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School readiness program for Aboriginal children with additional needs: working with children, families, communities and service providers

Children Social isolation Aboriginal Australians Schools Early childhood education Australia
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This report presents an evaluation of a school readiness program for Aboriginal children with additional needs, assessing the benefits for the children, their families and communities as well as local service providers. The outcomes of the evaluation may be useful when considering future service models to support Aboriginal families of children with disabilities, developmental delay or challenging behaviours.

Executive summary

Northcott Disability Services in partnership with the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) is evaluating Northcott’s school readiness program for Aboriginal children with additional needs (the Program), which works with Aboriginal children with developmental delays or disabilities and their families to support school readiness and successful transition to school.

In the Program, Northcott provides inclusive playgroups; preschool and school based support; family information, training and support; information and training for preschool and school teachers; and therapy. The Program is in two sites in NSW: one urban and one rural Local Government Area (LGA). The urban LGA is located in metropolitan Sydney, and the rural LGA consists of small towns and remote areas. In both sites, Program services are delivered in several locations from January 2012 to June 2013. The Program is funded by Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC), Department of Family and Community Services NSW.

This interim report presents the findings of the first round of data collection for the evaluation. Data were collected close to the beginning of service provision, from February to April 2012. The evaluation applies participatory research principles and includes a literature review; interviews with teachers, service providers and families; and program data about changes in the capacity of children, families and communities. It is conducted over eighteen months to June 2013, concurrent with service provision.


  • In the rural Program site, staff recruitment and retention were difficult, travelling took considerable proportions of staff time, and a shortage of health specialist and therapy services impeded Program implementation.
  • The Program needed a set up time of more than one year to build trust within communities, and it would benefit from longer service delivery times of more than one year to achieve sustainable outcomes. The Program was extended by six months to June 2013.
  • Engaging Aboriginal families in the Program required time to build trust with the families and communities, identifying support for general needs of the family in addition to the child’s disability needs, and achieving some short-term goals.
  • Collaboration with schools and preschools was facilitated by existing experience with disability issues among teaching staff, and by good internal communication within schools and preschools.
  • Partnerships with other local service providers were easier to establish in locations where Northcott was well-known and staff had personal connections in the community.
  • The participatory action research methodology used in the evaluation gave Northcott staff the opportunity to gain research and evaluation experience and to improve the Program as it progressed.

Authored by Christiane Purcal, BJ Newton, Karen R. Fisher, Christine Eastman and Terri Mears.

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