Improving development and learning of children in Western Australia
Improving Development and Learning of Children in Western Australia
The Early Years Initiative
What does this project aim to find out?
The Early Years Initiative (EYI) has the overarching goal of improving the development and learning of children from conception to age four in WA. It aims to empower communities to design, implement and evaluate new, evidence-based approaches to improve the health, learning and development of young children prior to school entry. This ten-year partnership between communities, government/s, researchers, philanthropy and non-government organisations was envisaged as a place-based approach that would leverage current investment, activities and services in target communities to identify practices that could best improve the development and learning of children.
Why is this issue important for early childhood?
The EYI addresses an important area of need by providing evidence on the effectiveness and efficiency of current and new models of early childhood service. Much of the programmatic evaluations on early childhood interventions are actually from the US and the UK, and often from many decades previous. There is very limited robust evidence that describes what works to support early childhood development in the contemporary Australian contexts, especially in rural and remote communities. The Early Years Initiative focuses on four intervention sites across rural, regional, remote and metro locations. This methodology allows for nuanced insight into how existing and new models function in these very different types of communities.
What is signficant about this research?
There is very limited evidence of what effective, community governance looks like for place-based initiatives or the elements that are essential to enable them to function. The EYI evaluation provides an opportunity to understand what approaches work in which contexts to facilitate authentic, community-led systems change. Community Boards will be established in each selected community comprising community members and Government-employed (or commissioned) service representatives. Community Boards will be responsible for consulting with and making decisions on behalf of their respective communities, and will be supported to actively collaborate with the State Government and to identify evidence-based solutions that might work in their community. Furthermore, the EYI’s emphasis on ‘learning by doing’ with researchers, policy-makers and practitioners all working on the same challenge simultaneously, will accelerate the process by which research findings are translated into policy and practice.
What are potential implications for this research?
For Communities: The EYI recognises that communities are best placed to identify, develop and manage solutions to meet their needs and should be empowered to do this. The findings from the evaluation of the EYI will provide communities across WA and more broadly with guidance on how to ensure their own change processes can be led and supported.
For parents/families: The Early Years Initiative evaluation will provide deeper insights into how individual families with young children experience the early childhood service system, including the challenges they face and the opportunities they could benefit from. This will help inform how parents and families can be better supported at the local community level to raise children to achieve their life’s potential.
For policymakers: The Early Years Iniative aligns with the State Government’s commitment to a more efficient, collaborative, adaptable and outcomes-based public sector and to delivering quality services to the community. This innovative, cross-sectoral partnership will build a strong evidence base which can form the basis for empirically tested interventions that the Government can implement on a broader scale. In doing so, it will ensure more research findings are translated into policy and practice, and enhance a culture of innovation in public, community, research and philanthropic sectors.
For educators/practitioners: The EYI’s focus on structures and mechanisms provides an opportunity to deeply understand what families require including what service systems that work for them look like, implement this over time and regularly monitor it to determine how it is meeting these expectations and what is required for it to do so.
What change would you like to see in early childhood related to this research project?
Review and evaluation of the EYI at the 3-year, 5-year and 10-year stage will provide valuable insight into how communities can be supported to develop and implement evidence-based solutions to improve early childhood outcomes. The evaluation will emphasise the role of Community Boards how they are established and made functional. Through this increased understanding of the deeper challenges or issues confronting families, while also developing and testing changes or additions to existing early childhood services, this research will make an important contribution to building the WA evidence base. In due course, these findings will be communicated widely in easy to understand ways so that learning can be adapted and applied state-wide.