2017 Finalist Profiles


Improving access and participation in early learning

Wyndham Kindergartens - Embedding Authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program and Practice at Scale

Wyndham City Council in partnership with: A teacher and children outfdoors at Scale

  • Murrundindi – Wurundjeri  Elder

  • Reconciliation Australia - Narragunnawali

  • Department of Education and Training (DET)

  • Wurundjeri Tribal Land Council

  • Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation

  • National Parks Victoria

“We call it leaning into the discomfort of reconciliation,” that’s how Kim Knersch, Wyndham City Council’s Quality and Educational Leader, describes getting the council’s 23 kindergartens on board with Reconciliation Action Plans and creating a culturally inclusive environment for local indigenous families.

“Our approach has been very much ground up. We’re not going to impose this. It’s a very personal commitment, reconciliation,” Kim said. With the support of Traditional Owners and Elders and 200 local educators, strategies have been introduced to increase kindergarten participation by Aboriginal children - up 70 percent since 2012 - and build a strong sense of identity for those children and families.

“We could not have done it without our Aboriginal partners,” Kim said of the collaborative partnership that has created a strong foundation for the community to impact change and make a difference. Embraced by 3,000 children and their families in Wyndham, the work has led to a hope reconciliation conversations will become a thing of the past.

“I hope that our little kids of today don’t have to have that conversation, that there’s a level of respect, understanding, empathy and relationship and our aboriginal people can stand tall and proud.”

No One Left Behind

Wodonga City Council in partnership with: Children playing surrounded by teachers

  • Upper Murray Family Care - Child FIRST Alliance
  • Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service
  • Mungabareena Aboriginal Corporation
  • Albury Wodonga Health
  • Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) - Child Protection
  • Department of Education and Training (DET)

When Wodonga City Council created its 30-year community vision, the local community made it very clear no one would be left behind when it came to accessing the city’s services and facilities.

As Marcia Armstrong, the Council’s Family, Youth and Early Years Manager, puts it, “if we’re not going to leave anyone behind we really understand that the importance of actually changing a person’s life is in those formative years … particularly in the early years.”

Through the Maternal and Child Health Service (MCH), in collaboration with Albury Wodonga Health, Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service, Child FIRST Alliance, the Department of Health and Human Services - Child Protection and the Department of Education and Training, Council identifies vulnerable children gets them into the services they need.

“With us all working together, everyone who’s working with families now know that children have access to the universal maternal and child health service. So if they haven’t been attending, they get referred into that and, if children are of an eligible age, we make sure as a whole community that children are referred into early start kindergarten and four year old kindergarten the year before school,” Marcia said.

All Our Children  - Central Enrolment 

South Gippsland Shire Council in partnership with: Three ladies sitting at a round table

  •        Leongatha Community Pre-schools 
  • Leongatha Children's Centre
  • Karmai Community Children's Centre
  • Prom Coast Centres for Children
  • YMCA - Mirboo North Kindergarten
  • Uniting Care Gippsland - Poowong Kindergarten
  • Meeniyan kindergarten
  • Loch Kindergarten
  • Brown St Children's Centre Leongatha (formerly Nurture One) 

A central enrolment system for South Gippsland kindergartens is improving preschool access for eligible four year old children and helping demystify the enrolment process, particularly for disadvantaged and vulnerable rural families. 

Sally Baker, Manager, Children and Family Services for South Gippsland Shire Council says the ‘All Our Children’ project was introduced to help streamline the enrolment process, create a clear and equitable enrolment system and make sure no pre-schooler in the municipality misses out on kindergarten.

Sally said a real strength of the project had been linking up all the service providers, including standalone and integrated kindergarten centres, early years managers, the Young Men’s Christian Association, Uniting Care Gippsland, parent committee representatives and agencies working with children in out of home care.

“It’s been a really heartening and really positive process… I guess what we’re doing has been alleviating some of the administrative burden on some of these services,” she said. “What this project has achieved has been an equitable system of enrolment, a process which can be understood … we’ve achieved a true partnership with our service providers in South Gippsland.”

Supporting parents to build their capacity and confidence

Empowering Parents, Empowering Communities

A teacher and two girls indoorsVictorian Cooperative on Children’s Services for Ethnic Groups New Futures in partnership with:  

  • The Smith Family - Brimbank Communities for Children
  • Uniting/Hume Communities for Children
  • Murdoch Childrens Research Institute
  • Centre for Parent and Child Support

Helping parents from culturally diverse communities develop positive parenting strategies, confidence and skills, is at the heart of the unique education and support program, Empowering Parents, Empowering Communities.

