New reforms and extra funding will provide better pathways for special needs and vulnerable children to start kindergarten in Ballarat
The state government promised $200 million in its 2017-18 budget to help children start kindergarten early or receive support if they have a disability.
Victorian children can start government subsidised early learning at the age of four for 20 hours a week.
The early start program helps vulnerable children start a year early at the age of three, which is also optional, but costs more.
Only 40 children are currently funded for the program in a region from Ararat to Bacchus Marsh and Castlemaine to Teasdale.
Wendouree’s Linda Brown Preschool teacher Julie Duggan said there were many young victims of abuse who did not qualify for the early start program.
“The program helps vulnerable children known to child protection services because of significant deprivation,” she said.
“There is really good evidence around children starting school behind and it is quite disturbing how far behind some are when they reach school.”
Ms Duggan said early learning was so important the government should fund more kindergarten positions.
The money will also add services to help children with disabilities through modifications at the school and dedicated teachers.
There is $7.2 million allocated for early intervention for special needs children.
Mount Helen resident Jo Hall said her son Finn, who is autistic, would not have coped at a large kindergarten without extra support.
Finn attended Mount Helen Preschool before it closed after his last year there.
Ms Hall said the kindergarten had provided the perfect environment to develop her son’s social skills.
“He tried six weeks of kinder – he was only going a couple hours of week – but I searched for a kinder that was going to support him in a far more calm, quiet and intimate atmosphere, and that was Mount Helen,” she said.
“It was huge for Finn, who has audio sensory issues.”
She said dedicated teachers for Finn’s early learning would have helped if he attended a larger kindergarten.
“Finn especially for the introduction needed one-on-one, because there are so many things kids with autism find incredibly difficult,” Ms Hall said.
“There is no doubt whatsoever it would have helped.”
“For kids on the autism spectrum one of the most massive things that affects their quality of life and success at school, is their ability to make friends.”