Ready, Set, Prep!: a collaborative approach to support school readiness and early life outcomes by increasing family engagement, implementing targeted interventions for the most vulnerable and streamlining early years health and education systems in northern Melbourne

Miss Kat Thorn1

1Merri Health, Coburg, Australia

Ready, Set, Prep! (RSP) is a place-based, collective impact initiative that aims to improve school readiness and life outcomes for children in Fawkner. Fawkner is a culturally diverse suburb in Moreland’s north, with many newly arrived families and high levels of socioeconomic disadvantage (SEIFA: 915.6 [ABS, 2016]). The 2015 Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) results provided compelling evidence to implement a concentrated, whole-of-community school readiness intervention to empower children and families in the area. These results showed that more than one-third (37%) of children in Fawkner start school developmentally vulnerable in one or more areas- significantly higher than the municipal (20.8%) and state (19.9%) averages. The subsequent funding for a four-year period, by the William Buckland Foundation and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, supported the formation of the RSP partnership. With Merri Health as the backbone organisation, the RSP partnership worked collaboratively alongside community members to change systems that exacerbate inequality, and implement targeted initiatives to prepare children and families for their first year at primary school, including: improving transition processes, launching a Transition Network, supporting organisations to facilitate specific programs within the community, and co-designing resources to share key messages. The collective impact of partners has led to a decrease in the number of children starting school developmentally vulnerable on one or more AEDC domains; similar improvements are not seen in neighbouring suburbs (2018: Fawkner 26%, Glenroy 32%). RSP is therefore expanding and co-designing a new vision to scale-up efforts across northern Moreland. This recognises that long-term, population-level, systems-change in early years, education and health sectors is not bound by suburb borders, better reflecting the intersections of disadvantage between neighbouring communities. There will also be a renewed focus on community-driven, localised solutions to tackle the highly complex barriers facing these children and families.


Biography:

Kat Thorn is a Health Promotion Officer at Merri Health, the backbone organisation of Ready, Set, Prep! Kat has been working in community health services in regional and metropolitan settings for the last six years. She is passionate about supporting health and wellbeing through partnering with the community on locally-driven initiatives, to achieve the best life outcomes.