Early Start Kindergarten Information for professionals

Early Start Kindergarten (ESK) provides eligible children with 15 hours of free or low-cost kindergarten each week led by a qualified Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) registered teacher.

ESK is available to children who are at least three years old by 30 April in the year they are enrolled to attend the program and are:

  • from a refugee or asylum seeker background, or
  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, or
  • known to child protection.

These children can also access free or low-cost year-before-school kindergarten through the ESK Extension Grant regardless of whether they have accessed ESK in the previous year.

Professionals working with families including Maternal and Child Health nurses, Aboriginal services, Child FIRST / Family Services practitioners, Multicultural organisations, bicultural workers, and Supported Play Group facilitators can refer to Early Start Kindergarten by confirming children’s eligibility directly with the relevant early childhood service provider. Parents can also notify early childhood services about their eligibility.

ESK: information for Maternal and Child Health

Video transcript

Video length: 3 minutes 55 seconds.          

Marcia Armstrong, Principal Maternal and Child Health Nurse Advisor          

As maternal and child health nurses, you are the universal service in Victoria under school age, and you are in a prime position to facilitate the enrolment of all our vulnerable children into kindergarten.          

Christine Reid, Social Worker – Enhanced Maternal and Child Health, Melton City Council          

Early Start Kinder provides up to 15 hours of free or low cost to eligible three-year-old children. Children need to be three years old by the 30 April in the year that they would attend.          

Melanie Donaldson, Early Childhood Educator          

Families that are eligible for ESK are families that are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander families and also families that are known to Child Protection or that are referred to Child First by Child Protection.          

Marcia Armstrong, Principal Maternal and Child Health Nurse Advisor          

Maternal and Child Health nurses through the universal and enhanced program can identify those children eligible for Early Start Kindergarten and particularly at the 2-year key stage visit, they can welcome families to enrol in Early Start Kindergarten and facilitate that enrolment for the families through identifying local services that the families can enrol in.          

Nicole Nicolson, Enhanced Maternal and Child Health Nurse          

It’s really important for Maternal and Child Health nurses to identify the eligibility of families for Early Start Kinder, if they feel time-poor and they are not able to complete the applications or assist the families with completing applications it’s really important that they access other supports like Central Kinder enrolments, as well as other care teams that are involved with these families.          

Melanie Donaldson, Early Childhood Educator          

We’re able to collaborate with the Maternal and Child Health nurses to provide better outcomes for the child as a whole, so if something is identified in the appointment with the Maternal and Child Health nurse, we can work with them to build strategies and arrange specific activities within our program to provide a better outcome for the child.          

Christine Reid, Social Worker – Enhanced Maternal and Child Health, Melton City Council          

I’ve been really lucky to work with Maternal and Child Health nurses quite a lot over the last couple of years, and what I know is that you’re very busy and you don’t always have time to have lengthy discussions, so my advice would be to have discussions early, talk about eligibility, talk about the benefits as early as you can, give information to parents over and over again because we find quite often they need the information repeated to them.          

Trish, Parent          

The Maternal and Child Health nurses, I think right from the start need to be opening, not just ‘how’s your baby, and how are they sleeping?’ all of that, things like… at regular appointments ‘have you had any issues, have you had any concerns’ explain Child FIRST… and also explain that just having involvement with Child Protection does not mean you have failed, it means that at some point you’ve needed help.           

So since both my boys started with kinder, they both had extreme separation anxiety both from being away from me and being away from each other. They’re 11 months apart, so I had one start, and one at home with me and he had to get used to having a few hours without his brother. So as I watched the younger one realise he was going to be okay, and the older one realise that he can make friends and I’m going to come back, and their confidence started to grow, and they started to develop their own interests.          

Marcia Armstrong, Principal Maternal and Child Health Nurse Advisor          

Early Start Kindergarten is available in-sessional kindergartens as well as funded kindergarten programs in long daycare centres.         

Marcia Armstrong, Principal Maternal and Child Health Nurse Advisor          

Early Start Kindergarten will continue to be available through the roll-out of Three-Year-Old Kindergarten across the State.          

Presentation slide          

As of 2021, Early Start Kindergarten is now available to children from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds. For more information about Early Start Kindergarten, contact your regional department office or search for Early Start Kindergarten at www.education.vic.gov.au.

