers facing women who would prefer to work more paid hours. The Report found that the combination of tax, welfare settings, and childcare costs – the ‘workforce disincentive rate’ – can be particularly punishing for the fourth and fifth day of work for the primary carer, still generally a woman.

It recommended that the Commonwealth Government should boost the Child Care Subsidy and improve its design so that second earners take home more pay from additional hours of work. It recommends a 95 per cent (increase from 85%) subsidy for low-income households, gradually tapering for families with incomes above $68,000.  Under this scheme, 60 per cent of families would pay less than $20 per day per child for childcare, and no family would be worse off.

The Report estimated that higher workforce participation from this additional $5 billion a year in childcare spending would boost GDP by about $11 billion a year. They stated this would be on par with the estimated economic benefit from cutting the company tax rate to 25 per cent.

2.2 The childcare subsidy: Options for increasing support for caregivers who want to work (2020)
KPMG. Key Contacts – Alison Kitchen, Grant Wardell-Johnson

This Report focussed on affordability of childcare and its impact on family second income workers returning to the workforce.  They state that parents of young children who want to contribute more to household income too often find themselves considering an insufficient financial reward when taking on extra work, once out-of-pocket childcare costs are deducted; that this occurs across all family income levels; and it is currently women’s workforce participation that suffers most when childcare is unaffordable.

The Report stated that there would be significant long-term benefits for our society of transitioning to near fully funded childcare for children under the age of five (pay 95% hourly rate cap).

The Report explored 3 options for increasing the subsidy to pay for childcare.  It estimated that the annual benefit to gross domestic product (GDP) from increasing the federal government childcare subsidy (CCS) to a near fully funded 95 percent of the current hourly rate cap (Option 1 in the paper) could exceed the additional CCS expenditure (net of additional income tax receipts) by almost 40 percent. The additional CCS expenditure (net of additional income tax receipts) was estimated to be $5.4 billion, and the annual GDP benefit is estimated at up to $7.5 billion.

Additionally, the Report explored a ‘Parent Equity Model’ (parental responsibility being fairly divided over the long term, with parents sharing work and caring responsibilities).  This was incorporated into Option 1 in the Report.  It noted that there are considerable economic benefits that would flow from the Parent Equality Model as well as greater personal wellbeing.

2.3 Australian Investment in Education: Early Learning (2020)
Mitchell institute. Peter Hurley, Jen Jackson and Kate Noble

This Report examined investment in Early Childhood Education and Care in Australia.   It found:

  • Government expenditure on early childhood education and care (ECEC) has grown substantially since 2008, and in 2018 was approximately $9.2 billion. This is an increase in real terms since 2008 of almost 140%.
  • The overall increase in government expenditure is due in part to an increase in participation across the ECEC sector and investments to lift the quality of ECEC services.
  • Most of the government expenditure, 83.5% in 2018, is in the form of childcare subsidies, with preschool delivery accounting for the remaining proportion of expenditure.
  • Although private expenditure on ECEC is not captured, estimates are that Australian families are spending between $3.8 – $6.8 billion on ECEC per year.
  • While per child expenditure on ECEC is difficult to calculate, estimates indicate that it remains below the base level of per-student expenditure in primary schools; despite the higher ratios of educators to children required to deliver quality ECEC services.
  • The Report proposed promising areas of policy reform including Improving the transparency and certainty of government funding for ECEC, investing in quality in all types of ECEC services to maximise the return on government investment Classifying childcare services as ‘education and training’ and simplifying funding arrangements for families.

2.4 A Smarter Investment for a Smarter Australia (2019)
The Front Project

The Front Project commissioned PwC to undertake an economic analysis of early childhood education in Australia. The analysis focusses on the early childhood education provided to children in the year before they start school – often known as either preschool or kindergarten.  The analysis considered the benefits of early childhood education for children, their parents or carers, governments, and employers against the costs of providing that early childhood education.

