Inner West Council Supports free Early Education for Asylum Seeker Children

by Ruth Moraes

Members of a Catholic parish in the Inner West and Justice and Peace Office Staff who attended the Council Meeting in support of the motion for free early education for children from families seeking asylum.

The latest success in the Sydney Alliance’s campaign for early education for children seeking asylum is bringing the Inner West Council on Board. At the Council Meeting on 12 April 2022, the Inner West Council passed a unanimous motion, moved by Councillor Mat Howard, to allow unused spaces in their early childhood centres to be allocated to children from families seeking asylum.

This initiative is modelled on the pilot program that Canterbury Bankstown Council committed to in 2018, at the Sydney Alliance’s instigation. Representatives from faith, union and community organisations from the Sydney Alliance spoke in favour of the motion at the Council Meeting.

Dr. Elisabeth Kramer, from the National Tertiary Education Union, an Inner West resident and Co-Chair of the Sydney Alliance People Seeking Asylum Team spoke to how the political situation concerning people seeking protection in Australia made their lives here extremely difficult. Dr. Kramer recognised that “People Seeking asylum are some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” but “We, as a community, recognize that we can help and we want to help.”

Ruth Moraes from the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney detailed the origins of the campaign and the benefit it has been to those who have participated. “Both parents and early childhood educators have testified to the cognitive and social development in children who have taken part in this program. It has also given parents the opportunity to work and study,” she said. Her speech highlighted that despite federal policy, this initiative is one way in which local communities can make a concrete difference in the lives of people and children seeking asylum.

Maryam, a leader from the Jesuit Refugee Service who has lived experience of seeking asylum spoke about the detrimental impact of a lack of early education as well as the many benefits of children receiving early education. Maryam recalled, “When I came to Australia my son was really young but he wasn’t treated like the other children by the system, he was not eligible for preschool care.” The inability to access early education meant that Maryam’s son started school without being able to speak English and Maryam herself was hindered in job opportunities, gaining financial independence, improving her English and continuing her own education.

In urging the other Councillors to pass the motion, Councillor Howard gave his reasons for supporting the motion “because we know we are a better stronger community when we support refugees and those seeking asylum and we owe it to these kids to give them the best start possible”.

It was wonderful to see such strong community support for people seeking asylum from the Inner West Councillors by passing the motion unanimously. Several members of a St Columba’s Catholic parish in the Inner West also came along on the night to show their support for the initiative (pictured). “I was thankful for the Inner-west Council positive decision on helping the children of asylum seekers,” one of the parishioners said.

The Sydney Alliance Early Childhood Education and Care team will begin connecting the Inner West Council with asylum seeker Children in need of early education through the Jesuit Refugee Service, the House of Welcome and the Asylum Seekers Centre.

Inner West Council Meetings are now live streamed. You can hear Elisabeth, Ruth and Maryam speaking to the motion at 57:00-1:06:25 and you can hear the Councillors speaking to the motion at 2:52:00-2:56:30.

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