The impact of children’s experiences through their first 2,000 days of life – from conception to the start of full-time schooling – are widely acknowledged. Reflecting the importance of this period on life-long health, development and learning, numerous forms of early childhood support and services are provided across Australia for young children and their families via the health, education and community sectors. Many communities have multiple early childhood services, each providing different programs, pursuing different objectives and drawing on expertise from different disciplines. Ideally, these multiple services serve complementary functions for children and families within their community but in some places, the services duplicate (or even compete with) each other and in other places, there are significant service gaps or unmet demand.
Most reports of early childhood service provision in Australia address one discipline at a time – the child health sector or the preschool sector, etc. Such sector-specific reports rarely consider the ‘touch-points’ that unify the parallel sectors with which families and young children are simultaneously engaged. In contrast, this paper provides a high-level outline of provision for Australian children from conception to full-time schooling across two key disciplines (i.e.: health and education) in one cohesive paper. It aims to foreground current strengths and gaps across Australia and within each state and territory, and to offer a platform upon which to build a more cohesive early childhood system for all Australian children from conception to classroom. A key observation from the data compiled in this report is that many parents and families encounter early childhood ‘health’ and ‘education’ services as disparate entities with limited integration. This lack of integration presents a barrier to engagement for parents and represents a significant opportunity for reform of the early childhood system in the service of families and young children.