This study has identified $2.34 billion in costs associated with the provision of early 15 hours of early childhood education in the year-before-school. These costs are split between government (79 per cent) and parents or carers (21 per cent).   Overall, the study has identified approximately $2 of benefits for every $1 spent on early childhood expenditure on early childhood education. Expressed differently, this is a return on investment (ROI) of 103%.  It concluded that early childhood expenditure on early childhood education can be viewed as a strong long-term investment with quantifiable returns.

2.5 How Australia can invest in children and return more (2019)
CoLab (Minderoo Foundation and Telethon Kids Institute), The Front Project, Early Intervention Foundation, Woodside Energy

The purpose of this report was to reveal how much Australian governments spend every year because children and young people have reached crisis point; and highlight the opportunity of earlier and wiser investment in children to improve the lives of young Australians while reducing pressure on government budgets. The report calculates annual expenditure on the acute, statutory, and essential benefits and services provided by government that become necessary once children or young people are experiencing serious issues.  It found that Australia spends $15.2bn every year because children and young people experience serious issues that require crisis services.  This equates to $607 for every Australian, or $1,912 per child and young person.  The greatest costs are for:

  • Children in out of home care (39%)
  • Police, court, and health costs of youth crime (18%)
  • Welfare payments for unemployed young people (13%)

Issues likely to drive future budget pressures were:

  • Youth unemployment
  • Youth hospitalisation for mental health issues
  • Children and young people in out of home care

Issues driving costs were:

  • Youth hospitalisation for mental health issues: child and adolescent mental-health-related hospital admissions increased by 25% between 2008-09 and 2014-15, and more recent data continues this upward trend
  • Children and young people in out-of-home care: the number of children in out-of-home care has increased by 34% over the past 10 years, a significantly faster rate than the 11% growth in the size of the 0-24 years population.
  • Child and youth obesity: there has been a 17% increase in the obesity rate of children and young people aged 2-17 since 2011-12


2.5 The Early Years – Investing in Our Future (2020)
Bankwest Centre for Economics, Curtin University

This report highlights the critical importance of investment in the early years, illustrating that disadvantage starts during pregnancy and extends through toddlerhood and in the preschool years, with significant differences in child outcomes evident across various domains including mental health, language development and early learning, well before formal school commences.

The Report proposes and explains a early learning disadvantage index that highlights the extent of inequality of early learning opportunities across Western Australia and Australia. It shows that the divide between the most advantaged and disadvantaged areas is very significant.

Section 3 - Quality of ECEC

3.1 The Australia Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) NQF snapshots

The NQF Snapshots provide analysis and information on the profile of the sector, and the quality ratings of services, including by service and provider management type.  Latest Snapshot was in 2020.

3.2 The Australia Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) NQF Annual Performance Report

The NQF Annual Performance Report provides an Annual Overview of the ECEC sector.  This includes information on the profile of the sector, progress by ECEC providers in each of the NQF quality areas, and the quality ratings of services, including by service and provider management type.

3.3 Quality is Key in Early Childhood Education (2017)
Mitchell institute.

This Report examined how Australia is tracking for process (educational) quality. This is the area that grows children’s early literacy, language development, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. Arguably the most important of the 5 quality areas in the NQF, process quality focuses on the interactions between staff and children, and teacher-directed learning activities. The Report found that disadvantaged children are more likely to miss out on high quality ECEC. It also finds that quality varies more for younger children.

Note:  Report is now dated.  Quality Area 1 in the National Quality Standards, Educational Practice, remains the area that ECEC services find hardest to meet.

