2021 Victorian Early Years Awards Finalists

Congratulations to the finalists in the 2021 Victorian Early Years Awards. Winners will be announced on Wednesday 10 November, 2021.

Category 1: Improving Access and Participation in Early Learning

Awarded for an initiative that promotes access, ongoing participation and engagement in early learning, particularly for families experiencing vulnerability and/or disadvantage.

Education Pathways Program, Launch Housing

The Education Pathways Program (EPP) is an initiative of Launch Housing's Homeless Children's Specialist Support Services. The program aims to improve early learning and educational outcomes for children experiencing homelessness and family violence, in partnership with kindergartens, schools, and other agencies. The program's holistic and caring support service is enabling some of Victoria's most vulnerable children to overcome individual and systemic barriers to engaging in education, developing their confidence and involvement as learners and significantly reducing the anxiety and hardship of families experiencing homelessness.

Providing a wrap-around service to support homeless children to remain in, or to connect with, education, the EPP is working to increase the capacity of caregivers to support their children engage with early learning and make a positive start to school, assisting with social-emotional skills and opening dialogue across kinders and schools.

The program assists families to navigate formal processes such as enrolments as well as facilitating access to developmental, therapeutic and educational services to address their children's unique support needs.

Whittlesea refugee background Community Advisory Group Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (Foundation House)

The Whittlesea Community Advisors Project was a collaboration between members of the Arabic-speaking community in Whittlesea, Foundation House, Whittlesea Community Connections and the City of Whittlesea Universal Maternal Child Health Family Engagement Outreach Team. The project aimed to improve the inclusion and participation of families and children of refugee backgrounds in Victorian early childhood services.

Under this initiative newly arrived, Arabic-speaking refugee parents from various cultural and religious backgrounds were invited to become Community Advisors.  Working with representatives from ten local agencies, Community Advisors identified barriers to accessing early childhood services being faced by refugee families. Solutions were developed to overcome these barriers including; better translated resources for families, improved intake practices including using audio and visual resources to support communication, updated early childhood professional training about working with interpreters and more effectively working in partnership community organisations and families.

Parents who participated as Community Advisors reported as a result of this project they were able to take on employment as educators and community workers and play broader roles as community peer leaders.

Coldstream Education Precinct, Coldstream Primary School

The Coldstream Education Precinct was created by Coldstream Primary School (CPS) to bring together Maternal and Child Health Care, Playgroups, Coldstream Kinder, CPS's Outside School Hours and Vacation Care, Foodbank Victoria, Breakfast Club and Lyrebird College into a one-stop support hub.

Through these partnerships the Coldstream Education Precinct was able to offer children and their families enriching, educational and supportive experiences within the Coldstream community, as well as smooth transitions from birth to secondary school.

Respected for the free, wrap-around services it offers to the Yarra Ranges community, the Precinct is especially important to vulnerable families, who regularly connect with early learning services and the community Playgroup – which has been recognised in a recent best practice study by Australian Catholic University.

Providing a community hub that supports all families to engage with early learning and other service-based organisations, the Coldstream Education Precinct is improving access to high-quality educational activities and services for local families, and supporting parent and child learning through its caring, whole-of-community approach.

Category 2: Supporting Parents to Build their Capacity and Confidence

Awarded for an initiative that supports families, parents and carers to feel confident and capable in their parenting role, and recognises their role as the first and most important teachers in supporting their child’s learning and development.

Chorus Music Therapy Clinic

In 2020, Chorus Music Therapy opened its first NDIS registered clinic, providing early childhood music therapies and support for families experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage. Through online, home, kindergarten or childcare centre visits, and from the new clinic premises in Geelong the services is providing mobile individual and group music therapy programs to children with disabilities and their parents in Geelong and its surrounding area.

Chorus's team of Registered Music Therapists specialise in music therapy for infants, children and young people with a neurologic impairment, injury or disorder. Sessions include a range of music therapy techniques that target individual children's developmental goals, collaboratively set with parents to extend the developmental potential of children's everyday engagement with music.

Parents are finding music therapy to be a meaningful approach to meeting their children's unique developmental goals. An evaluation of the program in mid-2021 showed that parents were able to identify significant improvement in children's development over time, including speech and language development, literacy and numeracy skills.

Family Foundations, Merri Health

Family Foundations is an innovative, evidence-based intervention co-parenting support program that promotes parent mental health, strengthens parenting partnerships and aims to reduce conflict during pregnancy and the critical early years of children's lives.

Merri Health, in partnership with Murdoch Children's Research Institute, has brought this US-based program to Melbourne to trial it for the first time in Australia. A family-based and father inclusive intervention, Family Foundations ensures the participation of all parents and caregivers is acknowledged as important in children's lives. 

