Early childhood

The early years of a child’s development can impact their entire lives.


    The early years of a child’s development can impact their entire lives. Research tells us, inclusive and accessible early childhood experiences are one of the surest and most sustainable pathways to an inclusive life and all the benefits that brings to the child and their family. Early childhood education and care are the first steps of an inclusive life. CYDA wants to make sure that families and children get the support they need to ensure an inclusive experience as early as possible.

    This is why it is so important that they receive the supports they need, when they need them, so they have every opportunity to thrive now and as they transition into middle childhood and beyond. When children and young people are given equal opportunities to engage in a quality education, employment, make friends, and enjoy community life, we all benefit – culturally, socially and economically.

    Research includes:

    Image description: Young boy being assisted to add pink icing on top of vanilla cupcakes by a female hand with grey fingernails. Boy is smiling. 

    Inclusion in early childhood 

    Even as a young child, in a play-based setting, there are components to inclusion that are crucial to participating and learning. 

    Physical inclusion - present and fully participating in the same learning environments that is accessible to all children, for the same amount of time.

    Social inclusion - socially all children are welcomed, supported to belong and not separated from their peers on the basis of disability or difference.

    Curriculum inclusion – curriculum is delivered accessibly, so all children are included in the same learning material, with appropriate support and adjustments.

    System inclusion - close existing gaps (e.g. lack of teacher knowledge and skills in providing education to children with disability, inadequate learning resources), minimise impact of existing educational disadvantage and optimise limited resources for community-wide outcomes.

    Barriers to inclusion

    Every child, with or without disability, deserves quality, accessible and inclusive early childhood learning. Young children with disability are not getting this now, with or without the NDIS. Early experiences are critical. Young people with disability speak of their early childhood experiences and the memories of fun had with their friends and family – mud, music, parties, playing at the park etc. The wellbeing of Australia’s children is based on all children having their needs met.  Needs that span services and support for their health, learning, housing, feeling loved and safe, and feeling good about who they are. 

    There is evidence that there is an over reliance on early intervention, segregated settings and special programs, leading children and families away from the natural childhood environments and children their own age.  

    Research includes:

    Barriers include:

    Culture and ableism - Difference or delays in development (diagnosed or not) often divert children and families from the natural paths of childhood 

    Lack of voice - Children and young people with disability are not front and centre and their voice is not heard or sought

    Resources - Information (and influences) is widely available and voluminous with a strong emphasis on the child meeting development milestones. This can be overwhelming for families. Resources where available also tend to be siloed and directed to ‘special’ programs and segregated settings.

    Capacity and capability of informal supports – The reliance on families, parents and caregivers to advocate for inclusion is significant. They are faced with mounting pressure to seek 'early intervention' whilst simultaneously bearing responsibility for building an inclusive community around child and family. This is coupled with an over reliance on the resilience and capacity of parent/carer/family to always advocate for their child in every area of the child’s lives, with little or no funding or development of independent and individual advocacy support.

    Capacity and capability of formal supports - Lack of investment in awareness raising for professionals across all systems as to children and young people’s human rights, the law, the evidence base and the benefits for everyone.

    Intersectionality - Formal and informal social supports struggle to deal with intersectionality between disability and other areas of difference

    Webinar series 'Inclusion in early childhood'

    (White background image, top green banner with words “Webinar series 2022” in white, below green banner words “Inclusion in early childhood Learn from young people with disability, family members and educators. Below text is a series of images including a xylophone, bike, wind chime, ice cream cone, and turtle. Below left hand side is cyda.org.au and CYDA logo)

    Webinar recordings and materials on CYDA’s ‘Inclusion in early childhood playlist’ on YouTube - link

    Hear from young people, family members and educators about inclusion in early childhood - tips, how to start, childhood experiences etc. What activities did you like as a young child? What fun do you remember? Fun at parties, music, craft, kindy, the park or in your local community? All children benefit from being included from day one.

    Audience: These webinars are aimed at the families, caregivers and communities of young children to help build confidence to advocate for young children in everyday activities and local places. CYDA believes hearing directly from young people with disability about their experiences helps families, caregivers, and communities to have high expectations and aspirations for all children.

    Did you know that ‘inclusion’ means that every child has access to, participates meaningfully in, and experiences positive outcomes from early childhood education and care programs? From: Early Childhood Australia

    We know IT TAKES 6 for every child to be ready to learn including every child having a positive identity, confident and respected.

     The system

     “As a nation, we do not currently have a systemic & coordinated approach to child well-being:

    • We do not have a coherent, holistic or concerted national strategy, framework or plan for child and family wellbeing
    • Our current child-related national strategies – in areas such as health, education, child protection, ECEC, disability and mental health – do not yet link well enough or sufficiently drive joined up responses
    • We are lagging comparable OECD countries.
    • Our systems are failing far too many First Nations children and families.
    • Our capability and governance for systems approaches is immature.” [i]

    Children and young people experience a myriad of biological, psychological and social changes in the first 25 of years of their lives. Along with these individual changes, children and young people also rapidly transition through different life stages and encounter new systems. How they experience these life transitions – and whether there are safeguards in place – then have flow-on impacts on the trajectory of their lives and the opportunities they can access. Factoring how important and influential these early years are, services and systems must have the capacity to understand and support the distinct needs of children and young people.

