The Early Years Catalyst commissioned the Telethon Kids Institute to conduct an in-depth exploration of the mental models shaping Australia’s early years systems. Our goal was to answer the following questions:  

  1. What do we need to know about the mental models maintaining the current state and those needed for the future of Australia’s early years system? 
  2. What strategies can shift these mental models effectively?
  3. What approach can we use to shift the mental models shaping Early Childhood Development (ECD) outcomes in Australia today?

Key Findings: 

The report identifies 22 mental models across four focus areas, including:  

  • Child development, parenting, and the gendered nature of care.  
  • Proactive effective governments, services, and policymaking.  
  • Poverty, disadvantage, inequity, racism, and breaking cycles.  
  • Integrated, connected, and proactive early childhood development systems, and family choice. 

The report reveals nuanced challenges in shifting mental models within Australia’s ECD systems. It’s a long and complex process, involving a dynamic interplay of mental models, the systems, and behaviours. Three critical elements were identified for deeper-level change:  

  1. Strengthen Motivation: Collaboratively define the desired future state, identify key stakeholders, communicate effectively, and develop a robust monitoring and evaluation framework. Motivation should be intrinsic, with a shared vision. 
  2. Strengthen Capability: Develop a central resource repository, encourage exploration of implicit beliefs, and leverage organisational capabilities for community programs. Prioritise collaboration, diverse leadership, strengths-based practices and empower individuals with skills and resources. 
  3. Strengthen Opportunity: Establish a sustainable funding plan, create a risk management strategy, consider perspectives of those most impacted, and allocate resources for leadership at all levels. This involves creating supportive structures and environments.

Shifting mental models at scale requires consistent long-term action and shared leadership at all levels, from the individual level to policy wide.  

We preface an exploration of the report with a cautionary note, acknowledging deficit-based language and stigmatising terms. It reflects lived experiences and societal perceptions. Please take care when engaging in this content, particularly if it resonates closely with your own lived experience. 

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