The adapted home-based model is a ten-session intensive program, providing content and skill-building opportunities for parents and caregivers. Specific areas covered include emotion regulation, stress management, healthy communication, co-parenting support and conflict resolution.

Evaluation of the program has highlighted significant decreases in parental conflict, children's exposure to conflict and parental depressive symptoms.

In partnership with Murdoch Children's Research Institute.

Zoe Support Australia

Since 2013, Zoe Support Australia has provided wrap-around, place-based support to young mothers (aged 13-25) in the Mildura and surrounding communities. Successfully increasing parent-child attachment, family stability and breaking cycles of welfare-dependence, this program is significantly improving educational and employment outcomes for young mothers and their children.

Through Zoe Support Australia's wrap-around service model, young mothers can access childcare, transport, study hubs and services necessary to achieving their education and employment goals.  Programs also include playgroup, courses for healthy family meal preparation, and bridging numeracy and literacy gaps as a pathway for mothers to return to education. Expanding to provide case management and Integrated Family Services, Zoe Support has formed a wider support network with local agencies, ensuring brighter futures for young families in the region.

In 2020-2021, with the support they received through the program, forty-three percent of young mothers have enrolled in accredited education, and twenty-three percent found employment. A significant reduction in young mothers experience of abuse or illness has also been recorded. 

Category 3: Creating Collaborative Community Partnerships

Awarded for an initiative that promotes collaborative practice to support and demonstrate positive outcomes for children and families.

The Honey Pot Childcare Centre

In 2020, the Honey Pot Childcare Centre implemented a community-based initiative to connect the children and the Centre with their local community of Warrnambool, encouraging children and educators to broaden their understanding of their community through value-based exploration and engagement.

Excursions allow the children to enter the community in a safe manner, encouraging exploration of their local environment and the forming of relationships with new social groups. Themed projects, such as 'Aboriginal Culture – Tower Hill', 'Local Heroes' and 'Intergenerational Growing and Learning' grow children and families' understanding of the key issues, cultures and individuals that shape their local community and environment.

The different communities of focus provide educators with meaningful context for reflective play and learning. Play spaces in the Centre are designed to extend the children's learning from their engagement with the community, and inspire children's active participation in their life and learning.

Being Equal, Star Health

As a leading provider of health services in Victoria, Star Health identified that while there was support for Victorian schools to take a whole-of-school approach to promoting gender equity and respect, there was no similar whole-of-setting approach for early learning services.

In response Star Health partnered with five early childhood services across Port Phillip and Stonnington, to pilot the initiative Being Equal: a two-year, whole-of-service approach to ensuring children attending early childhood services experience more respectful relationships and less rigid gender stereotypes.

Being Equal's model for change in early childhood services was based on the Respectful Relationships in schools model. This whole-of-setting approach recognises that change must go beyond training and curriculum, and needs to be embedded in policy practice, procedures, staffing, environment, leadership, and culture.

The program follows a continuous improvement cycle that focuses on six benchmark areas, including community partnerships and supports for staff and families impacted by family violence. Evaluation has highlighted considerable progress to embedding changes across all benchmark areas and the findings are being used to refine the Being Equal model and future resources to support implementation for new participants.

Melton refugee background Communities of Practice: 'This is how we do it', Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (Foundation House)

Informed by research supporting place-based 'whole of organisation' collaborations, and incorporating meaningful community engagement and continuous improvement outcomes, a Community of Practice (CoP) was formed between Foundation House, Melton City Council Best Start and ten early childhood Melton services. Facilitated by local refugee-specific services, the CoP has dramatically improved the attendance and enrolment of children with families of refugee background in their early years.

Prior to the initiative, early childhood services reported low confidence in their capacity to successfully include children from refugee backgrounds, despite Melton's high population of refugee families. Processes that were effective in supporting vulnerable families were not successful at supporting children and families with refugee backgrounds.

Collaborating over a period of 18 months the CoP developed a number of video resources to build the capability and confidence of early childhood services in the area to welcome children and families of refugee background, including examples of documentation, social stories, accessible cultural profiles and translated resources to enable confident enrolment.

By working through a successful multi-faceted response to address the educational and settlement needs of communities experiencing vulnerability the systematic approach has improved outcomes for refugee families.

Category 4: Promoting Children’s Health and Wellbeing

Awarded to an initiative that is improving health and wellbeing outcomes for young children.

Bush Kinder for Mental Health, Kinglake Ranges Children's Centre

Kinglake Ranges Childcare Centre developed their Bush Kinder for Mental Health program to respond to a rise in challenging behaviours exhibited by children at the service.

