Framework to inform the development of a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Early Childhood Strategy


Increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s opportunities to thrive in their early years is foundational to improving outcomes across their life course. Evidence is clear that pathways to healthy development, educational success, wellbeing and economic security are set in the first years from conception to when a child begins formal schooling. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities, these early years are vitally important years for sharing and passing on the richness and strengths of the world’s oldest continuing cultures. Grounding children in the pride and strength of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identities, languages and cultural law and traditions forms the bedrock for success throughout their lives.

Stakeholders and experts, for many years, have called for a dedicated and coordinated approach for improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in their early years. In February 2020, as part of the Closing the Gap address to Parliament, The Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, announced the development of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Early Childhood Strategy (Strategy).

The Strategy will provide a long-term approach to inform future policy and investment, and to enable stronger collaboration and coordination across governments, and the systems and services that impact early childhood outcomes. It will identify the centrally important role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations have in responding to the needs of children, families, and communities, alongside the critical roles of governments and mainstream services.

In consideration of the impacts of COVID-19, a phased approach to the development of the Strategy has been undertaken. The first phase is the delivery of this evidence based Framework. Over the coming months, this Framework will be used to inform engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early years services, experts, families and children, to develop the Strategy in 2021.

This Framework has been created to inform renewed and dedicated efforts to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have the best start in life, wherever children live in Australia. It has been developed in partnership between SNAICC – National Voice for our Children and the National Indigenous Australians Agency, with the expert guidance of a national Advisory Group with leading knowledge and expertise across numerous fields that impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early childhood development.

The Framework seeks to uphold and promote the full scope of children’s rights as recognised in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, ensuring that the best interests of the child are the primary consideration. It focuses on evidence-based approaches to policy and service delivery that place young children at the centre and respond to their holistic needs.

In communities across Australia, the enduring strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to provide loving care for children remains the dominant paradigm. Families and communities successfully support and nurture their young children, bringing them up strong in their cultures. But wide gaps in early development and health outcomes persist, and young children are removed from their families and cultures through child safety intervention at devastating rates. This Framework recognises the ongoing impact of colonisation, including inter-generational experiences of trauma, structural racism and poverty. Central to support for children are the caring strengths of families and communities. This Framework reflects a resolute commitment to support healing so that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children grow up loved and cared for within their families, communities and cultures.

The Framework encompasses current evidence across all aspects of young children’s lives, including early learning, health, disability, wellbeing, care, and development. It identifies that improving outcomes requires a coordinated, whole of governments, and whole of community response to children’s needs. This response must span fields including maternal and child health, housing, early education and care, disability, family, and parenting supports, ensuring child and family safety, and promoting cultural identity development. It must also seek to align cross portfolio investments to address early development holistically.

Supporting young children to thrive will underpin the efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and governments to achieve the goals of the 2020 National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The National Agreement includes specific goals to improve early health and development outcomes, increase attendance in early education, and reduce over-representation in out-of-home care. It also includes a broad range of goals that impact the supportive family and community environment for young children’s development, in areas including housing, strengthening cultures and languages, addressing violence, reducing incarceration, and increasing educational attainment and employment for parents. Efforts in all these areas must have a primary focus on the rights and needs of children.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart recognises that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, “have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.” This Framework aims to empower parents and kin as the first teachers and primary carers for their children, and to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and their community-controlled services to lead the responses to children’s needs. In line with the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, the Framework’s goals can only be achieved in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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