    The systemic issues affecting the rights of children and young people with disability are extremely broad, spanning a large range of government portfolios and topic areas including child protection, health, education, employment, the NDIS, quality and safeguarding, to name a few. This means that children and young people’s voices need to be heard through participatory processes across a wide range of policy areas.


    [i] Hogan, M., Hatfield-Dodds, L., Barnes, L and Struthers, K (2021). Systems Leadership for Child and Youth Wellbeing: Stage 1 Synthesis Report. Every Child and Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), Australia. www.everychild.co

    Image description: Five small children, four of who are wearing hats, sitting in a blue plastic tub huddled together having fun.  

    Early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings and the law

    The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 

    Under the DDA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of a disability. The DDA protects people with disability against discrimination in many areas of public life, including education. All ECEC and school age education and care services must comply with the DDA.

    Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 it is unlawful for an ECEC and school age education and care provider to limit or refuse access to services because of a child’s disability. The provider must also make reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person with disability, unless making the adjustment would impose an unjustifiable hardship on the provider.

    The Disability Standards for Education clarify the obligations of education and training providers and the rights of people with disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. You can read more information here and view fact sheets about the Standards, including about making complaints.

    In an ECEC context, the Standards currently apply to “preschools, including kindergartens (but not child care providers)”. 

    What do the Disability Standards mean for kindergartens and preschools?

    In order to meet the Disability Standards for Education 2005, kindergarten providers are required to:

    • consult with the family to understand the impact of a child’s disability on their learning and development, and determine whether any adjustments and changes are required
    • make reasonable adjustments where necessary to processes and procedures around enrolment, access and participation in the kindergarten program and curriculum development
    • eliminate harassment and victimisation by ensuring children with disability are not isolated, humiliated, intimidated or distressed.

    The National Quality Framework (NQF) and inclusion

    A set of guiding principles underpin the NQF, which include that the:

    • rights and best interests of the child are paramount; and
    • principles of equity, inclusion and diversity underlie the National Law. Children with disability (or any groups of children with additional and/or specific needs) are not explicitly mentioned in the provisions of the National Law or the National Quality Standard (NQS).

    Instead, the NQF consistently emphasises the inclusivity of all children and the need to tailor all aspects of education and care to the unique circumstances of ‘each’ and ‘every’ child. Ensuring the the inclusivity of all children is reflected in both:

    • the NQS – providers of ECEC and school age education and care services need to cater for each child to be rated as Meeting NQS
    • the National Law and National Regulations – providers of ECEC and school age education and care services must comply with provisions under the National Law and National Regulations that prescribe obligations with respect to each child at the service. Policy, standards and regulations

    What are reasonable adjustments?

    The Disability Standards for Education 2005 require approved providers, service supervisors and management, and educators to make reasonable adjustments to enable a child with disability to access and participate in the ECEC service on the same basis as a child without disability.

    Assessing what is a reasonable adjustment requires consultation and discussion with the child, their family and any other support agencies involved. The Disability Standards for Education 2005 do not require changes to be made if this would impose ‘unjustifiable hardship’ on the approved provider.

    In deciding against certain changes, a kindergarten would need to demonstrate that the changes required to facilities, staffing or program would be extensive and unmanageable, and therefore beyond the ECEC service’s resources or available funding. In such circumstances, it is important to consider all options and explore the possibility of an alternate adjustment that would be less disruptive and intrusive, but no less beneficial to the child.

    When considering the options, it is important to focus on the purpose of an adjustment, which is to support the child to:

    • achieve individualised outcomes
    • participate fully in the program
    • be as independent as possible.

    Image description: Two individual right hand shoes, black school shoes with significant size difference. 

    Consultation with families

    The Disability Standards for Education 2005 do not specify how consultation should occur, as this will depend on the context of each child and family. The Standards do highlight that consultation is not ‘once-only’, and must be ongoing for the length of time that the child with disability is enrolled in the service.

    Enrolment policies and practices

    All ECEC services must extend the right to enroll to all children. In addition, kindergartens are required by the Disability Standards for Education 2005 to make the enrolment process clear and accessible for the child and their family. For example this may mean that the enrolment process takes longer and involves more discussion than for some other families.

    An inclusive curriculum

    In the Disability Standards for Education 2005, an inclusive curriculum is one in which a child with disability is ‘able to participate in the learning experiences … on the same basis as a [child] without disability’ (DEEWR, 2006, p. 23). This means that the curriculum offered at a kindergarten is designed to support the meaningful participation of all the children who attend, including those with disability.  

    Terminology and links for more information 



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