ECA’s advocacy: 75 years and going strong
For 75 years the organisation we now know and love as Early Childhood Australia (ECA) has promoted the wellbeing of young children, particularly (but not only) young children in early childhood education and care (ECEC) services. It has done this through times of challenging world events, major social and political change and several name changes of its own.
ECA’s founders were determined volunteers concerned for the wellbeing and early care and education of Australia’s young children. They knew big improvements were needed and through the aftermath of the Depression and the difficult years of World War II they lobbied government, developed services and supported staff. Their legacy lives on in today’s ECA.
Major social changes and professional developments in subsequent years raised further challenges and advocacy issues that moulded the organisation.
One significant example is the ‘education/care’ issue. ECA had developed from the ‘preschool’ sector and there were many members who firmly believed that mothers should not be in paid employment but should be at home, their children attending high-quality part-time preschools/kindergartens. The 1960s and 1970s saw ECA and others engaged in bitter conflicts over this issue. It was finally resolved by ECA embracing all ECEC services and ultimately concluding that early education and care are part of one another, cannot be separated and should be delivered together, simultaneously through all programs. This impacted on all aspects of the organisation and its work and remains an advocacy message today.
The passion of the founders has lived on in ECA’s mission, ‘to advocate to ensure quality, social justice and equity in all issues relating to the education and care of young children from birth to eight years’. ECA’s advocacy has always revolved around related major themes including:
- The need for ‘evidence-based’ quality in all ECEC services, including professional practice and programs, staff training and qualifications, child:adult ratios, group sizes, and environments.
- The importance of a strong body of well-qualified, supported and led early childhood professionals.
- The responsibility to respect all children as individuals with rights both as children and as citizens of our society. ECA particularly recognises our unique obligation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
- Members and supporters will recognise many of ECA’s individual advocacy initiatives, including the highly regarded ECA Code of Ethics, as reflecting these themes.
ECA’s approach has always been to advocate both directly (through lobbying government, writing submissions, and gaining media coverage) and more broadly through activities:
- As a national organisation with state- and territory-based Branches, ECA is active around Australia. It uses skilled members who contribute ‘real-life’ ECEC experience and expertise to resolve issues through a solution-focused approach and this gives authenticity and authority to positions and messages.
- ECA‘s advocacy positions are driven by its mission, values and principles and are protected by its non-partisan independence. This leads many people to trust the integrity of ECA’s positions and feel safe supporting them.
- ECA reinforces advocacy messages through all aspects of its work including:
- traditional activities (such as ECA conferences and print publications) which are kept relevant, fresh and engaging
- new technologies and techniques which strengthen reach (e.g. web-based resources and forums)
- partnerships characterised by strong relationships and fruitful discussions e.g. the National Children’s Services Forum, initiated by ECA, promotes conversations among national children’s services peaks, government and other relevant organisations.
Significance and continuing need
While it can be difficult to judge the effect of advocacy, its value in raising issues, informing governments, stakeholders and the community and energising, mobilising and giving voice to the concerns of supporters cannot be underestimated.
Thinking back over ECA’s first 75 years, we see that many young children are today healthier, better cared for and better educated than previously. With specific regard to early childhood education and care services, social changes and the desire of the Australian Government to attract women into the labour market drove the enormous growth in funding and availability of childcare services over the last decades of the 20th century. More recently this has been complemented by federal and state/territory governments recognising the need for more than ‘just child care’, with the associated agreements for the national provision of high-quality integrated education and care services for the wellbeing (present and future) of both children and society.
Large scale improvements come about through government policy and funding programs but are initially promoted by community advocates. In all of these areas ECA has been a thoughtful, vocal and respected advocate for many years.
Much remains to be done, however.
- Despite the improvements already noted, there are still young children in our society, including especially many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, who miss out in basic areas such as housing, health care, nutrition, safety and education and the related potential for good life outcomes.
- The education/care issue lives on. In some jurisdictions the historical service division prevails, and young children are taken out of ‘care’ programs to attend ‘education’ programs, or attend separate ‘education’ segments within ‘care’ programs, practices which do not support true integration of education and care.
- In some places, tensions and fears around the implementation of the current quality reforms remain and suggest continuing differing views about operating and practice goals and standards.
- The (soon to be published) ECA history indicates other recurring issues including accessibility to quality ECEC for all children, inclusion, funding and affordability.
Is it possible that there are underlying issues not yet identified or dealt with that hold us back in these areas? We must work to identify, understand and deal with these, and not step back when it gets hard. More than ever we—and especially young children—need ECA to speak strongly, ask difficult questions and work internally and with others to resolve them.
Past National President, ECA
Don’t forget, Every Child is tax deductible for early childhood professionals