Engaging Families in Early Education


About the Research

Real people. Real stories.

Most, but not all, children in Australia participate in early education before they start school. Some families who experience financial difficulties find it hard to use preschools, long day care and family day care (early learning services). Early learning services, researchers, and governments do not always understand what life is really like for families on low incomes. We are doing this research because we are hoping that if we all understood everyday life for the families who miss out then we can make early learning services better and easier to use.

In this research we aim to learn from families what makes it easier to send their children to early education, and to learn from services and key stakeholders what practices and systems encourage a wide range of families to participate.

We will share what we find with all families, educators and services who participate to make sure we understand the situation well. We will also share findings with early learning services, policy makers and researchers, so that others can learn what practices support families living on low incomes best. In sharing this knowledge, we are committed to protecting the confidentiality and anonymity of research participants.

This project is for

Families Educators Services Providers


The research aims to:


Generate new knowledge about the everyday lives of families with young children experiencing economic adversity.


Provide deep insights into innovative, responsive, and effective early learning practices with these families that have not, as yet, been effectively documented, strengthened and brought to scale.


Strengthen the evidence base for government policy making with regards to the early learning and care needs of families experiencing economic adversity.


Sustained participation in quality Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) breaks the cycle of disadvantage by improving the immediate and longer term educational and health outcomes of children who face economic adversity and its related challenges (Barnett & Nores, 2015; Taggart et al., 2015; Tayler et al, 2015). Yet in Australia:

Yet in Australia:

Indigenous children, children from non-English speaking backgrounds, and children from low income families are underrepresented in ECEC services (Productivity Commission, 2020)
Children from the quintile of highest socio-economic disadvantage attending preschool programs in the year before school are underrepresented (Productivity Commission 2020); and
A quarter of children enrolled in a preschool program are not attending for the full 15 hours per week, with Indigenous children overrepresented (Pascoe and Brennan, 2017).

These statistics highlight the underutilisation of ECEC by low-income families in Australia and suggest poor inclusion even when they are enrolled.

Despite this persistent problem, surprisingly little is known about how ECEC services can adapt their pedagogical, administrative and outreach work to effectively engage with and respond to the strengths, aspirations and needs of such families. This project was developed in response to this problem and to the Productivity Commission’s call for further evidence ‘on aspects of parental engagement and the culture of the home learning environment’ (2016:15).

The project also addresses a key barrier to the participation of families living in poverty in ECEC services: early childhood educators lacking the requisite knowledge and skills to understand and work with the complexities of these families’ lives. The project will be capacity-building, enabling pedagogical innovation through the development of web-based professional learning tools to support educators’ engagement with families and children who experience financial adversity and find services hard to use. For early childhood teachers (ECTs), these tools will include NESA-accredited professional training.  Allied health professionals will be able to learn more about the everyday lives of the families they work with and how families interact with them and early learning services.


Pascoe, A & Brennan, D. (2017) Lifting our game: Report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools through early childhood interventions. Retrieved from https://det.qld.gov.au/earlychildhood/news/Documents/pdf/lifting-our-game-report.pdf

Taggart, B., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., & Siraj, I. (2015). Effective pre-school, primary and secondary education project (EPPSE 3-16+). Research Brief, UK Department for Education.

Taylor, C., Cloney, D., & Niklas, F. (2015). A bird in the hand: Understanding the trajectories of development of young children and the need for action to improve outcomes. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 40(3), 51-60.


This research was partially funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council Linkage Projects Grant (LP180100142) and by the NSW Department of Education through the Strategic Research Fund.


The Engaging Families in Early Education project is a collaboration between the Social Policy Research Centre (University of NSW), The University of Sydney, Western Sydney University and Manchester Metropolitan University (UK).

The research is supported by Early Childhood Australia, KU Children’s Services, Goodstart Early Learning, The Creche & Kindergarten Association, and Family Day Care Australia.

The website was created by The Design Embassy using photography from Jamie James. The project logo was created by Ella Hailey.

We acknowledge the Bedegal, Gadigal, Darug, and Dharawal people as the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work.