Drawing from extensive research, Bush Kinder for Mental Health addresses the rise of anxiety and mental health disorders in young children through increasing the level of free play and interaction with nature in children's lives.  Working with their local environment and community, intentional low child-to-educator ratios and prioritising the professional development of staff, the Centre has created a play-based program that is dramatically improving outcomes for local children which focuses on developing strong mental health and forges community connections at its core.

The core elements of the program are now embedded in everyday practice supporting the wellbeing and development of babies through to preschool children. The results being observed are exceptional with staff observing significant improvements in resilience and persistence, increased levels of empathy and better social negotiation skills than previously seen.

Supported and safe start for Gippsland families, Olivia's Place

Driven by the vision of 'Supported Parents, Thriving Children, and Connected Families', Olivia's Place is a not-for-profit organisation supporting families experiencing vulnerability around the time of welcoming a baby, to have a safe and supported start to life as a new family.

Providing comprehensive and accessible services to parents during pregnancy and up to the youngest child's first birthday, Olivia's Place supports mothers and their families to set the stage for a supportive family environment in which children can thrive.

Recognising each client's personal journey as their own unique experience, Olivia's Place is renowned as a service that takes great care to deliver open, direct and individualised support to meet the many different challenges of ensuring a safe pregnancy and healthy child.

Actively improving access to health and wellbeing resources for new parents with the support of the Gippsland community, Olivia's Place is successfully linking families with professionals in child health, domestic violence support, birth support and mental health services.

Early Years Education and Community- Barwon Child, Youth and Family


Barwon Child, Youth and Family pioneered the implementation of Sunshine Circles in the Barwon region as an evidence-based social-emotional program, informed by the four dimensions of Theraplay: a child and family therapy developed for professionals working to support ongoing participation in early learning and healthy child-caregiver attachment.

Sunshine Circles is adult-directed and structured, where the teacher leads playful, cooperative, and nurturing activities that encourage children’s social, emotional and cognitive development. Barwon Child Youth and Family has successfully implemented the Sunshine Circles program and in-home support to families who may be experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage, bringing carers and parents together in collective support of their children’s individual needs.

Evaluation of the program has shown a positive shift in overall outcomes identified for over 80% of all participants, with over 60% of children showing a decrease in challenging, uncooperative and distracted behaviours.

Category 5: Continuity of Early Learning

Awarded to two or more early childhood services, schools and/or other organisations that support continuity of early learning through successful transitions.

Transitioning to Primary School - A Model Sustaining Continuity of Learning for Children with Autism, Abacus Learning Centre

Abacus Learning Centre offers 'Abacus School', a program for developing school readiness skills for children with autism through centre-based Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy. Early childhood educators adopt the roles of 'teachers' and 'learning assistants' modelling what typically happens in a prep classroom. This help children better understand and prepare for the new routines and environments their will experience in school.

Working with families and educators from a child's chosen primary school, transition support is individualised and staged, slowly decreasing as the child commences primary school, facilitating the child's learning continuity in the new environment. On entering primary school, children know what to expect, and feel confident about what they need to do and how to do it.

Data highlights all children who completed the Abacus School program have experienced successful transition into school.

In partnership with Learning for Life Autism Centre.

Alphabeenies Program, Pembroke Primary School

The Alphabeenies program at Pembroke Primary School is designed to cater for families and their individual needs, particularly those with diverse language backgrounds. Since 2015, the innovative Alphabeenies program has supported the continuity of early learning between kindergarten and primary school.

The Alphabeenies program is founded in the understanding that effective transitions are achieved when the child and family have a sense of belonging and acceptance in the new context. Traditional transition programs often run for only a few sessions late in the school year. The unique Alphabeenies program provides regular, structured sessions over a longer period so that children in their last year of kindergarten can gradually build their confidence and literacy skills in the new setting.

Alphabeenies engages parents too – parents help at table groups with activities that enable children's support, regardless of their language proficiency. Teachers at Alphabeenies utilise visual and kinaesthetic approaches to support learning and the inclusion of current Prep students in the transition program provides important peer support to early learning, strengthening the confidence of both children and parents to make a successful transition from kindergarten to primary school. 

Creative Arts Transition, Shine Bright Helm Street Kindergarten

Creative Arts Transition is a partnership that is improving vulnerable children's transition to school by building their social and emotional skills through creative arts.

Identifying social-emotional development as a key priority of school readiness, Helm Street Kindergarten and Kangaroo Flat Primary partnered to engage an Art Therapist to work between the two settings, supporting children to make what can be a challenging transition – particularly for children experiencing vulnerability.

