Stronger Starts Brighter Futures – Exploring trends in the early development of children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in Australia

Alanna Sincovich1, Tadgh McMahon2, Hussain Rajwani2, Sally Brinkman1

1Telethon Kids Institute, Child Health, Development, and Education Team, Adelaide, Australia, 2Settlement Services International, Sydney, Australia, 3School of Public Health, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia

There is compelling evidence of the benefits of early childhood education and care (ECEC) to promote children’s development. However, research on ECEC participation and the early developmental trajectories of children from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds in Australia is limited. Settlement Services International (SSI), a non-government organisation that works extensively with CALD families and communities in areas including settlement, disability and out-of-home care, initiated research with the Telethon Kids Institute to address this gap.

Using data from the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) in 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018, results showed that although differences in developmental vulnerability between children from CALD and non-CALD backgrounds have narrowed over time, the number of developmentally vulnerable children from CALD backgrounds continues to increase. There were also clear differences in ECEC attendance (e.g. the percentage of children from CALD backgrounds who did not attend preschool was double that among non-CALD children), which had flow on effects to children’s development at school entry. Children from CALD backgrounds who did not attend any type of ECEC were 1.8 times more likely to be developmentally vulnerable, compared to those who did attend.

Overall, findings align with the literature and SSI’s service delivery experience and highlight the barriers that CALD families face in accessing quality ECEC. At a practice level, settlement services need to promote the benefits of ECEC to newly-arrived migrant and refugee families. ECEC providers should reflect on their capacity to be culturally responsive to migrant and refugees families’ preferences and concerns. Policymakers at all levels need to ensure that planning and inclusion strategies address disparities in ECEC participation among CALD children. These children form part of the demographic changes in Australia’s population and addressing the issues evident in this research will help to reduce developmental disparities and secure Australia’s social, cultural and economic future.


Alanna is a PhD Candidate in the School of Public Health at the University of Adelaide. Her research is centred on improving strategies for population level measurement and monitoring of children’s early development in low and middle income countries. At the Telethon Kids Institute, Alanna’s research focuses on factors influencing children’s early developmental outcomes, as well as evaluation of programs and supports for families and young children across Australia. Internationally, Alanna consults for the World Bank, providing support for the implementation of early child development and education programs and working with various measures of child development for monitoring and evaluation purposes.