The eight week ‘Being a Parent' program aims to improve knowledge of local early years services, create new support networks and support parents of children aged 2-12 years. 

“This program builds the confidence of mums and dads to parent children in their newly adopted country,” Community Programs Manager at the Victorian Cooperative on Children’s Services for Ethnic Groups New Futures, Janet Elefsiniotis said.

The program has been trialled for the past two years. It is offered in local primary school community hubs, includes onsite childcare to support parents' participation and also trains interested parents to introduce the course within their own communities, extending access to the program in a safe and trusting environment.

Growing Learners: an integrated approach to working with children and parents

Brotherhood of St Laurence in partnership with: A teacher plays with three students

  • Goodstart Early Learning
  • Jindi Kindergarten and Extended Care
  • City of Yarra
  • Connie Benn Centre
  • Parents Next
  • BSL Hume
  • City of Whittlesea 
  • Jindi Family and Community Centre

Run in three suburbs in north-west Victoria, Growing Learners is a targeted, early intervention program for vulnerable and disadvantaged parents with children aged up to 3 years.  This innovative program acknowledges that a child’s first three years is a critical point in their learning and development, with parents being crucial educators during this time. 

Dr Tricia Szirom, General Manager Children Youth and Families at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, said the program is a culmination of extensive research, consultation and hard work involving many areas of the Brotherhood of St Laurence to raise the bar in supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged parents. 

“This program brings together an evidence-based approach that has created new best practice while prioritising parent and child relationships,” Dr Szirom said.

“The program demonstrates that many parents have high aspirations for their children and they are now feeling more empowered and supported, saying things like ‘for the first time I realise I can help my children learn.’”

Smalltalk in Supported Playgroups – Still Talking Transition Model

Brimbank Council in partnership with: 

  • Parenting Research Centre 
  • Department of Education and Training 


The Still Talking initiative builds on the City of Brimbank’s supported Smalltalk playgroup program, helping vulnerable and diverse families continue building their parenting skills, strategies and confidence in a safe and welcoming environment. 

Julie McKenzie, Playgroup Support Officer for Brimbank, said the program is about using everyday opportunities and the activities that many parents already do in the home to enhance their children’s learning and development.

“The playgroups are led by the parents themselves, empowering them to continue their learning journey in a flexible environment that include well-being activities for the parents and reading, literacy, songs and outdoor play for the children,” she said.

“Still Talking transition playgroups provide the opportunity for parents to continue the pivotal role they play in the education of their children.”

Julie said it was an honour to be recognised for a program that highlights the achievements families are making in the transition space from a Smalltalk Supported Playgroup to a volunteer led playgroup. 

Creating collaborative community partnerships

Healthy, Happy Beginnings for Refugee Mothers and Babies

Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in partnership with: A teacher explains something to two teenage girls

  • Wyndham City Council 
  • VICSEG New Futures
  • Mercy Hospitals Victoria Ltd
  • Victorian Foundation for the Survivors of Torture

Healthy Happy Beginnings is a community-based, socially inclusive program for refugee families from the Karen/Burma community, who are having a baby in Melbourne.

Elisha Riggs, Research Fellow at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute said the program was developed through an extensive consultation process with the Karen community and health and refugee service providers to tailor outcomes that ensure refugee children and families have an equitable, healthy start to life in Australia.

This new model of group pregnancy and early childhood care was created to promote health, well-being and resilience for refugee families. “It highlights what can be achieved when a collaborative approach is used to deliver health care and support during pregnancy,” Elisha said.

Over 100 women have participated since 2014 and benefitted from invaluable care and support during their pregnancy.  “This program showcases the potential for change and the possibilities of doing something differently within existing programs and structures”.  Elisha said she wanted to inspire others to take up the program, which will be expanded to other refugee communities.

Better Outcomes for Our Koorie Children Early Years Network

City of Ballarat in partnership with:  A teacher reading a book to a child in her arms

  • Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative
  • Department of Education and Training
  • Greater Grampians Family Service Alliance
  • Eureka Community Kindergarten Association 


Understanding the Koorie community was the first step in developing the unique Reflections Project, which has made a real difference to the health and wellbeing of Ballarat's Aboriginal children and their families.

