By focusing on education as a determinant of health, partners from early years, education, health, government and community sectors are working together to ensure children have a positive start to learning and life.
Ready, Set, Prep! is a whole-community approach to supporting school readiness and health outcomes for children and families in Fawkner. But recently, partners have had to adapt and work in new and innovative ways.
The initiative was motivated by results from the 2015 Australian Early Development Census (AEDC), which measures children’s physical, social, emotional, language and communication skills. In Fawkner, a northern suburb of Melbourne, over one third of children were starting school developmentally vulnerable in one or more areas compared to only one fifth of children in Victoria (AEDC 2020).
In 2017, Ready, Set, Prep! partners committed to improving the lives of children and families in Fawkner, with support from the William Buckland Foundation Enabling Education Program grant. and Integrated Health Promotion funding from the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. The Ready, Set, Prep! partnership includes Merri Health, Moreland City Council, local primary schools, kindergartens, and early years and community services. In 2020, the partnership’s commitment to work alongside the community through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has seen them adopt innovative approaches, including:
- Delivering a virtual Ready, Set, Prep! Transition Network for Term 2. This included guest speaker Dr Liz Rouse, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Deakin University, presenting on ‘Supporting young children during COVID-19’, as well as interactive polls to check on staff wellbeing, student attendance rates, engagement strategies and support needs.
- Sharing hand-picked, relevant information with families through social media platforms, to provide culturally inclusive COVID-19 related information, and activities to support health, wellbeing and learning at home.
- Undertaking community consultations to gather insight into some of the key issues facing children, parents, carers and stakeholders in Fawkner, to inform a COVID-19 recovery phase and refer individual families to relevant services.
Ready, Set, Prep! has undertaken a virtual launch of six short videos about navigating the early years health and education systems and supporting healthy childhood development. The videos were co-designed with more than 200 community members and stakeholders in 2019 and have received wonderful feedback so far; “This is a beautiful video. You all did fantastic work here. It is great having this video during this time. It gives us perspective on what really matters in life!” says parent of two preschool aged children, Sandra, from Fawkner. The final video includes an illustrated map of the ‘journey to primary school’. Now more than ever, the partnership wants to share these resources far and wide to support all children to have the best start in life, to primary school and beyond.
The Ready, Set, Prep! partnership has been encouraged by early indications of success. Along with the work of early years services, updates to transition programs in all Fawkner primary schools, and the opening of a new kindergarten, the rate of children experiencing vulnerability in one or more areas has decreased from a third to a quarter in just three years (AEDC 2020). Whilst these improvements are statistically significant, the partnership is committed to reducing these numbers even further, and acknowledges the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may influence and exacerbate inequalities that will take time, resources and sustained efforts from the community and partnership to overcome.
Informed by community and partners, Ready, Set, Prep! will continue to adapt and respond during the recovery phase of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, embedding and sustaining new approaches to continue supporting Fawkner children and their families to thrive now, and for years to come. The partnership is currently seeking continued funding to ensure that their work can continue and expand into other communities within Moreland.
Visit the Ready, Set, Prep! webpage to view the videos and the illustrated ‘journey to primary school’ map, including translated versions which are available to download.