AMA Vice President, Dr Choong-Siew Yong said today that properly-funded preschools must be made available to all young children to set them on a strong start to good health and wellbeing throughout life.
Dr Yong, a child psychiatrist, was responding to the Starting Strong II report, released in Italy today, which found that out of 20 OECD nations Australia had the lowest spending on preschools and the worst-paid kindergarten teachers.
COAG recently stated it would reform its approach to early childhood, with the aim of supporting families in improving childhood development outcomes in the first five years of a child's life.
"The developmental health and wellbeing of children and young people must become a national priority."
Quality childcare and preschool is particularly important for children from at-risk backgrounds, Dr Yong added.
"Children from a disadvantaged socio-economic background are also those most likely to develop chronic physical and mental health problems later in life," Dr Yong said.
High quality preschool provides children with the well-planned, stimulating and safe environment in which to develop the basic skills for life and learning necessary to thrive once they go to school.
"Children who may not have these environments at home and who have not attended a good quality preschool and kindergarten may arrive at school without the social, emotional and linguistic skills to thrive. Many never catch up with their peers," Dr Yong said.
"By giving at-risk children the best chance to benefit from their education, we can widen their opportunities as they grow up and improve their chances of maintaining good physical and mental health.
"Children educated by properly trained preschool teachers with four-year teaching degrees have much better behavioural and academic outcomes than others, and those with better outcomes are much more likely to maintain general health and wellbeing throughout their youth and adulthood."
"State, Territory and Federal Governments all have a responsibility to improve early childhood education by making preschool available to all children and ensuring that each preschool employs at least one properly-trained teacher."
The United States, Britain and many European nations spend at least five times as much on preschool as Australia.
"We need to invest in the future now. Every year we fail to invest in decent preschools, we have failed another group of children," Dr Yong said.