The initiative arose from discussions with the Sydney Alliance People Seeking Asylum team, including Uniting’s Social Justice Forum, and with community agency the Asylum Seeker Centre.
Following community conversations with people seeking asylum to identify key challenges they face, the Alliance team discovered that people living in the community on bridging visas have no access to the federal childcare subsidy. This seriously limits their capacity to find work, seek further education and participate in the community. It also deprives their children – many of whom were born here – of the cognitive, social and language benefits of an early education. This is especially crucial for children about to start primary school.
Without the subsidy, these families would have to pay $100 or more per day, per child – making this out of reach for the vast majority.
In learning that some local councils are also providers and operators of early learning centres in their local government areas, the team approached Canterbury-Bankstown Council about opening up spaces to local children in some of their underutilised centres.
To demonstrate local and diverse community support and show how an initiative like this could make the community stronger, the Alliance team engaged local leaders from faith, union and community organisations, as well as from the Jesuit Refugee Service. This team of civil society leaders then held a powerful meeting with Mayor Khal Asfour, sharing personal stories and highlighting Council’s opportunity to show vision and leadership in this space.
With this local support and through consultations with Council a proposal for a 12-month pilot program has been drawn up and endorsed. At a recent Council meeting, Mayor Asfour expressed his hope that the pilot, if successful, would become a permanent program – and that he was pleased his Council was taking leadership.
“If we’re not trying to help the disadvantaged, then what are we doing?” he asked. “It’s vitally important children attend these early childhood services to develop their skills, including learning English, and to give them a good start in life.
“It’s equally significant that parents have this time to improve their own English skills, find work to support their families and attend legal and medical appointments, if required.”
The Sydney Alliance is now working closely with community agencies and the Uniting Links to Early Learning team to identify families to participate, with the hope that children can be enrolled in early 2019.