The project started conversations with the community through a comprehensive survey tool. This led to the creation of a robust Action Plan, which identified and prioritised opportunities over the next few years, to strengthen early year’s health, education and wellbeing services for Aboriginal families. 

Sharelle Knight, Executive Manager Family and Children's Services at the City of Ballarat, is proud that the project and its achievements have been recognised as part of this year’s awards.  “This nomination acknowledges the hard work and commitment from both the project partners and the Koorie community to improve access to local early year’s services for Aboriginal families.”

“We couldn’t have done this without the help of the Koorie community, their passion and willingness to engage with us really shaped the Action Plan and make sure it was relevant to their needs.”

Let’s Read Wimmera

A teacher reads a book with a student in her armsWimmera Southern Mallee Local Learning and Employment Network in partnership with: 

  • Hindmarsh Shire Council
  • Horsham Rural City Council 
  • West Wimmera Shire Council
  • Yarriambiack Shire Council
  • West Wimmera Health Service
  • Wimmera Regional Library Corporation
  • Wimmera schools and kindergartens 
  • Wimmera Health Care Group
  • Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Cooperative
  • The Smith Family & Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

Let’s Read Wimmera is an evidence-based early learning initiative, focused on improving literacy by supporting families to read daily to their children from birth onward. A Let’s Read partnership was set up in each of the Hindmarsh, Horsham, West Wimmera and Yarriambiack Shires.  

The program created collaborative community partnerships with local playgroups, kindergartens, schools, health providers, local government, Delkaia Best Start, Koorie and community organisations to improve children’s literacy levels - identified as a critical issue for the Wimmera district. 

Tim Shaw, Executive Officer of the Wimmera Southern Mallee Local Learning and Employment Network said he would like to see the program implemented across the State.

“We’ve seen what a difference it has already made over the last four years, living up to our tagline ‘kids who read succeed,” he said. “So many organisations got involved from the early stages and parents are now seeing how important early literacy is for their children’s success later on in life.” 

So far, the program has distributed more than 3,860 Let’s Read resource bags to families, set up 90 Pop-Up libraries and four early years programs.

Promoting children's health and wellbeing

Nurturing Room Bridges Home to School

Warrnambool East Primary School in partnership with: A teacher smiling while playing with a student

  • South West Local Learning and Employment Network
  • Rotary Club of Warrnambool East
  • Kim Ryan - Paediatric Occupational Therapist
  • Read to Dog

A nurturing room in Warrnambool East Primary School is helping vulnerable students manage trauma and get the support they need to reconnect with their classroom.

Michelle Miller, Principal of Warrnambool East Primary School said the nurturing room program gives students experiencing trauma or grief a positive start to each day, building relationships with adult mentors to give them a ‘go-to’ person.

“They have someone to talk to, someone to listen to them, someone to provide them with structures and strategies to use when they’re feeling distressed,” she said. The evidence-based program from the United Kingdom targets students experiencing domestic violence, family bereavement, serious family illness, abuse or neglect. 

In addition to daily ‘check-ins’ for wellbeing and health, the program for Prep to Year Two students includes sensory activities, mindfulness, literacy and numeracy and play based learning. “We’ve skilled up the teacher aides who run the program to be very competent in those skills and strategies. They live and breathe it and we’re very lucky to have their skills and their passion for it.”

Stepping Out, Finding Out, Speaking Out 

A teacher with several students outdoorThe University of Melbourne Early Learning Centre in partnership with: 

  • Interact Australia (Arts Program)
  • Mercy Place Abbotsford - Residential Aged Care
  • City of Yarra - Sustainable Cities
  • Abbotsford Convent - Gardening Program

Stepping Out, Finding Out, Speaking Out is a community oriented teaching and learning program for 3-5 year old children designed by the University of Melbourne's Early Learning Centre teachers. The program helps young children develop a strong sense of self, understand their place in the community and experience life’s complexity and diversity both within their centre and local community.

Janice Deans, Director of the Early Learning Centre at the University said the program focused on environmentally oriented activities and had strong partnerships with local organisations, including an aged care facility and a service supporting adults with differing intellectual and physical abilities. 

“So the children are out on the Yarra River, they’re visiting the residents at Mercy Place, they’re creating art alongside the adults at Interact and we’re in the Abbotsford Convent precinct so they get this beautiful sense of the community,” she said.

