The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) has welcomed $120 million of funding for early childhood education after raising concerns around Aboriginal engagement with preschooling.

The package comes as part of the Commonwealth’s Closing the Gap Implementation Plan and includes $82 million to expand the Connected Beginnings program across 27 new sites.

“This major new investment is critical for supporting our young children and families. Under the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap, we have an opportunity to work differently to achieve the best outcomes for our kids,” said SNAICC CEO Catherine Liddle.

“We look forward to working alongside the Australian Government to ensure Connected Beginnings achieves strong outcomes through service delivery that are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-led.”

Though sites have not yet been chosen for the expansion, Federal Minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge said Connected Beginnings will coordinate the early childhood services in healthcare, maternal health and maternal support for 8500 children throughout the sites.

An additional $30 million has also been allocated to fund 20 new childcare services in remote communities, $9 million to expand the Early Years Education Program for very high-risk children, and $1.9 million for a trial of an explicit instruction early learning model.

Liddle welcomed the funding for the Early Years Education Program but said Aboriginal knowledge and experience must be centred in the rollout.

“The Early Years Education Program must provide opportunities for our communities and organisations to lead and adapt the model so that it is grounded in our cultural strengths of nurturing children and supporting families,” she said.

“This program has the potential to strengthen the already great work our Aboriginal community-controlled services are delivering, with a focus on intensive wraparound support that is vital for our children and families.”

The funding announcement comes after SNAICC raised concerns that despite promising data on preschool enrolments, First Nations engagement in early learning is still down.

The new data report on Closing the Gap showed target three of the National Agreement — that 95 per cent of Indigenous children are enrolled in preschool by 2025 — is on track to be met. However, SNAICC raised concerns that enrolments aren’t translating to attendance and engagement.

According to SNAICC, First Nations preschool attendance rates are approximately 12.4 per cent less than non-Indigenous children.

“It is encouraging that our children are enrolling in preschool education at an essential time in their lives. However, it is crucial for our kids to have access to early years education and care from zero to four years for that target to reflect genuine progress,” Liddle said.

The Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council (NFSWC) echoed SNAICC’s sentiments, saying more needs to be done to engage children in quality early education.

“We do share [SNAICC’s] concerns and feel we need more Aboriginal educators interfacing with our children and parents,” said NFSWC Chair Dawn Wallam.

A spokesperson for the Federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment said the new package will boost attendance.

“The Government’s new package of early childhood measures is focused on scaling up initiatives and evidence-driven programs which are demonstrating success at lifting participation and attendance in quality early childhood education and care and improving school readiness outcomes.”

By Sarah Smit