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SNAICC backs Productivity Commission draft recommendations in early childhood services

Jarred Cross -

Australia's peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, has highlighted needs to address accessibility and sustainability of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations in the delivery of early childhood education and care.

The Productivity Commission released the 'A path to universal early childhood education and care' draft report on Thursday, with key findings and recommendations.

Among recommending the government provide assistance to ensure universal access to services for at least 30 hours a week for all children and 100 per cent subsidy rates for households earning less than $80,000 a year, the report made acute points for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

The report noted 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely than their peers to miss out on ECEC'.

'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are under-represented in ECEC services because mainstream providers are not always available and affordable, or they may not offer culturally safe environments. Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) can struggle to source adequate funding to deliver tailored programs that meet community priorities," a key-point from the draft report read.

The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) welcomed the findings and recommendations.

"The Productivity Commission's draft report highlights the need for sustainable funding for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to enable them to deliver tailored programs that meet community priorities," SNAICC chief executive Catherine Liddle said.

"We know placing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at the centre with community - controlled services as their supports makes the absolute difference in their wellbeing and development.

"Improving cultural safety and capability across ECEC services is vital to achieving the Closing the Gap targets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

"The report has also recognised that integrated services have a critical role to support children and families experiencing vulnerability and connect children with other child and family services, such as health and family supports. Our ACCOs have led the way in providing integrated and holistic early years services for decades, but as the Productivity Commission has pointed out, funding models have been inadequate to support this critical work."

Commissioner Martin Stokie said "The system can only be universal if every child is welcome".

"The Australian Government should increase funding to enable the inclusion of all children regardless of their ability or cultural background," he said.

"Governments and ECEC services also need to do more to achieve the commitments in the Closing the Gap Agreement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. That means working towards a sustainable funding model for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and investing in the cultural capability of the sector."

The report found it to be unclear whether National Quality Framework adequately promoted cultural safety and capability in services.

"SNAICC has long advocated for a framework that reflects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural perspectives, knowledge and expertise in ECEC service delivery," Ms Liddle said.

The draft report also recommended the relaxing of 'activity tests' determining subsidy levels which increase in-line with parents' hours of work, studies and volunteering for inclusivity.

As of July, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were eligible for 36 hours of child care subsidies per fortnight, with out-of-pocket payments depending on income.

"We've heard countless examples of how the Activity Test has and continues to act as a significant barrier for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families wanting to access early learning services," Ms Liddle said.

"Further, we know that its removal will improve early learning participation rates for Indigenous children because it did exactly that when the Activity Test requirements were removed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families during the pandemic.

"The Productivity Commission's draft report now joins several other official Governmental panels and reviews in calling for the removal or serious modification of the Activity Test.

"It is high time the Federal Government scrap this punitive test."

It was also noted in the draft report kinship care could be better recognised for subsidy eligibility, and opportunity for "encouraging more supported entry pathways for some cohorts of workers who may face additional barriers when engaging with the VET or higher education system", with potential benefit for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers, and cultural safety in services as a result.

"This is particularly the case for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who bring a wealth of cultural knowledge to ECEC. Cultural safety, flexible learning options and practical supports are important in encouraging more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to gain a qualification and work in ECEC," the draft report read.

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