“Education is about lived experience of the world. Children being out in the community should be accepted as a natural part of their learning.  “Engagement with diversity in the community is extremely important for helping children develop attitudes, qualities that they’ll need in the 21st century: integrity, respect, tolerance and empathy.” 

Lulla’s Health Day

Lulla's Children and Family Centre in partnership with: A lady smiling at a little girl

  • Department of Education and Training
  • Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative
  • Greater Shepparton City Council
  • Catholic Care (CfC)
  • Goulburn Valley Health
  • Relationships Australia

Lulla's Health Day is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) community event focused on improving the health and wellbeing of ATSI children in Shepparton by providing a free health check and fun day in a culturally safe environment.

Miranda Edwards, Centre Manager for Lulla’s Children and Family Centre said the Health Day started as a simple idea to get children’s immunisation up to date before starting school; it’s now a key part of the Centre’s program and includes Maternal and Child Health developmental checks and access to other health services.

“I remember walking away thinking we had 10 children checked, how awesome is that. We had 78 children last year and I just love that it’s one place where you can come and get everything done at one time and they feel culturally safe,” she said.

“Lulla’s is a place where parents feel comfortable; their children attend here, it’s a community centre, all the services are here and we all want our Aboriginal children to have the best start to the early years.”

The Health Day also develops health literacy for children and families and gives participating health partners a chance to develop culturally inclusive service delivery programs. 

Early Childhood Teacher of the Year

Rachel WebbRachel Webb smiling

Save the Children - Nowa Nowa Kindergarten

Nowa Nowa is an isolated rural town near Lakes Entrance with a population of 144. It has a kindergarten with 25 children from the region and a teacher nominated for Early Childhood Teacher of the year.

Being identified for making a difference to young lives has her feeling honoured and valued for the work she does. “We get to lay those foundations for the rest of their lives and we can still take that nurturing role while doing it,” Rachel said.

Her program includes a bush kinder to help the children, many of them from indigenous backgrounds, reconnect with nature. 

“Part of their culture is growing up on the land and everything relates back to the land, so for us to offer a bush kinder, we’re able to offer something back to those children in a little bit of a different context so that they can relate to other things,” she said. 

“If we can actually make that small difference now and get them to engage in, to be curious and interested in learning in a way that’s fun and engaging, then we’ve got hope for the future that it will keep progressing.”

Angela Aguado RatheauAngela looking a tablet with four young girls

QV Children's Centre Early Childhood Management Services

For Angela Aguado Ratheau being able to help a child discover something new about themselves and celebrate that learning with families and colleagues makes for a successful day as an early childhood teacher.

Feeling humbled and honoured to be nominated as Early Childhood Teacher of the Year, Angela said her teaching approach focused on building a love of learning and having quality early childhood interactions that encourage a child to look at the world with an open mind.

“It’s about the curious approach. It’s about ‘I wonder what we could do to find out about this?’, ‘what can we do together?’, ‘what do you think?’, ‘why did this happen?’ … it’s about celebrating each child’s unique abilities, but also each child’s capacity to find answers.”

The Early Childhood Management Services educator at QV Children's Centre said she valued continuous improvement in her practice and being able to be a role model. 

“It’s the relationships you build with children, with families, with your colleagues, with professionals across different fields,” she said. “It’s the capacity to continue learning and keep learning and do all this for this one common goal - to help children have the best possible start they could have.”

Ann Slater

Balnarring Preschool Ann smiling while outdoors

Ann Slater works in a community run pre-school in Balnarring. With over 35 years’ experience, Ann has been nominated as Early Childhood Teacher of the Year for her commitment to helping children and families engage with the environment and country through a First People’s perspective.

“We are teaching children to learn to be part of the community, care and develop friendships, develop resilience and face challenges, connect to the land and understand how important those connections are,” she said. Her program includes a bush kinder experience, teaching Boon Wurrung language and sharing stories, art and music drawn from her relationship with local elders.

“I’m developing new knowledge working with the elders and the whole community is getting involved and supporting me to teach,” she said. “I can see the magic and potential of children and the wider community really caring for the land and for each other.”

Ann believes in providing a program that is inclusive, respects diversity and embraces social justice to create a sense of belonging and show the potential of what a group, working together, can achieve.