Development risk exposure and participation in early childhood education: how can we reach the most vulnerable children?
High-quality Early Childhood Education (ECE) is one form of early intervention that has been shown to promote early learning and development and to reduce vulnerability. However, there is evidence that children from ‘special needs’ groups—Indigenous, low SEIFA (Socio-Economics Indexes for Areas), Language Background Other Than English, children living in remote and very remote areas, and children with a disability— are simultaneously more likely to be developmentally vulnerable and less likely to participate in ECE. The greater the degree of vulnerability, the more pressing is the need for early intervention. Vulnerability that is not addressed during periods of peak developmental sensitivity becomes more difficult and more costly to reverse as a child ages and falls further behind his or her peers. This study used a data set from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) to identify the extent to which the most vulnerable children in terms of risk burden were participating in ECE— either preschool or long day care (LDC)—during the year before compulsory school. It identified the prevalence of risk factors amongst special needs groups. Finally, it examined the relationship between risk factors, participation in ECE and developmental outcomes.