ABC TV's feature story on our Child & Family Centre on the '7.30' Report
Pilot Program and Research Project an Australian First
Operating in a children’s centre in West Heidelberg, the CPS Early Years Team is running a focused Early Years Care and Education Service for children at risk of abuse and neglect.
A range of highly skilled staff provides intensive attachment-focused care and high quality early education programs for children referred to the service by Child Protection and Family Support Services. These children rarely participate in universal early childhood services due to a number of circumstantial, systemic and structural barriers.
Without early intervention, they are likely to face lifelong struggles to participate and contribute at a family, community and society level.
This program is part of the CPS Early Years Education Research Project (EYERP) - the first of its kind in Australia. It is intensive, based on overseas research and is being rigorously evaluated. CPS in partnership with Melbourne University and the Royal Children’s Hospital intend to measure the outcomes of this work to produce some evidence on the long term benefits of high quality early education and care, early in the life of children and early in the pathway of emerging problems.
There is capacity to enrol 90 children into the research over the next three years and track these children’s development over this time to document the progress they make prior to starting school. One of the best gifts we can give these children is the opportunity to start their school careers well. The funding for this research is in the form of a tri-party partnership between Federal and State governments and philanthropic foundations.
While children are the primary focus of our services, the program works in partnership with parents to reduce risk factors and build protective factors. The program has a strong focus on parents’ participation and families are encouraged to work with staff in partnership to aid and support their children’s development, health and wellbeing.
Early Years - The Need for Intervention
The most vulnerable children in our community who would gain the most from participation in early years services are the ones who are likely to participate least.
The needs of these children can be so complex that mainstream services are neither resourced nor supported to engage them nor do they have the capacity to respond to the presenting needs of these children and their families.
The CPS Early Years’ program delivers a model of care and education that is demonstrating the potential to change not only provision of care universally, but to advocate for change in policy so these children can participate. There is strong evidence that supports the notion that if left in conditions of high risk everyday, children’s brain development is irreversibly damaged and this has lifelong impacts on their future capacity to participate, contribute or simply be happy.
The Early Years Services program is a prevention and early intervention strategy defining and demonstrating a model to transform early years’ services across Australia.
The program is exceptional because it is illustrating how we can redefine policy and it is built on a solid scientific evidence base. Importantly, it is demonstrating the potential to create systemic change.
Long Term Benefits
Children who are participating in the program become confident and involved learners, developing a strong sense of identity. They can initiate play with their peers, demonstrate increased attention spans, socialise and share meals as a family, feel connected to their community and, in general, are happier and healthier.
This has been achieved through creative art processes, group time, sharing meals together, recognising and managing their emotions and being a part of a program that has a strong focus on language, literacy and learning.
Early Years team members are all qualified practitioners who are encouraged to form significant and transformational relationships with the children and families attending. These relationships contribute to creating a healthy neurological development platform essential for a positive participation through life.
Outcomes for Children at the Centre of our Work
We are measuring and documenting our outcomes using a randomised controlled trial in the research program. We are using the National Early Years Learning Frameworks to guide, inform and direct learning for children.
Achieving victories for children within this framework ensures competence and confidence across a range of key areas that are indicators of ability to develop a sense of self, participate and communicate.
Without these skills children cannot engage in education from the start and this often leads to poor employment outcomes, social exclusion and dependency.
- Self Aware and Confident: Children have a strong sense of identity. They do this by – building secure attachments with safe adults, establishing effective routines that offer predictability and openly express their feelings and ideas.
- Explorers and Learners: Children are confident and involved learners. They do this by – using play to investigate, imagine and explore ideas, persist when they find a task difficult, make predictions, manipulate objects and experiment with cause and effect.
- Effective Communicators: They do this by – interacting with others verbally and non-verbally for a range of purposes, engage with a range of texts and gain meaning from these texts, express ideas, understand how systems and patterns work and communicate through a variety of mediums, language, play, art and social activities.
Outcomes for the Community (measured through the research with an economic, health and educational focus)
- Workforce Productivity – Through early engagement in services and a better start to education children grow to become participant contributors and more likely to access the workforce, as opposed to welfare dependant and excluded from participation and contribution. Secondarily through parents returning to work or education services as a result of their children’s engagement in services.
- Social Inclusion – Removing circumstantial, structural and systemic barriers that prevent children at risk of abuse and neglect and their families from engaging as citizens in society.
- Lowering the Burden --On welfare, justice, crime and other societal and community factors of intergenerational abuse and neglect.
These outcomes are part of the work in the research that is being measured and assessed by the research team and overseen by a panel of leading experts. The process is rigorous.
The plan is to develop an exemplar – a proven, replicable program that delivers results with the most fragile, disengaged children and families. Information from this research project can help to shape government policies and resource allocation into the future.
Click here to read the announcement in Australian Federal Parliament by MP Andrew Leigh, 'Australia's First Early Childhood Randomised Trial', 15 September 2011
Read more about EYERP at www.eyerp.org