ESK: information for Child Protection


Referrals to Early Start Kindergarten

All professionals can advise kindergarten services of a child's eligibility for ESK.

Professionals working with families can refer all eligible ESK enrolments by confirming children’s eligibility directly with the relevant early childhood service provider. Parents can also notify early childhood services about their eligibility.

Notification of eligibility can be provided in writing or verbally from a parent, or based on the knowledge you have of the family’s background.

No other action or information is required to determine eligibility for children known to Child Protection, or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children.

We do not require proof of visa for ESK for refugee and asylum seeker children, however, a service provider may choose to ask for proof of visa for their own records. It's important to ensure that proof of visa is not a barrier to a child’s participation in ESK.

Early Start Kindergarten for refugee and asylum seeker children

A child from a refugee or asylum seeker background is eligible for ESK or the ESK Extension Grant if the child holds or has a parent or guardian who holds one of the following:

  • Refugee visa (subclass 200)
  • In-country Special Humanitarian visa (subclass 201)
  • Global Special Humanitarian visa (subclass 202)
  • Emergency Rescue Visa (subclass 203)
  • A woman at Risk visa (subclass 204)
  • Humanitarian Stay visa (subclass 449)
  • Temporary Protection visa (subclass 785)
  • Temporary (Humanitarian Concern) visa (subclass 786)
  • Safe Haven Enterprise visa (subclass 790)
  • Protection visa (subclass 866)
  • A Bridging visa, and is in the process of applying for one of the above Refugee or Humanitarian visas.
  • Current or expired ImmiCard
  • An approved exemption from the department

If an exemption is required or there’s any uncertainty around eligible visas, contact your local office.

Exemptions will be considered by the department where a child, their family or guardian does not hold, or is not in the process of applying for a refugee or humanitarian visa, but has been impacted by a refugee or asylum seeker experience or an experience similar to a refugee and asylum seeker.

Eligibility requirements for ESK align with the Kindergarten Fee Subsidy (KFS) for refugee and asylum seeker children.

Interpreting services

Early Childhood services can support access for children from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds and help culturally and linguistically diverse families understand more about ESK or kindergarten by using telephone interpreting services.

Telephone interpreting services can be accessed by phoning VITS Language Loop on (03) 9280 1955 or emailing bookings@languageloop.com.au.

Early Start Kindergarten and Three-Year-Old Kindergarten

During the roll-out of Three-Year-Old Kindergarten, there will be no change to ESK. ESK will continue to provide 15 hours of funded kindergarten per week for all eligible children.

It's important to continue to enrol eligible children in ESK, even if funded Three-Year-Old Kindergarten is available at the service.

This guarantees that ESK eligible children continue to access the full 15 hours in all service settings, including long day care, irrespective of the number of hours of funded Three-Year-Old Kindergarten offered.

It also ensures that service providers can continue to receive all funding entitlements. ESK enrolments contribute to School Readiness Funding calculations for service providers.

There will be no change to how ESK funding is administered. Service providers should continue to provide the full 15 hours per week funded kindergarten through ESK and to submit applications through the Kindergarten Information Management (KIM) system.

Koorie Kids Shine at Kindergarten

Koorie Kids Shine at Kindergarten promotes free Three-Year-Old and Four-Year-Old Kindergarten to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities so that they are aware of, and can access, the grants and supports available to them.

Children eligible for Early Start Kindergarten: birthdays between 1 January and 30 April

Children whose birthdays fall between 1 January and 30 April have the choice of the year they will start school. Parents and carers need to be consulted about the intended year children will start school before determining which year they access ESK.

Making all groups available for Early Start Kindergarten enrolments

ESK enrolments need to be placed in a group where they can receive 15 hours per week of high-quality education, preferably delivered by the same teacher. All groups, including year-before-school, multi-age and three-year-old groups, should be made available to all ESK enrolments.

Quality and hours matter

Participation in quality kindergarten for supporting children’s long term development and health, particularly those who are vulnerable, is important for success at school and beyond.

The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project found that high-quality programs had a significantly stronger impact on children’s literacy, academic outcomes, self-regulation, and pro-social capabilities than that of low or medium quality kindergarten programs (Sylva et al, 2010).

