Access to Early Learning (AEL) is an early intervention program that helps young children to take part in early childhood education and care programs.
Access to early learning (AEL) is a targeted program for three-year-old children from families with complex needs. It aims to make sure that vulnerable three-year-old children get the full benefits of attending a quality kindergarten program.
Through AEL, degree-qualified facilitators can connect families to quality education and care services that are running kindergarten programs.
Facilitators also work with families in their homes to explore learning activities they can do with their children.
- help children to access 15 hours per week of quality three-year-old kindergarten programs at low cost or no cost
- help families to find ways to support children to attend kindergarten regularly
- visit families at home to help parents and carers with activities to build on what their child is learning at kindergarten
- provide mentoring and professional learning for educators who support children in the local service system.
AEL benefits both families and early childhood educators by:
- making sure children from vulnerable backgrounds can take part in early childhood education and care
- helping parents and carers to better understand their child’s learning and development. This means parents and carers are more confident and better able to respond to their child’s needs
- improving educators’ knowledge of how to help vulnerable children and families to fully engage with early childhood education.
Children are eligible for AEL if they are referred by:
- an Enhanced Maternal and Child Health (EMCH) service
- family services
- The Orange Door or Child Protection professional.
Services will refer children from families with two or more complex needs, including:
- being known to Child Protection
- child and/or parent with intellectual or physical disability
- family violence
- mental health issues
- sexual assault
- alcohol and drug abuse.
Families referred to AEL have complex needs that can affect children regularly attending kindergarten programs. AEL gives these families extra support to help enable regular attendance and access to 15 hours per week of free or low-cost kindergarten. Please contact your local site if you have any questions about AEL eligibility.
How it works
AEL facilitators work with families and services using a child-focused and strength-based approach. They are experienced in trauma-informed practice and trained in attachment theory and relational practices.
Facilitators have a strong knowledge of the local service system and often work alongside other child and family services, such as EMCH and The Orange Door.
An AEL facilitator:
- proactively engages with services working with vulnerable families, to identify children and families eligible for AEL
- actively reaches out to children and families to understand the barriers that may prevent a child from fully taking part in a kindergarten program
- prepares the family and service to make a successful introduction to kindergarten
- develops tailored ways that the family and service can support the child to take part at kindergarten
- visits the family’s home regularly to help with home-learning activities, and builds parents’/carers’ understanding, confidence and skills to help with their child’s development and learning
- observes and addresses children’s needs through meetings and discussions with families and educators
- helps the family to engage with other services and supports as needed
- provides educators with support for reflection and coaching to strengthen inclusive, collaborative practices
- provides educators with access to additional training, where needed
- supports children’s transition to the following year of kindergarten, or the school program, in the case of AEL-School Readiness Funding program (on this page).
The AEL Guidelines give extra guidance and resources to support the program for AEL providers and program partners, including family services, child protection, maternal child and health, and early childhood education and care services.
- Access to Early Learning Guidelines 2020-2022 (PDF, 5.8MB)
- Access to Early Learning Guidelines 2020-2022 (DOCX, 4.9MB)
Proven benefits of AEL
An evaluation of AEL was completed by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI). It found the model supported high levels of kindergarten attendance and engagement from children in significantly disadvantaged circumstances.
The findings included:
- Very high levels of attendance in three-year-old kindergarten with children continuing this pattern into kindergarten in the following year. Children attended an average of 81% of enrolled hours, compared to an average attendance rate of 73% for children accessing ESK.
- Parents’ improved understanding of their children’s learning and development.
- Improved confidence in parents’ ability to respond to their children’s needs. This included the quality and frequency of parent-child interactions, behaviour management and how engaged children were in home-learning activities.
- Improved educator understanding of how to support vulnerable children and families to connect and stay engaged with early childhood education.
- Educators highly valued the one-on-one AEL support and coaching at their services.
- Stronger links between home and early childhood education and care services.
- Increased collaboration between services that are supporting families, especially when coordinating early access for very vulnerable children.
‘I prefer one-on-one connection where we can chat, discuss, go back and forth and then have a bit of time to reflect on what’s been said….. The AEL program (facilitator) has come in and we’re able to discuss where the family’s at, what we can do to help each other and then take it from there and have those reflections.’ (Early childhood educator)
Aspects of the program that support strong positive outcomes include:
- dedicated facilitators
- flexible delivery of AEL, tailored to meet each family’s circumstances
- recognising the social, emotional and practical support that vulnerable families and children need to engage in early learning
- a child-centred, non-judgemental approach to support strong, respectful relationships between:
- AEL workers and families
- educators and families
- AEL workers and educators
- AEL workers and other professionals in the broader service system.
Download the evaluation report:
- Access to Early Learning Evaluation Implementation Report (PDF, 1.6MB)
- Access to Early Learning Evaluation Implementation Report (DOCX, 1.1MB)
Locations of AEL providers
AEL providers operate in 23 sites across Victoria. Each site supports 16 three-year-olds and their families each year.
AEL providers and local government areas:
- Anglicare (Central Goldfields)
- Anglicare (Greater Bendigo)
- Anglicare (Latrobe)
- Barwon, Child, Youth & Family (Colac-Otway)
- Bethany Community Support (Greater Geelong)
- CAFS - Child and Family Services Ballarat (Ballarat)
- City of Hume (Hume)
- City of Melbourne (Melbourne)
- City of Melton (Melton)
- City of Wodonga (Wodonga)
- City of Yarra (Yarra)
- EACH (Knox and Yarra Ranges)
- EACH (Maroondah)
- FamilyCare (Greater Shepparton)
- Kids First (Mitchell)
- Kids First (Whittlesea)
- Mallee Family Care (Mildura)
- Mallee Family Care (Swan Hill)
- OzChild (Mornington Peninsula)
- OzChild (Frankston)
- Uniting (Casey and Dandenong)
- Uniting (East Gippsland)
- Uniting Wimmera (Horsham)
For more information about AEL, contact your local AEL provider.
AEL-School Readiness Funding program
AEL-SRF provides children from families with complex needs, who may otherwise miss out on kindergarten, with a rich educational experience before they start school.
To access Access to Early Learning–School Readiness Funding (AEL-SRF), early childhood education and care services can pool resources using School Readiness Funding (SRF) to purchase an AEL program, delivered by a suitably skilled provider.
There are some differences between AEL-SRF and AEL:
- AEL-SRF can support all kindergarten-age children. AEL supports children in their three-year-old kindergarten year only, setting them up for strong future engagement in learning throughout four-year-old kindergarten and their school years.
- Children enrolled in AEL can access 15 hours of funded kindergarten through the AEL grant. Children enrolled in AEL-SRF access 15 hours of kindergarten through other funding types, such as Early Start Kindergarten, per capita and/or the Kindergarten Fee Subsidy.
- AEL-SRF is purchased from the SRF menu.
How services can participate in AEL-School Readiness Funding
Services interested in taking part in AEL-SRF can use their School Readiness Funding to purchase the Access to Early Learning program in their local area.
The Early Childhood Improvement Branch supporting SRF implementation in your regional office can link services that are interested in purchasing AEL-SRF with other interested services.
These organisations would also need to develop a third-party agreement or memorandum of understanding to determine the program’s implementation, funding and respective roles and responsibilities.
The branch can also suggest local services with capacity to employ and support an AEL facilitator, such as local family service providers or local government.