The success of an Australian-first program that offers free early childhood education to children seeking asylum was the cause for a community celebration last October. Community leaders and City of Canterbury-Bankstown Council Mayor, Khal Asfour, celebrated the Council’s pilot program, which allowed families seeking asylum to access under-utilised childcare centres in Lakemba, Punchbowl and Campsie for free.
The program was the result of a 2018 campaign led by the Sydney Alliance coalition of community groups, and NGOs working with people seeking asylum, to support children on bridging visas who lacked access to Federal childcare subsidies.
Alex Hogan, campaign co-chair from Uniting, a key Sydney Alliance partner organisation, said the celebration was a chance to celebrate and congratulate Council for improving the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in the community.
“Too often kids on bridging visas start school without any prior early learning experience, limited social interaction, and with little English.”
“When people are denied access to services, the problems do not simply disappear. Rather they tend to manifest themselves in other ways further down the line.”
“With this program we are setting up kids to flourish, giving them the skills and experience they need for a smooth transition into primary school and beyond.”
Mayor Khal Asfour called on other councils to follow the City of Canterbury-Bankstown Council’s lead.
“This program is a win-win,” he said.
“It ensures our children’s centres are always at capacity, and residents in our City currently seeking asylum are less isolated and can better integrate into the wider community.
“The program also gives parents some much needed breathing space, so they can focus on improving their English skills or undertake a vocational course at TAFE, to become job ready.”
JRS Australia Director Carolina Gottardo also called on more providers to consider similar initiatives.
“What Mayor Asfour and team have done is ground-breaking and paves the way for local councils and early learning providers around the country to follow suit,” said Ms Gottardo.
“There are hundreds, if not thousands families seeking asylum with young children who do not have access to the federal childcare subsidy. They would benefit immensely from such an opportunity.”
Since its launch in January 2019, nine local children from families seeking asylum have taken part, with families noticing improved social confidence and English literacy in their children.