3.4 ECEC: An evidence based review of indicators to assess quality, quantity, and participation (2019)
Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This Report sought to establish an evidence-based set of indicators for best practice indicators of ECEC quality, participation, and quantity.  The four indicators identified were:

  • Quality Indicator – The proportion of ECEC services rated ‘exceeding’ the standard in quality areas 1, 4 and 5 and at least ‘meeting’ the standard in all other quality areas according to the ACECQA a Universal participation indicator
  • Universal Participation Indicator – Proportion of all children attending ECEC for 15 hours or more per week, for the two years before starting formal school.
  • Targeted participation indicator Proportion of children experiencing disadvantage who attend ECEC for 15 hours or more per week, for at least the three years before starting formal school
  • Quantity indicator – The number of ECEC places for 15 hours per week available to 2–5-year-olds

Section 4 - ECEC Workforce

4.1 Every Early Childhood Educator Matters. Evidence for a new early childhood workforce strategy for Australia (2020)
Mitchell Institute. Jen Jackson

In December 2019, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Education Council agreed to develop a new national workforce strategy for ECEC. This paper sets out policy proposals for Australian governments to consider in developing and implementing the new national ECEC workforce strategy.  This follows bringing together 33 researchers with expertise in ECEC workforce development to a national roundtable to generate evidence-based policy ideas.

The policy proposals cover four stages of an ECEC career, from making the decision to enter the ECEC sector, through to ongoing professional learning and career development.

They include:

  • a national approach to achieving professional pay and conditions including co-investment models between governments and employers
  • a national campaign to promote ECEC careers, emphasising the benefits of ECEC for children’s learning and development
  • high-quality education and training for all educators, including better consistency in vocational education and training
  • new national standards for educator wellbeing to ensure that ECEC services look after educators’ physical and emotional health, and set clear expectations for workloads

4.2 National Workforce Census reports (2016, 2013 and 2010 Note: 4th National Census is in 2021).

The Early Childhood Education and Care National Workforce Census is a nationwide survey of early childhood education and care services which collects information about service usage, children with additional needs, access to preschool/kindergarten programs and staffing.  The Census Report takes the information gathered in the census and presents an overview of the early childhood education and care workforce as well as characteristics of Child Care Benefit approved childcare services.

4.3 Money, Love, and Identity: Initial Findings from the National ECEC Workforce Study (2016)

This study identified personal, professional and workplace factors that influence the recruitment, retention, and engagement of educators in centre based ECEC services (i.e., long day care and preschool/ kindergarten).

Section 5 - Child Development

5.1 Australia’s Children (2020)
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

The Report provides a comprehensive overview of the wellbeing of children living in Australia.   It examines the most recent data on children and their families across the 7 domains of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare people-centred data model—health, education, social support, household income and finance, parental employment, housing, and justice and safety.

5.2 AEDC reports (most recent 2018)

The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) measures the development of children in Australia in their first year of full-time school.  It collects information in 5 domains.  It collects information in 5 domains:

  • physical health and wellbeing
  • social competence
  • emotional maturity
  • language and cognitive skills (school-based)
  • communication skills and general knowledge.

The AEDC provides important information to communities, governments, and schools to support their planning and service provision.  With data sets covering four collections (2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018), results from the AEDC can be compared across collections to identify trends in early childhood development across Australia.  Key findings include that the percentage of children developmentally vulnerable on one or more domain(s) has decreased from 23.6 per cent in 2009 to 21.7 per cent in 2018.

Section 6 - Effects of ECEC on Child Development

6.1 A review of the effects of early childhood education (2018)
NSW Department of Education

This literature review summarises evidence of the relationship between early childhood education and cognitive and noncognitive outcomes for children.  The main findings were:

  • High quality early childhood education can improve children’s cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes. High-quality early childhood education is robustly associated with positive outcomes at school entry.
  • Disadvantaged children stand to gain the most from high quality early childhood education.
  • The positive effects of early childhood education programs are contingent upon, and proportionate to, their quality
  • Recent analysis of early childhood education quality in Australia undertaken by Melbourne University’s E4Kids study, shows that there remains substantial room for quality improvement


6.2 Two years are better than one (2016)
Mitchell Institute. Stacey Fox. Myra Geddes

This Report examined the evidence for two years of preschool (3- and 4-Year-Olds) and concluded that evidence shows that two years of preschool has more impact than one, especially for the children most likely to be developmentally vulnerable.  The Report notes that currently, two thirds of 3-year-olds are already attending early education and care and we have achieved near-universal enrolment in preschool for 4-year-olds:  the children missing out are the ones who would benefit most from access to a preschool program.  It recommended that moving to two years’ access to a universal preschool program can be an affordable, achievable, and effective way for us to achieve greater and more equitable outcomes for Australian children.