The Art Therapist provides continuity and guidance across kindergarten and school, supporting children to tell stories about their experience in creative and non-verbal ways. By providing a safe medium through which they can express emotion, build resilience and establish meaningful relationships, children develop a sense of place and belonging with the new learning environment.

Unique in its focus on improving wellbeing for all children through creative art making, Creative Arts Transition is ensuring the impact of creative, caring and consistent relationships is supporting children's successful transition to the school environment.

In partnership with Kangaroo Flat Primary School

Category 6: Early Childhood Teacher of the Year

Awarded to an early childhood teacher who demonstrates evidence-based innovation and exemplary practice in early childhood education, and making a significant contribution to the development and delivery of high-quality early childhood education programs that improve learning and development outcomes for children.

Ariel Liddicut

Passionate about quality early education, early childhood teacher Ariel Liddicut from Grovedale Child and Family Centre, believes the basis of a more equitable and kinder society is one that respects the diversity and uniqueness of both individuals and the environment.

Currently studying a Master of Education, Ariel has focused on growing her skills in supporting gender expansive children and their families. Sharing her learning and significant expertise in this area, she is collaborating and sharing information with teachers and educators working in other early childhood services to support gender fluid and expansive children and their families, in turn supporting these children's wellbeing, unique identity and sense of belonging.

Equally dedicated to the protection of the environment, Ariel uses her classroom to teach children and their families about the importance of being good custodians of the land, delivering well-researched, practical and lifelong lessons. In addition, she is successfully mentoring other early childhood services to build their capacity to provide environmentally sustainable teaching practices and service habits.

Louise Bayley

As an early childhood teacher at Kalkallo Pre-School, Louise Bayley works in a growing and diverse community with a large population of new migrants.

Louise's reflective and respectful teaching practice is driven by her dedication to the wellbeing of children and families and the fostering of reciprocal relationships. Embodying Victorian Early Years Learning Development Framework practice principles, Louise's dedication to improving children's access to learning is shaped by following children's lead, engaging with families and having a strong focus on promoting cultural understanding to improve children and families' health and wellbeing.

Always seeking opportunities to extend her knowledge to meet the specific needs of children and their families, Louise is able to identify any barriers to their learning, and adopt strategies that encourage children to develop from their unique point of need.

Working with other educators during the recent lockdowns, Louise provided children and their families with access to support services, creating a community library and providing engaging resources to support at-home learning.

Category 7: The Emeritus Professor Collette Tayler Excellence in Educational Leadership Award

Awarded to an early childhood service or approved service provider that has led their educators and teachers to significantly improve the quality of their learning and teaching practices, with a focus on intentional teaching practices to achieve improved outcomes for Victorian children and their families.

Clarendon Children's Centre

Clarendon Children's Centre has worked consistently for over ten years to establish an equitable model of distributed leadership that draws on individuals' expertise and provides opportunities for team members to lead different programs that inform and engage their early years learning community.

Educational leaders with expertise in strengthening quality, sustainability, Indigenous perspectives, wellbeing, inclusion and diversity, healthy eating, outdoor learning and OHS portfolios work together to ensure intentional teaching, professional learning, collaborative partnerships and a respect for equity and diversity are embedded in everyday practice at the centre.

Clarendon Children's Centre has invested to their educators' continuous development in the past three years. With many opportunities completed by two or more educators, learning is being optimised and has meant learning outcomes are more likely to be embedded in daily pedagogy.

Leading a range of initiatives across the Centre such as a partnership with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation and Being Equal, a Star Health initiative supporting respectful relationships, the Clarendon Children's Centre's exemplary approach to leadership and its development is improving outcomes for all children at their service.

Anna Moutzouris

For over thirty years, Anna Moutzouris, Director of Monash Vale and Bridge Road Early Learning Centres has dedicated herself to improving the early childhood sector through building strong partnerships with families and the community.

Anna leads with a strength-based, shared leadership model that enables all educators to develop roles that reflect their specific areas of expertise or passion. This distributed responsibility enables the best outcomes for the early years learning community.

Anna's innovative leadership and mentoring approach has created a 'home-from-home' experience for children, families and educators. In the last year the emphasis has been developing Reconciliation Action Plans for Monash Vale and Bridge Road Early Learning Centres and offering improved wellness support, especially during recent lockdowns.

Initiating the development of home learning packs, Zoom sessions and extra support for educators' mental health and wellbeing in response the recent pandemic , Anna focuses upon each individual's need, whether parent, child or educator, offering creative and caring solutions that ensure the continuity of learning for all children.