What is Access to Early Learning?
Access to Early Learning (AEL) is an effective and targeted early intervention program that enables three-year-old children from families with complex needs to fully participate in quality, universal early education and care.
AEL provides an experienced and degree-qualified facilitator to work with families, educators and services to ensure vulnerable children participate in early learning.
AEL facilitators sustain participation through:
- identifying and supporting children and families’ access to 15 hours of high quality kindergarten
- working with families to address any barriers that may prevent their child attending or participating in kindergarten
- strengthening parents’ capacity to support their child’s ongoing engagement in early learning
- strengthening the home learning environment through in-home learning interventions
- building capacity in the local service system, including providing mentoring and professional learning for educators supporting children.
Among other benefits, AEL has succeeded in:
- sustaining children’s participation in early childhood education
- improving parents’ understanding of their child’s learning and development, with an increase in their confidence and ability to respond to their child’s needs
- supporting educators in their understanding of the barriers to engagement for vulnerable children and families.
Who is eligible for Access to Early Learning?
To be eligible for AEL, children must be referred by an Enhanced Maternal and Child Health service,
ChildFIRST or Child Protection professional.
These referrals identify children from families with a minimum of two relevant characteristics:
- known to Child Protection
- intellectual or physical disability
- family violence
- mental health issues
- sexual assault
- alcohol and drug abuse.
The families referred to AEL experience complex family circumstances that mean the Early Start Kindergarten grant alone would be insufficient to sustain attendance.
What is the Access to Early Learning - School Readiness Funding program?
Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services are able to pool resources using
School Readiness Funding (SRF) to purchase an Access to Early Learning program delivered by a suitably skilled provider.
Providers can utilise the Access to Early Learning - School Readiness Funding Program guidelines developed by the Department for further information.
Effectiveness of the Access to Early Learning model
An evaluation of AEL was completed by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in 2017. It identified that AEL is effective in engaging and sustaining high levels of participation from children with significant levels of vulnerability and disadvantage.
Key findings included:
- Very high levels of attendance in kindergarten were achieved, which is a significant achievement given the levels of complexity present for children and families referred to the program. Children attended an average of 81 per cent of enrolled hours, compared to an average attendance rate of 73 per cent for children accessing ESK. This pattern of attendance was sustained into kindergarten in the following year.
- Parents demonstrated an improved understanding of their children’s learning and development, and their confidence in their ability to respond to their children’s needs increased. This was indicated through the quality and frequency of parent-child interactions, behaviour management and stimulation in the home environment.
- Educators reported an increased understanding of the barriers to engaging vulnerable children and families through their involvement with AEL, and indicated that their involvement improved their centre’s ability to overcome those barriers. One-on-one informal support and coaching provided for AEL children at their centre was highly valued by educators.
‘I prefer one-on-one connection where we can chat, discuss, go back and forth and then have a bit of time to reflect on what’s been said….. The AEL program has come in and we’re able to discuss where the family’s at, what we can do to help each other and then take it from there and have those reflections.’ (Educator)
- Educators and families identified that AEL had strengthened the links between home and the service.
- Stakeholders reported AEL had increased collaboration between the services in support of families, especially when coordinating early access for very vulnerable children.
- Aspects of the program that had supported the strong outcomes included:
- the importance of having a dedicated ‘facilitation’ function
- flexible delivery of AEL tailored to each AEL family’s individual circumstances
- recognition of the breadth of social, emotional and practical support that vulnerable families and their children require to engage in early learning
- child centred approach focused on learning meant that families did not feel judged.
- Strong, respectful relationships between:
- AEL workers and families
- educators and families
- AEL workers and educators
- AEL workers and other professionals in the broader service system.
How does Access to Early Learning and Access to Early Learning – School Readiness Funding work?
Facilitators are usually located in services that also provide family services or have an existing association with ChildFIRST and family services.
The AEL facilitators must have a child-focused and strength-based approach when working with families and services, and have a strong understanding of trauma-informed practice, attachment theory and relational practices, as well as knowledge of the local service system.
- proactively engages with the secondary and tertiary services working with vulnerable families, to identify children and families to be referred to AEL
- actively reaches out to children and families to understand the practical, familial and other barriers that may prevent a child from participating and attending kindergarten
- develops tailored, practical strategies with the family and the educator that address these barriers, preparing both the service and the family for a successful introduction to kindergarten
- leads regular in-home learning activities, working on family-led goals that build parents’ understanding, confidence and skills regarding their child’s development and learning
- monitors children and families’ needs and child attendance through observation, meetings and discussions with families and services, and proactively addresses issues as they arise
- supports the family to engage or re-engage with other relevant services, and find additional supports where necessary for the child and the family
- provides educators with support for reflection, and on-site coaching to extend their inclusive and collaborative practices and where needed, provide access to additional training
- supports the child and family to transition to the following year of kindergarten or school program.
Where are Access to Early Learning sites located?
Seven AEL lead agencies operate in Victoria. Each year, they support 16 three-year-old children and their families. The lead agencies and local government areas covered by each site are:
How can I find out more?
Services wishing to participate in
Access to Early Learning – SRF may use their School Readiness Funding to purchase the program in their local area.
The Early Childhood Improvement Branch staff supporting SRF implementation in the regional office can assist in linking services interested in purchasing Access to Early Learning – SRF with other interested services.
They will also be able to suggest relevant local services with capacity to employ and support the facilitator, such as local family service providers or local government.
A third party agreement or memorandum of understanding between organisations should be developed to ensure the program’s implementation, funding and respective roles and responsibilities are agreed.