Integrating early childhood services: determining definitions and factors for success

Dr Vicky Saunders1, Professor  Rachel Davey1, Professor  Margaret  Cargo1, Professor  Michelle Lincoln1, Assistant Professor  Jacqui McKechnie1, Associate Professor  Jane Herbert2, Professor  Christine Phillips3

1Health Research Institute, University Of Canberra, Canberra, Australia, 2University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia, 3Australian National University, Canberra, Australia


Research evidence identifies that because many different factors affect child development, no single form of intervention can make a sustained difference and to improve long-term developmental outcomes for children, a multi-sector, ecological approach to early, sustained intervention is required. Subsequently, optimising early childhood development requires a holistic approach to policy and service delivery.

Increasingly, early childhood services are establishing integrated service models to meet the needs of young children and families particularly those vulnerable to poor outcomes. Studies show that although the concept of integration is discussed widely across the early childhood context, there appears to be little consensus on the definition of integration, or the mechanisms required for successful implementation in practice.

To inform the service integration component of the Medical Research Future Funded Good start in life for young children project in the ACT, a scoping review was undertaken to consider definitions of service integration that have been utilised across health, education and community support services in the early childhood. A comprehensive search of five databases was conducted, and 58 eligible articles were analysed using text analysis software.

This presentation will discuss key themes in the definition of service integration, as well as the many barriers and facilitators to implementing an integrated service delivery model. Review findings suggest that the dynamic, complex, and multi-level nature of early childhood service delivery does not support a singular definition of the term. The definitions are context specific and need to be generated for each initiative. Essential elements of service integration were identified in the review that can either act as a barrier to or facilitate service integration in early childhood contexts. The implications of these findings for the service integration component of the Good Start project will be discussed.



Dr Vicky Saunders is a post-doctoral research officer in the Health Research Institute at the University of Canberra. Vicky completed her doctoral study examining children and young peoples experiences of parental incarceration in 2019. Vicky is strongly motivated by matters of equality and social justice and has over 15 years of research experience related to reducing vulnerability and improving outcomes for children and young people. Vicky’s current research focuses on public health approaches to improving developmental outcomes in children aged 0-5 years.