Indigenous Families to Be Given Additional Hours of Free Childcare

Indigenous Families to Be Given Additional Hours of Free Childcare
A young girl takes part in the NAIDOC march in Melbourne, Australia on July 6, 2018. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Indigenous children will be eligible for an additional 36 hours of subsidised child care a fortnight under new government reforms announced by the Australian government.

As part of the federal government Plan for Cheaper Child Care, the program provides Indigenous children 12 additional hours on top the current allocation of 24 hours a fortnight, which the government estimates will benefit around 6,600 First Nations families.

Currently, the government estimates only 4.3 percent of Indigenous children are accessing early childhood education despite making up 6.1 percent of the population of children aged zero to five years. The additional hours are expected to come into place from July 2023.

Education Minister Jason Clare said in a joint media release with the Minister for Early Childhood Education Anne Aly, and the Indigenous Minister Linda Burney on Monday, that for the first time, the Closing the Gap target for school readiness went backwards in 2021.

“We have got to turn this around and a big part of that is getting rid of the roadblocks stopping them from going to early childhood education and care,” Clare said.

Aly said that the measure would not only ease the cost of living pressures on families but also provide benefits for First Nation children during their formative years.

“It’s essential all governments work together and in partnership with First Nation people if we’re to Close the Gap and improve outcomes in early childhood education,” she said.

Meanwhile, Burney said that getting Indigenous children into early education will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

“This is a practical measure directed to closing the gap in an area where we are going backwards,” she said. “It will make a difference to Indigenous children across the country.”

Federal Government To Invest More than $10 million in Policy Partnership for Early Childhood Care

The federal government will also invest $10.2 million (US$6.65 million) to establish the Early Childhood Care and Development Policy Partnership between the Australian and state and territory governments and Indigenous representatives.

The partnership will be co-chaired by SNAICC–National Voice for Our Children, an advocacy group that has been working to advocate for indigenous children since 1981.

SNAICC has been vocal in placing pressure on the Albanese government to address the school readiness of Indigenous children since the Closing the Gap report delivered its annual findings in August.

SNAICC CEO Catherine Liddle said in media statement in August that the “latest closing the gap data from the Productivity Commission showed a concerning decline in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children assessed as being developmentally on track and ready for school.”

“With the federal government making early years reform a priority, any changes must take into account the unique needs and barriers that face Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families,” Liddle said.

She called on the federal government to reinstate funding for the Aboriginal Child and Family Centres (ACFCs).

“Reinstating the funding would be a start and demonstrate the new government is serious about backing Aboriginal-led solutions,” she said.

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.
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