Hours matter because they provide the necessary time to create a substantial impact on a child’s cognitive outcomes (Fox and Geddes, 2016). Children experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage benefit the most from two years of kindergarten compared with one year, with 15 hours a week the minimum amount required for most children.

Early Start Kindergarten in Long Day Care

ESK and the ESK Extension Grant can be used in combination with the Australian Government’s Child Care Subsidy (CCS) and the Additional Child Care Subsidy (ACCS).

The ESK or ESK Extension Grant must be used by a Long Day Care service so that eligible ESK enrolments can attend the kindergarten program for 15 hours per week for 40 weeks, at no cost to the family.

Long Day Care services may collaborate with the family or carer to determine how best to spend the money to support the child’s needs. The service may consider how this may affect their Quality Improvement Plan.

The grant can be put towards:

  • gap fees not covered by CCS or ACCS
  • financial expenses whilst accessing ACCS
  • resources for children with high, complex needs or those experiencing disadvantage
  • employment of a kindergarten teacher
  • out-of-pocket expenses such as excursions/incursions
  • professional development for staff about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

Early Start Kindergarten Extension Grants

The ESK Extension Grant provides a free or low-cost year-before-school kindergarten program for children:

  • not eligible for the Kindergarten Fee Subsidy (KFS)
  • from a refugee or asylum seeker background, or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, or known to child protection. A child is not required to access ESK in the previous year to access the ESK extension grant.


There are two different types of immunisation legislation that apply to kindergartens in Victoria:

  • No Jab No Play – is the Victorian legislation that applies to all kindergartens
  • No Jab No Pay – is the Australian Government legislation that applies to Long Day Care Services only.

No Jab No Play

Under No Jab No Play, children enrolled in ESK are eligible to enrol immediately, without proof of up-to-date immunisations.

A 16 week grace period from the date children first attend the service allows the family to continue to access kindergarten while they obtain an Immunisation History Statement. The service should assist the family as much as possible through this process.

If the grace period has expired and the service has not received appropriate documentation (including a 'catch up schedule'), the child can continue to attend kindergarten, except in the circumstance of an outbreak of an infectious disease.

The service should continue to work with the carer to address this issue. The grace period intends to support and encourage immunisation, not prevent attendance.

No Jab No Pay

Under the Australian Government’s No Jab No Pay, families accessing kindergarten in Long Day Care can only receive financial assistance through the Child Care Subsidy if children meet immunisation requirements.

There is a 63 day grace period to meet requirements, otherwise Australian Government financial assistance will cease to be paid and full fees will be charged.

The Early Childhood Agreement for Children in Out-of-Home Care

All children in Out-of-Home Care who are three by 30 April in the year they start kindergarten are eligible for Early Start Kindergarten. Ensuring more children in Out-of-Home Care participate in Early Start Kindergarten is a commitment under the Early Childhood Agreement for children in out-of-home care.

Access to Early Learning

The Access to Early Learning (AEL) program provides a more intensive early intervention than ESK. Through AEL, a facilitator supports vulnerable three-year-olds from families with multiple and complex needs, assisting them to access universal kindergarten programs.

AEL is for families that have a range of barriers to children's kindergarten participation. It is unlike ESK, which predominately addresses financial barriers.

AEL facilitators undertake in-home visits and work with families to build their child’s engagement with formal learning. They also work to strengthen the home learning environment. Facilitators collaborate with educators and other services to support the family and child.

AEL-School Readiness Funding (SRF) is now an item on the SRF menu of evidence, enabling groups of services to purchase this new model.

Further information about Early Start Kindergarten

Resources for Funded Kindergartens provide further information about ESK for kindergarten services, MCH services, Child Protection and Child FIRST professionals.

Early Start Kindergarten provides further information about ESK for families.

To order ESK print material free of charge, please sign up and/or login to the Victorian Kindergarten Resources website, and select the Early Start Kindergarten option. Anyone can view and order ESK print material.


Translated brochures

Early Start Kindergarten 

Early Start Kindergarten for refugees and asylum seekers

Social media tiles

Social media tiles in translated languages

Early Start Kindergarten prepares your child for success at school

Enrol your child for kindergarten – it’s not too late

Kindergarten is important for all children

Give your child the best start in life