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Early childhood education and care providers are being encouraged to apply for grants to help them offer free health and development checks to 4-year-olds.

The NSW Department of Education and NSW Health are working together to deliver the opt-in Health and Development Checks in Early Childhood Education (HDC) Program, which has made the checks accessible to all 4-year-olds attending participating services, including public preschools, community preschools and long-day care centres.

The 2021 Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) found that over 44 per cent of NSW children are not developmentally on track when they start school. Almost half of all 4-year-olds do not get their recommended health and development check.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Education and Early Learning Prue Car said that access to high quality early childhood education and care is crucial to lifting children’s lifelong outcomes and ensures they are starting school with the skills they need to thrive.

“Free health and development checks for 4-year-olds will help identify children who might need additional support before starting school so they can get the best start in life and learning,” said Car.

The HDC program is an investment that includes health professionals from local health districts working with early childhood services to book in the checks and identify support they may need before school.

They include an assessment of children’s health and development such as their cognitive development, social and emotional development, speech and communication skills, gross and fine motor skills and how their bodies are growing.

The HDC program also aims to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children developmentally on track in all 5 of the Australian Early Development Census domains to 55 per cent by 2031, in line with Closing the Gap target 4.

“We are excited to launch these checks right across NSW to ensure our littlest learners and their families get the support they need,” said Car. “We have listened to the sector and are offering this program to make it even easier for services to support these important checks, so that even more NSW children benefit.”

The NSW Department of Education has contributed over $4 million to its new HDC Participation Grant Program, which aims to support eligible services so they can more easily access the HDC program.

Eligible services participating in the HDC program in 2024 can apply for grant funding in up to three of the following categories, with up to $7,500 in total funds available.

  1. Staffing to support the health and development checks program, for example, providing relief for educators and teachers to take time off the floor to complete pre-assessment questionnaires, or support children during the check.
  2. Developing a suitable space for the health and development checks, for example, repurposing or refurbishing rooms or spaces within the service.
  3. Building capacity to support children’s health and development after the check, for example, attending workshops or completing training.

Services can check their eligibility for the grant by visiting the department’s website and can apply through SmartyGrants.

Applications will close March 31, 2024.