PRF has long had a focus on early childhood education and care, as the evidence clearly shows that early participation is critical for children’s cognitive and social development.

The evidence also shows that due to a range of access barriers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children attend early learning at a lower rate than non-Indigenous children, particularly in remote areas. Research has found that access to early years services increases, and early years services are more effective, when they are culturally safe, community-led, and employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“We know that our services are best placed to transition our children to school as ready and confident learners, proud in their identity and cultural connection,” says Jo Goulding, National Director for Early Years support at SNAICC, the national peak for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. “But we know that, of the 108 Aboriginal community controlled early years services across Australia, many operate with insufficient funding or a funding model inconsistent with service mission, and that the sector grapples with many significant structural, service and community challenges.”

In 2021, PRF provided $3.9 million to SNAICC to develop SNAICC Early Years Support, which supports and represents Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled early years services to deliver high quality, responsive, accessible, and culturally strong supports for their children, families, and communities, and to do this in a coordinated way. In 2023, PRF invested a further $6.92 million over five years in core funding to SNAICC to strengthen their advocacy and reach.

“We are building a collective voice for our services, providing a platform to share their stories, a cultural way of knowing, doing and being,” continues Jo. “We are supporting them with advocacy and the strategies needed to build early years supports that give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families, and communities opportunities to thrive.”

SNAICC Early Years Support works with 36 early years services across WA, NSW and Victoria, and in the past 18 months has secured more than $1 million in funding for services, with a number of current active fundraising opportunities supported for infrastructure, expansion and program funding, brokered partnerships with funders and other service providers, facilitated training and capacity building, and developed resources and policies. Most recently, SNAICC has been appointed as the Sector Strengthening Partner by NSW Department of Education to work with government funded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled pre-schools, increasing their reach from 17 services across the state to more than 40.

“It is just great to have someone who understands our battles and advocates for us,” says one of the NSW centres supported by SNAICC. “We bring forward Aboriginal voices from our communities, though at times we are not listened to. SNAICC has given us the opportunity to voice our Aboriginal communities’ concerns, barriers, and stresses.”

“SNAICC is central to the early years and child and family safety ecosystem in Australia and are leaders in child and family services reform agendas,” says Jackie Ruddock, PRF’s Acting Head of Early Childhood.

This story was originally published in PRF's 2023 Annual Review