Victoria has strong participation levels in kindergarten by four year old children (above 90 percent) however vulnerable children are known to be among those missing out. Research shows an earlier start and more time at kindergarten prepares children for success at school, has a positive impact later in life, and is especially beneficial for disadvantaged and vulnerable children.
Preschool - Two Years are Better Than One: Developing a Preschool Program for Australian 3 Year Olds – Evidence, Policy and Implementation (Fox & Geddes, 2016) described the key findings from the evidence base as:
- Starting early and staying in for longer is beneficial for many children – The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2015) found the optimum period of attendance in preschool is part-time (i.e. 15 hours) over two years.
- Disadvantaged children benefit the most – a range of studies highlight substantially greater impacts on cognitive, social and emotional outcomes for more disadvantaged children.
- The quality of programs matters – low and medium quality programs deliver very little short or long-term impacts, but the impact of high quality persists over time.
Preschool programs improve cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes – research on the long-term impacts of preschool highlights the interaction of academic, social, and emotional skills on lifetime education and employment.
Kindergarten is important as it provides programs that enrich a child's development. The kindergarten curriculum caters for the child's learning and development, focusing on areas such as social and emotional development and development of gross and fine motor skills. Children in kindergarten programs develop and extend their communication skills, start learning how to use technology, develop skills that assist with reading, writing and mathematics, develop confidence, learn to be creative and, most importantly, start to enjoy learning and to be effective learners.
A kindergarten program will also support ongoing development of social skills including:
- showing respect and caring for others
- being comfortable with people who are different and learning to see beyond differences to similarities
- showing self control, identifying and expressing feelings appropriately
- developing independence, and giving and seeking help from others
- balancing one's own needs, rights and responsibilities with those of others
- resolving conflicts in peaceful and constructive ways
- working with others and learning to appreciate that collaboration is a great way to get things done
- learning to apply these skills effectively.
Kindergarten participation also helps to identify children who need extra support, and offers appropriate links to other early childhood services to ensure children receive this assistance as early as possible.
Benefits for parents, families and carers
A kindergarten program gives parents, families and carers the chance to be part of a community focused on children's wellbeing, to get to know other families, and to share perspectives and information with early childhood professionals. Parents, families and carers benefit when they have experienced, knowledgeable and sensitive professionals to talk to, share concerns with, and get encouragement and support from. The kindergarten environment provides an opportunity for parents, families and carers to develop links within their communities and become more aware of support services.
The balance between risk and protective factors
Children's development is shaped by the balance between factors known to place development at risk and those known to have protective properties. Children exposed to multiple risk factors become more vulnerable to developmental problems whereas those exposed to protective factors are more likely to be resilient.
Risk and protective factors occur at all levels: individual, family, neighbourhood, community and society. For more children to develop well, the factors that place them at risk need to be reduced, and those that are protective need to be promoted.
Access to high quality, developmentally informed early childhood education is an example of a community level protective factor. Kindergarten programs provide an opportunity for early identification of and intervention regarding any presenting deficits in a child's abilities. For vulnerable children, kindergarten can also function as a preventative intervention by ameliorating aspects of social disadvantage and deprivation.
Kindergarten programs are offered in a range of settings, including purpose-built kindergartens, community based and private child care centres (including early learning centres), community centres and schools.
Programs are usually offered in different groups, based on the age of the child:
- programs for children aged at least three years on 30 April in the year they attend (three year old kindergarten or activity group)
- programs for children aged at least four years on 30 April in the year they attend (four year old kindergarten).
Some services offer multi-age kindergarten programs with three and four year old children in the same group.
All children aged three years by 30 April in the year they will be attending, who are known to child protection (either current or former clients) or referred by child protection to Child FIRST, or who are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, are eligible for Early Start Kindergarten fee help.
