A leading Ballarat charity has launched a major drive to unravel the causes that could create the underclass of Ballarat's future.
Philanthropic organisation the Ballarat Foundation is calling for a collaborative community effort to promote early intervention that could have enormous impact on a young person's future.
One in five children in Ballarat are facing significant challenges in their development during their first year of school, new data reveals.
Research shows this has direct impacts on long-term school outcomes and health and social problems.
Ballarat Foundation chief executive Matt Jenkins said the number of children developmentally vulnerable in Ballarat was lower than the national figure, but more needed to be done to improve outcomes for children in a city that prides itself as a leader in high-quality education.
Australian Early Development Census data released this week revealed physical health and well-being was a particular area of concern for children in Ballarat.
There was a significant increase in the percentage of children developmentally vulnerable in the domain of physical health and wellbeing from eight per cent in 2015 to 11.1 per cent in 2018.
This may include children being dressed inappropriately, frequently late or hungry or tired, meaning they are usually clumsy and may have fading energy levels.
In contrast, improvements were made in all other development domains in Ballarat including language and cognitive skills, communication skills and general knowledge, emotional maturity, and social competence.
The percentage of children attending playgroup, day care, preschool and kindergarten has also increased in Ballarat since 2015.
Mr Jenkins said Ballarat's growing population and increasing social challenges were impacting children as they begin school.
"This data shows young children are not immune to some of the challenges disadvantage brings," he said.
"So much research says starting the school journey well helps children to prosper later on in life. When kids start behind it is little wonder why some find it hard to achieve at school."
The early development census data shows 14.6 per cent of children in their first year of school had at least sometimes experienced coming unprepared for school by being dressed inappropriately, coming to school late, or being hungry or tired.
"That really feeds into the challenges of housing security and food security we have worked so hard for across Ballarat in the last few years," Mr Jenkins said.
The suburb of Wendouree presented the most concerning statistics - 44 per cent of children in Wendouree are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains and 33.9 per cent are developmentally vulnerable on two or more domains, the Ballarat community profile reveals.
The data will help inform the Ballarat Foundation to break the cycle of disadvantage.
No child should start school developmentally vulnerable.Matt Jenkins, Ballarat Foundation
"Early childhood is the first opportunity to shape a young person's life," Mr Jenkins said.
"If we get it right there we can have an impact on the youth sector, housing and food security. If not we have to catch them at these points later down the track.
"Physical readiness is certainly an area the Ballarat Foundation will focus on while continuing to support early childhood sector."
The Ballarat Reads program delivers one book every month into the letter box of children from disadvantaged areas for the first five years of their life.
More than 250 children are involved in the program, while another 70 are signed up on a waiting list until more funding is secured.
Mr Jenkins said it was important to begin a community conversation on how Ballarat can lead the way in early childhood education and advocate for measures that support the development of children.
"Read to your children at home, talk to them about school life, and have them attending kindergarten and three year old kinder when possible," he said.
"Let's make the Ballarat community a leader in the state across all of these areas. We have such a great education system already, let's lead the way before children even get to school.
"While the report shows we have made great improvements in early childhood development, one in five children still start their school journey behind. This is no where near good enough. No child should start school developmentally vulnerable."
Victorian data shows children in regional and remote areas are worse off than inner city areas in many domains, while high rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children who are not proficient in English are more likely to be developmentally vulnerable.
More than 90 per cent of children not proficient in English were reported as developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains.
"Research shows that investing time, effort and resources in children's early years, when their brains are developing rapidly, benefits children and the whole community. Early developmental gains support children through their school years and beyond," the national early development census report reads.
Australian Early Development Census Ballarat community profile data is based on information from 1300 children that attend 48 schools across Ballarat.
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