University Of New England, Brisbane, Australia
The evidence is clear that access to high quality universal early childhood education and care programs, such as kindergarten/
preschool provide a safe, stabilising influence for children from refugee backgrounds in resettlement, affording a powerful means of transcending vulnerability. High quality ECEC programs enhance a child’s: resilience, cognitive, behavioural, social and linguistic skills; laying the foundations for successful transition to school, and future health, educational and employment outcomes. The problem is that children from refugee backgrounds are not equitably enrolled in ECEC services in Queensland, and early childhood practitioners (ECPs) are frequently ill prepared to work with children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who have
experienced war-related trauma.
In this qualitative study into the barriers and enablers to ECEC participation for families from refugee backgrounds in South East Queensland, data was sourced from 55 participants, consisting of parents, ECPs and managers, through seven organisations affiliated with the Pre-Kindergarten Grants Program, an initiative of the Queensland Department of Education and Training from 2013 to 2016.
Findings reveal that most families from refugee backgrounds were excluded from ECEC services due to cost, linguistic discrimination, racial prejudice, or because they were seeking asylum. For families who enrolled, many withdrew children due to: lack of respect, racial tensions, negative perceptions about quality of care, fear of children being abused by educators, and fear of State intervention.
Families who continued to participate, did so mainly because their ECPs fostered culturally safe and secure environments, promoting both child and family inclusion. These ECPs gained understanding of child development within a cross-cultural context, facilitated dual-language learning, and used trauma-informed practice.
The magnitude of systemic neglect entails an overhaul of barriers preventing participation in ECEC services for families from refugee backgrounds, and investment in professional development to foster cross-cultural competencies and trauma-informed practice for all ECPs in Queensland.