Early Start Kindergarten (ESK) provides free or low cost kindergarten delivered by a qualified teacher to help children with language, development, and self-confidence. A kindergarten only requires verbal advice that a child is known to child protection for the child to be eligible for ESK, and this advice can be provided by a child protection practitioner, parent or carer.
Kindergarten enrolment practices vary between programs and locations. Local government contacts for the area where a child is living are best placed to provide advice about local programs, including whether a program is delivered by a qualified teacher.
Many local government areas run central enrolment schemes and can assist with priority of access and locating a vacant place. Where children are enrolling outside the usual enrolment period, there may be a pre-purchased place available (see further information on these places below).
If a child is in out of home care, contact the Out of Home Care Local Government Contact for information and advice about enrolment.
If placing children by directly approaching a service, check whether the service or Centre has kindergarten programs delivered by qualified teachers, for example, the service has a funded kindergarten program.
In some growth areas the demand for kindergarten places is very high, so it is advisable for children to be enrolled at the earliest opportunity.
The Department of Education and Training (DET) provides a number of pre-purchased kindergarten places that are reserved for children experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage, including children known to child protection, who are enrolling outside the usual enrolment period. To find out if pre-purchased places are available in your area, contact your regional Department of Education and Training office or the local government contact in the relevant local government area.
Forms and documents required for kindergarten enrolment include:
- birth certificate
- court orders relating to the child
- Kindergarten staff need to sight original paperwork and a copy needs to be attached to the enrolment form. This is necessary if the order relates to the powers, duties, responsibilities or authorities of any person in relation to the child or access to the child (Children's Services Regulations 2009 s. 31(e))
- the child's medical information, including the name and contact details of the child's doctor
- contact details of people who may be notified if the child has an accident, injury, trauma or illness
- details of people who can collect the child (only these people will be permitted to collect the child)
- immunisation records (see below)
- if in out-of-home care, a carer authorisation form (see below).
Immunisation 'No Jab, No Play'
Under Victoria’s ‘No Jab, No Play’ legislation, before enrolling a child, early childhood education and care services have to first obtain evidence that the child is up to date with all vaccinations that are due for their age (The exception is that there is period of grace for some vulnerable children (see below) to allow catch-up vaccinations to occur).
An Immunisation History Statement from the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) is the only form of documentation accepted for the purpose of enrolling in an early childhood education and care service.
To have an enrolment confirmed for a child in long day care, kindergarten, family day care or occasional care, parents/carers have to provide the service with:
- a current Immunisation History Statement from the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR); AND
- the statement must show that the child is up to date with all vaccinations that are due for their age, or that they are able to receive.
Parents/carers can get a copy of a child’s Immunisation History Statement by:
- calling the AIR on phone 1800 653 809
- visiting a Medicare or Centrelink office.
Parents can get a copy of their child’s Immunisation History Statement from their MyGov account.
Families who do not hold a Medicare card must call the AIR to request an Immunisation History Statement.
Immunisation period of grace for vulnerable children and families
There are some children in the community whose families face difficulties accessing vaccinations and/or the required documentation to prove immunisation status. Children experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage, including children known to child protection, are eligible to enroll in a service under a grace period, without having provided proof of up-to-date immunisation. The grace period provisions allow the carer/family to continue to access early childhood education and care services while receiving information and assistance to get a child’s immunisations up to date and to obtain the required Immunisation History Statement from the AIR that needs to be provided to the service.
Gaining consent from guardians or parents to access and or progress immunisation is vital. General Practitioners or Maternal and Child Health Services may assist in organising immunisation catch up
How to assist a parent or guardian to enrol a child in kindergarten
- Ideally when the child is two years of age, have a conversation with the parent, family or carer about the value of kindergarten for their child. For brochures, information sheets and posters to support this conversation, see the communications material (including translated information) at www.education.vic.gov.au/kindergarten/brochures.
- Assist with finding an appropriate service by contacting the local council or go to www.education.vic.gov.au/findaservice.
- Encourage and support the parent, family or carer to contact the kindergarten about enrolment.