Section 7 - Targeted or Place-Based Models [small sample from large body of literature]

7.1 Putting Kids at the Centre of Our Recovery (2020)
Logan Together

Logan together published a short Policy Brief that identified an 8-point plan to build a universal early development system.  It argued that childcare was only part of a universal early childhood development system.

7.2 Early Years Education Reports (most recent May 2019)
University of Melbourne

This report presents findings on the impact on children and their primary caregivers of 24 months of enrolment in the Early Years Education Program (EYEP). After 24 months the impact of attending EYEP on children and their families is broad and powerful. Large positive impacts of EYEP are found on children’s cognitive and non-cognitive development – primarily IQ, protective factors related to resilience and social-emotional development. There is also some evidence that EYEP improves children’s language skills and lowers the psychological distress of their primary caregivers.

7.3 A Pathway from Early Childhood Disadvantage for Australian Children (2016)
Telethon Kids Institute. Funded by Minderoo Foundation. Author - Kim Clark

The project entailed detailed review of the Challis model and the evidence supporting it with the view to advocating its relevance for implementation in other vulnerable areas of Australia. The aim of this paper was to present a detailed review of the Challis model and the evidence supporting it with the view of advocating its relevance for implementation in other vulnerable areas of Australia. This paper postulated that the potency of Challis is that it is relatively low cost. It does not solve problems of early disadvantage via a heavily layered costly sequencing of multi-agency ‘top up’ interventions. It provides a targeted, long term cumulative course of action commencing at birth and extending through the primary school years. It ensures children start school ready to learn, where their subsequent education pathways are supported by highly effective, efficient, and systematically applied teaching methods.

The evidence: What we know about place-based approaches (2014)
Centre for Community Child Health. Funded by Australian Government Department of Education

This evidence summary provides and literature review and summary of place-based approaches to improve the wellbeing of children and young people.

Section 8 - Parents and Families

8.1 How Families Experience ECEC (2021)
The Front Project

This survey was conducted to understand how families experienced ECEC during the COVID pandemic.  An independent survey of over 1000 parents and carers who have been impacted differently by COVID-19 was conducted.  Key findings were that:

  • Almost all families think ECEC is important – 97% say it is important and 81% say it is very important.
  • Parents and carers who are looking for jobs due to COVID value ECEC the most.
  • ECEC impacts everyday spending – from grocery shopping and socialising to decisions about work and where to live.
  • The most valued aspect of ECEC is that it provides education and development for children.

8.2 What Do Parents Want? Australian childcare preferences and attitudes (2019)
Centre for Independent Studies. Eugenie Joseph and Fiona Mueller

This policy paper analysed the preferences and priorities of Australian parents in relation to childcare, based on the insights gathered from a targeted survey of working mothers who are using formal childcare. The paper also examines whether parents’ priorities align with government priorities for childcare and identifies some key implications for governments.

It concluded:

  • Priorities of parents and governments do not align
  • Unlike governments, parents view formal and informal care as substitutes
  • Working parents have different preferences and support subsidies for informal care
  • Childcare affects parents’ working hours but not always in the same way

The Report states that in principle, governments should adopt policies that maximise individual choice and autonomy, including for families. Providing financial assistance for informal care would potentially give parents greater choice – and represent a more consistent way to support parents’ participation in the workforce. Even if governments wish to encourage parents to work, there is still a strong case for governments to remain neutral about parents’ choice of childcare.