With the end of financial year in sight, the 38 new Aboriginal Children and Family Centres (ACFCs) across Australia are continuing to operate under an uncertain funding future with no indication yet that the issue will be resolved before 30 June.
The 38 ACFCs represent a $300m investment by COAG under a National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood between the Australian Government and state-territory governments.
These centres — and other Indigenous community-controlled early childhood services — are playing a vital role in giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children the best chance to do well at school and life, as well as providing important practical support (such as health services) to families.
Some of the ACFCs have been operating for over a year, while others — for example, the Bairnsdale (Victoria) and Ballina (NSW) ACFCs — have officially opened only in the past few weeks.
But with the 30 June deadline approaching, SNAICC has been told that some centres have had to reduce their services and let go of staff. One ACFC has been advised to give staff three months’ notice of termination.
This unacceptable situation — which is affecting an estimated 1400 children and their families — is the result of a lack of concrete plans under the national partnership agreement as to what would happen with the funding post June. The Australian Government believes it is a state responsibility, and the states believe it’s a Commonwealth responsibility.
SNAICC CEO Frank Hytten, in an interview on NITV on 3 April (segment starts at 5m:55s), has called on governments to get together urgently to end this damaging impasse and guarantee the long-term future of these vital services.
SNAICC is continuing to run a campaign, in partnership with ACFCs and Budget Based Funding (BBF) services, to gain the support of key figures to achieving sustainable funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early years services.
In February, SNAICC, in partnership with ACFCs and BBF services, held a highly successful Parliamentary breakfast to promote the importance of Indigenous early years services. Over 70 people attended the breakfast, including MPs, Senators, political advisers and members of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, as well as representatives from ACFCs and BBF services.
SNAICC and ACFCs/BBF representatives also held 33 individual meetings with MPs and Senators to canvass the funding of services, with a number of MPs expressing a commitment to raise the issue at Senate Estimates and with the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion.
A number of MPs, including the shadow minister for education and early childhood, Kate Ellis, have spoken passionately on the importance of the ACFCs and BBF services in Parliament.
“We know that these Children and Family Centres not only provide a safe and loving environment where qualified educators provide a culturally appropriate education. The centres have also become a community hub for parents and carers who want to access services and advice for their family,” Ms Ellis said.
“So not only are the children getting a quality early childhood education to set them up for their school years, to set them up for their futures, but the families are getting extra support that they may need to make sure that these children thrive. This is the key to closing the gap in education and to making sure that every child has the best start in life.”
And a member of the Indigenous Advisory Council raised the issue at a meeting of the council held on the afternoon of the breakfast.
The parliamentary event and intensive series of meetings were held in the same week that Prime Minister Tony Abbott tabled the sixth Closing the Gap report in Parliament.
Delivering mixed progress on the efforts to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage, Mr Abbott announced a new target for school attendance, adding to existing targets on educational achievements and access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four-year-olds.
Our community-controlled early childhood services must be given adequate long-term funding to continue to play a pivotal role in achieving these important targets.