by Ruth Moraes
The Sydney Alliance campaign for children seeking asylum to have access to early childhood education and care keeps growing with new providers coming on board to join the initiative.
For those who are not aware, a little of the history of the campaign may be helpful. In 2018, the Sydney Alliance conducted a series of listening sessions in communities of people with lived experience of seeking asylum living in Sydney. The listening sessions confirmed that the most significant change which would lead to an improvement in their lives would be a grant of permanent protection and a path to citizenship. While that goal was unlikely to succeed at the time, the listening sessions also revealed an area where the Sydney Alliance could make a tangible difference: getting access to ECEC for children seeking asylum.
Children on bridging visas do not qualify for the Commonwealth Childcare subsidy, despite the fact that most of them were born in Australia. The lack of a subsidy made ECEC completely unaffordable for their families. No access to ECEC meant that these children would miss out on the critical language, cognitive and behavioral benefits of early learning. It would also be extremely challenging for their parents to find work or study. To try resolve this problem the Sydney Alliance launched a campaign for access to early childhood education and care (ECEC) for children seeking asylum in our community.
In researching what could be done about ECEC at a local level, the Sydney Alliance was thrilled to find a champion for this cause in Karen Roberts, Children Services Manager at Canterbury Bankstown Council. Karen was keen to see how the Council could accommodate some children seeking seeking asylum in their centres and organised for a delegation of leaders from the Sydney Alliance to meet with Mayor Khal Asfour about this idea in September 2018. The Mayor was also supportive and he agreed to a pilot program of giving a place to a child seeking asylum in three of their under-utilised Council run centres. A year later at a celebration for this initiative, Mayor Asfour made this a permanent program. In 2021, Karen Roberts won a prestigious Early Childhood Education and Care award for her outstanding contribution to early childhood education and care for her work through this initiative.
The campaign has been growing steadily with new providers hearing about the initiative and wanting to provide free or reduced cost spaces. To date we have had nine providers come on board offering spaces in 18 different centres across Sydney. Despite COVID causing severe dispruptions to ECEC centres, it is encouraging to know that many centres retained their offer of spaces during COVID and new centres have come on board even during covid. So far 36 children, their families and communities have directly benefitted from this initiative.
However, the need is still much greater than the number of spaces offered. If you or anyone you know can offer a free or reduced cost space in an ECEC centre for a child seeking asylum or knows of other ways to grow the campaign, please get in touch with us.
If you would like more information about this campaign, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org