Child Wellbeing and Development
NCOSS’ recent Mapping Economic Disadvantage in NSW report highlights that children still have the highest rate of poverty of any age bracket at 15.2%, despite a reduction since 2016. Disturbingly, childhood poverty is becoming increasingly concentrated in Western and South-Western Sydney, with areas such as Guildford and South Granville reaching rates of over 40%.
Against this backdrop of widening inequality, children in NSW have faced major upheavals and disruptions through COVID-19, climate disasters, and increasing financial stress on families due to the cost-of-living crisis. NCOSS’ Cost of Living in NSW 2023 survey showed the intense mental health impacts of the crisis and the impact it is having on families with kids, particularly single parents, 90% of whom reported going without essentials or being unable to pay for them.
Analysis by Impact Economics and Policy also showed that, as a result of the upheavals of the past few years, there has been a 13.4% increase in kids starting school developmentally vulnerable; an additional 13,401 children at risk of significant harm between 2018/19 and 20/21; and 220,000 students who missed on an average 15 weeks of schooling due to lockdowns and who risk substantial lifetime earning losses as a result.
The child protection and out-of-home care system continues to fail to deliver for vulnerable Aboriginal children, who are eleven times more likely to be in out-of-home-care (OOHC) compared to non-Aboriginal children. While the Family is Culture Review identified a clear roadmap to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care, to date there has been a lack of meaningful, genuine engagement and partnership with the Aboriginal community on progressing the Report’s recommendations. Where progress has been made, these can be described as piecemeal at best.
What’s In the 2023-2024 Budget?
Education and Care
- $682.7 million additional investment in four new primary schools and 10 new high schools across NSW
- Permanent, targeted literacy and numeracy tutoring programs in primary and secondary schools in a $278.4 million program over four years to 2026-27.
- $849 million investment in new Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services, which includes:
- Fast-tracking $769.3 million for 100 new preschools on public school sites
- $60 million towards new and upgraded non-government preschools to increase affordable, high-quality preschool in the areas of most need.
- Up to $20 million to support the growth of not-for-profit ECEC services in high demand areas.
- $1.6 billion of preschool fee relief from an expanded affordable preschool program, including:
- Providing $500 per year in fee relief for children attending 3 year old kindergarten in long day care
- Providing $4,220 per year in fee relief for 3 to 5 year olds in community and mobile preschool
- Providing $2,110 in fee relief for children aged 4 years and older attending preschool in long day care.
- 250 additional school counsellors to support students with mental health needs and disabilities
- $8 million to double the School Breakfast 4 Health program to 1,000 schools.
Out of Home Care and Permanency Support
- $200 million (in 2023-24) in additional funding for the Department of Communities and Justice to deliver the Out of Home Care and Permanency support program. The funding ensures continuation of services while the Government reviews funding models over the longer term. The majority of this will go towards NGO service providers and the provision of emergency arrangements for children and young people who cannot live safely at home.
What does it mean for those doing it tough?
Universal, high-quality early learning has the potential to deliver life-changing impacts for children in NSW, particularly those experiencing disadvantage. ECEC provides an environment where children can thrive socially, emotionally and developmentally, and prepare for the transition to school.
Fast tracking the building of preschools in areas with most need has the potential to give more children access to vital development opportunities, while fee support will give some help to families struggling to balance the household budget. Similarly, the building of new public schools, particularly in Regional NSW and Western and South Western Sydney, will deliver critical physical infrastructure that is the starting point for educational engagement and attainment.
While the $200 million to deliver the Out of Home Care and Permanency support program is necessary to support children and young people in care, it continues the focus at the crisis end of the service system without any further investment in early intervention.
What is needed?
Children and families, particularly those experiencing disadvantage, need the right supports at the right time, so that day-to-day challenges don’t escalate to crises. The Government needs to outline a clear plan for supporting children and families most at risk, including substantial investment in evidence-based early intervention that breaks the cycle of disadvantage and support families to stay together.
Struggling families can be at a loss when it comes to navigating our complex, fragmented service systems, and fail to receive the assistance they require. Too often, cost-of-living pressures build to crisis point, pushing families into emergency departments, the justice system, child protection services and homeless shelters. Investing in the expansion of models like the NCOSS ‘School Gateway project’ would make it easier to connect with support at the right time and avert crises.. This place-based, whole-of-family approach uses the familiar environment of the school, in at-risk communities, as the gateway to health and wellbeing services, emergency support, improved educational outcomes, and social connection.
Aboriginal children, families and communities have the right to live in thriving communities, connected to culture and Country. We need the Government to take a holistic view of the Family is Culture Review and take urgent action on the Report’s recommendations by advancing the identified five community-led priority areas for implementation:
- Strengthening system accountability and oversight – including establishing an independent commission with an Aboriginal Commissioner and an Aboriginal Advisory Body appointed in consultation with the Aboriginal community;
- Expediting the suite of legislative reforms to strengthen safeguards for Aboriginal children and young people and their families;
- Significantly greater investment in early support and keeping families together – at least equal to the proportion of Aboriginal children in the child protection system and directed through an Aboriginal commissioning framework;
- Embedding the Aboriginal Case Management Policy and Practice Guidance – including the establishment of Aboriginal Community Controlled Mechanisms, Community Facilitators and Aboriginal Family Led Decision-Making;
- Embedding Indigenous data sovereignty – establishing the systems, structures and processes to enable communities to collect, own and use their data.
Budget Responses from the Sector
- AbSec Election Asks
- AbSec/ ALS Family is Culture Community Report Card
- Fams NSW Pre-election Policy Platform