- Suggest that the parent, family or carer arrange to meet with the teacher and see the program in action.
Children who will turn six during kindergarten
A child may turn six years of age (compulsory school age) during kindergarten, where they started late for their age group or where a second year of funded kindergarten has been approved. In these circumstances an exemption from attending school needs to be sought. Parents or guardians must apply for an exemption before the child starts kindergarten by submitting an Exemption from school due to attendance in kindergarten program form to the appropriate DET regional office by 1 November in the year prior to the child turning six. This can be facilitated by the kindergarten program.
In 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), in conjunction with the Department of Education and Training (DET), the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) and the Early Learning Association of Australia (ELAA) committed to improve early childhood educational outcomes and participation rates through the Early Childhood Agreement for Children in Out-of-Home Care (the Agreement).
The Agreement supports the engagement of children under the age of five years in out-of-home care, with early childhood services, including kindergarten.
Under the Agreement, child protection is to advise the relevant local government contact person when a child under five years is placed in out-of-home care; and the local government contact will then provide assistance where needed to facilitate access to services such as kindergarten, long day care, family day care, occasional care, and play groups.
Please see notifying local government of a child in out-of-home care for instructions on how to notify the relevant Local Government Authority using the LGA proforma letter. Both documents are located in the Forms and secure document - out-of-home care/education and early learning on the manual.
Further information regarding the Agreement and kindergarten can be found at:
Other formal care settings provide children with experiences that contribute to their learning and development, like child care and playgroup. Further, such structured settings provide links for parents or carers in the local community, and assist in the overall transition of children from early childhood settings to school.
There are a range of universal and specialist services that offer early childhood education and care in Victoria. These are summarised below:
Long Day Care
Primarily aimed at 0–6 year olds, long day care is centre based care, typically operating for at least eight hours a day on normal working day, for a minimum of 48 weeks per year. Long day care is staffed by qualified early childhood educators. In Victoria, most long day care centres also offer a kindergarten program.
Family day care
Family day care provides home-based care for children within a carer’s home. It includes all-day care, part-time, casual, overnight and outside school-hours care.
Kindergarten is an educational program delivered by qualified early childhood teachers, who work to engage each child in effective learning, communication and thinking. Kindergarten programs in Victoria now must adhere to the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework Kindergarten can be delivered as a sessional program or integrated within a long day care program.
Occasional care is provided in a range of settings on an hourly basis, for short periods of time, or at irregular intervals. Services are delivered by qualified staff, and provide developmental activities for children primarily aged 0–6 years.
Supported playgroups funded by the Department of Education and Training are run by qualified facilitators and use evidence based strategies to support parents and carers to develop their skills and confidence to promote their children’s wellbeing and development. Supported Playgroups provide a play based social environment. Parents and carers are also supported to connect with local services in their area and linked into universal services such as Maternal and Child Health and Kindergarten. There are a number of Supported Playgroups run by Aboriginal organisations that also provide a connection to culture for children and an opportunity to meet with other Aboriginal children, families and carers.
Additional Child Care Subsidy (ACCS) (Child Wellbeing) is a Commonwealth Government subsidy that reduces the cost of child care being a barrier to children ‘at risk’ from either entering or remaining engaged with early childhood education services.
Many parents and carers involved with child protection may be eligible for ACCS (Child Wellbeing). This includes parents and carers caring for children who require care and protection under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, as well as vulnerable children who are in receipt of voluntary support services, or subject to informal kinship care arrangements.
Please see the links below for further information:
Factsheet one: Additional Child Care Subsidy (child wellbeing) Factsheet for Child Protection, CSOs and ACCOs working with children who are subject to an Interim Accommodation Order or Protection Order
Factsheet two: Additional Child Care Subsidy (child wellbeing) Factsheet for Child Protection, CSOs and ACCOs working with children who are at risk but not subject to an Interim Accommodation Order or Protection Order