early years and health-led peep in Benalla, Australia

This case study demonstrates how Peep can be used in a joined-up way to help support families across education, health and family support. Info from the Tomorrow Today Foundation, Benalla, Victoria, the first people in Australia to do Peep training. For further information, please download the full report below or contact admin@tomorrowtoday.com.au 

improvements in Benalla’s early development results

The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) is a nationwide data collection that shows how young children are developing as they start their first year of full-time school. The AEDC measures five areas or domains of early childhood development: - physical health and wellbeing; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive skills; communication skills and general knowledge.

Benalla is a small city, one of 79 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the state of Victoria. In 2015, Benalla had the highest proportion (33%) of any LGA for children developmentally vulnerable on one or more of the AEDC domains. By 2018 the proportion had reduced significantly, by almost a third, to 23.5%. Benalla’s results are now better than State and National averages in the domains of physical health and wellbeing; and communication skills and general knowledge.

how has the improvement been achieved?

The strong improvement in Benalla’s results can largely be attributed to two factors: –

  1. The introduction of the Peep program in 2012

For parents and carers, Peep provides ongoing relevant and useful information that increases their knowledge of child development and gives them helpful and effective strategies that improve their parenting skills. For children, Peep supplies fun learning activities that develop pre-literacy and numeracy skills, and a social setting that fosters positive interaction, independence, resilience and emotional maturity. Over 200 Benalla families with children aged 0 to 5 attend Peep annually. Peep is open to all families but we focus staff time on attracting and retaining the most vulnerable families.

Benalla PEEP song time on a special visit to Benalla Art Gallery

  1. The strong collaborative effort across Benalla generated by the 2016 AEDC Forum convened by the Dept of Education and Training (DET), the Tomorrow Today Foundation and Benalla Rural City Council. 53 early years professionals attended the forum resulting in a high-energy commitment to focused action to reduce childhood vulnerability across Benalla. A steering group was formed to develop a cross‑institutional strategic plan based on information and discussion from the forum.

The stated purpose of the plan is to work collaboratively to improve learning and development for Benalla children aged 0 to 8. Here's a summary of the activity undertaken so far, under each of the 5 objectives (further details in the downloadable report below).

objective 1:  improved service co-ordination, collaboration and information sharing

  • Revitalisation of the Benalla Early Years Network, bringing together early years professionals from different disciplines
  • Establishment of an Early Years Facebook page
  • Work to improve the transition process between preschool and school
  • ‘Tip sheets’ developed and circulated to network members for use with families. 

objective 2:  parents and carers are supported and resourced as their child’s first and most important educator

  • Peep program supporting over 200 families each year, including discussions on school readiness for families with older child
  • Benalla Health supports Peep delivery, releasing a trained community health nurse to co-facilitate a group each fortnight
  • Maternal and Child Health team provide a referral form for Peep to parents of every child born in Benalla
  • Strong links established between Family Services, Family Liaison workers, and Peep staff to ensure parents and carers can access the support they need.
  • Peep home visit program established offering visits to families (geographically isolated or child /parent illness)
  • Parents encouraged to volunteer in Peep groups to support staff
  • Families provided with transport assistance to get to Peep and/or kinder
  • Other courses provided including New Parents groups, Great Start to School Program (supporting parent's and child’s transition to school), Young Parents group, Triple P Parenting, Tuning Into Kids, Real Men Make Great Dads, Bringing Up Great Kids
  • Unique Breastfeeding SMS support program for new mothers developed by Benalla working group involving Tomorrow Today, Benalla Health and Benalla Rural City
  • Presentations by Good Shepherd Microfinance and Berry Street Saver Plus to two of the most vulnerable Peep groups.

objective 3: children aged 0 to 8 are supported to be resilient, socially competent and emotionally mature

  • Information on secure attachment provided and importance stressed to new and prospective parents through Maternal and Child Health, Benalla Health, new parents groups, and constantly reinforced at Peep
  • Emphasis at Peep on listening, taking turns, sharing, and fostering of independence
  • Introduction of Art based activities for Benalla pre-schoolers at Benalla Art Gallery
  • Peep families make regular visits to a local nursing home to visit the elderly (inter-generational)
  • Psychologist visit to Peep to speak to parents on dealing with anxiety in children
  • All Peep staff trained in delivery of Tuning into Kids and many elements of the program incorporated into Peep sessions

objective 4:  children aged 0 to 8 are confident and involved learners and communicators

  • Benalla-wide emphasis on the importance of preschool, and two new play groups established in rural communities funded by Tomorrow Today grants
  • Speech screening now conducted in all Benalla pre-schools, and funding secured for group therapy for expressive and receptive language difficulties within the preschool setting.
  • Several Library-based multi-agency initiatives, including active encouragement of Library membership, introduction of 1,000 Books Before School program, Toddler Tales sessions, and six ‘Little Free Libraries’ across Benalla
  • Free books provided to parents of newborns
  • Let’s Count training undertaken by four Benalla preschools and two day care providers

objective 5:  children aged 0 to 8 are healthy and physically active

  • Peep groups include activities to develop fine and gross motor skills and have outdoor play sessions including excursions to local parks and lake etc
  • Benalla Health dietician regularly visits Peep
  • Benalla Health Infant Program is offered to all families who have children aged 3, 6, 9 and 12 months, discussing nutrition and physical activity during the first year of a child’s life.
  • Food Security Network established providing free fresh food and vegetables for struggling families
  • Award-winning wicking bed project established by Benalla Health and Vinnies encouraging disadvantaged families to grow fresh fruit and vegetables in their backyards. Tomorrow Today contributed grant funding.  

what next?

  • Widespread dissemination of positive AEDC results to the Benalla community and beyond
  • A second AEDC forum to celebrate the results, look at what’s worked and is working, and identify areas where further improvement can be made.

Downloadable version of the report. (Sept 2019)