Partnership pushes to improve early years outcomes in rural and regional Victoria27/02/2018
“Early Years models that work in metropolitan areas often don’t work in rural and regional areas,” explains Emma Vogel, Deputy Chair of the Wimmera Southern Mallee (WSM) Regional Partnership, and herself a mum to four children.
“It’s a huge issue,” she explains. “Regional areas have small, dispersed populations which affects demand for providers to run viable services. They have trouble getting qualified staff and often the staff have to travel long distances.
“The availability of local child care services across Wimmera Southern Mallee is a good example. Services are limited. As such, families are disadvantaged – access to childcare is prohibiting parents returning to work and reducing the financial viability of our families and our skilled workforce, while limited access to early years services, including health and welfare services, affects early intervention. This is a huge issue in rural communities and causes ongoing issues for children through their lives.
“Our statistics for early years outcomes are the worst in the state.”
Improving early years outcomes in the region was the top priority identified at the first WSM Regional Assembly held in Horsham in 2016. Following that, the Partnership – and local parents – advocated strongly to Government and Departments.
“We were really excited when the Victorian Premier announced at our second Assembly in August 2017 that the WSM Partnership would have the opportunity to run a series of early years trials,” says Ms Vogel. “It put the spotlight on a big issue that had not been getting traction.”
Since then, the Partnership has been working with the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) to get the trials off the ground. A project steering committee has been formed with representatives of Government, the Partnership, parents and service providers, while a co-ordinator has been recruited to support the project.
An Expressions of Interest (EOI) campaign ran at the end of 2017 to identify communities across the five WSM shires interested in being involved in the trials, with six clusters successful. Trials are due to get underway in early 2018 and are likely to include initiatives such as communities and services co-ordinating and working together where they might not traditionally, as well as the sharing of expertise and qualified staff between communities and providers.
“The philosophy behind the trials is to put the child first and at the centre of targeted service delivery,” explains Ms Vogel. “It’s about establishing cost effective solutions to a complex community issue. We are grateful to DET for providing on-going support and assistance to the Partnership both prior to, and post, the announcement of the trials. This is a great opportunity. The communities involved are really excited.”
She adds that the outcomes and learnings from this process will be used by the Victorian Government to roll out early years services delivery reform across rural and regional areas.
Ms Vogel adds that DET is currently speaking with providers to assist with the design and evaluation of the project, while the trials will also be part of the Australian Early Development Census (AECD) ensuring outcomes influence policy and service delivery nationwide.
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