Connected Beginnings is an Australian Government grants program that helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children get the best start to life.
On this page:
About the program
Connected Beginnings draws upon the strength and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders communities. The aim is to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s and families’ engagement with health and early childhood education and care. It improves access to existing early childhood, maternal and child health, and family support services so children are safe, healthy and ready to thrive at school by the age of five.
Connected Beginnings is a grants program. Grants are made available across Australia. Funding is used to integrate local support services so children and families can access culturally appropriate support services, including:
- maternal and child health
- early childhood education and care
- family support
- preschools and schools
- local government and council support.
The program is jointly funded by us and the Department of Health and Aged Care.
Connected Beginnings supports 40 sites across every state and territory in Australia.
In 2021, the Australian Government committed $81.8 million to expand the program to 50 sites nationally by 2025.
Learn more about the sites and expansion.
How does it work?
Connected Beginnings is administered through a ‘restricted non-competitive selection process’. This means that we invite specific organisations to apply for the grant.
Connected Beginnings is community owned and led. This means Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a say in how activities funded by the grant are delivered to their people, in their own places and on their Country.
Connected Beginnings is a ‘place-based’ grant. This means the grant must be used to meet the unique requirements of the local community. Activities must centre on the needs of the people in that community.
Connected Beginnings uses a collective impact approach. This means that community members and organisations work together to:
- identify the community’s strengths, skills and resources
- identify issues affecting their community
- co-design solutions to these issues
- fund solutions that suit the priorities and needs of each location.
Closing the Gap
Connected Beginnings is a Closing the Gap measure. It supports all Closing the Gap priority reforms and focuses on targets 2, 3 and 4.
Grant recipients are called ‘backbone’ organisations. Backbone teams work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members and organisations to codesign goals and solutions to support children.
This ensures Connected Beginnings:
- is led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
- funds meaningful activities delivered in place and on Country
- funds solutions that meet the unique needs of each community.
The composition of the backbone team depends on the needs of the community. It is generally made up of a small team of 3 to 6 key roles, including:
- project director
- coordination position
- community engagement officer
- data officer
- family engagement officer or other positions which have a ‘linking’ or outreach focus
Backbone teams work with Elders, community and leadership groups, service providers, schools, and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation (ACCOs) to establish a governance structure. This could be a leadership table to determine the best way to achieve outcomes by co-designing goals and strategies with the community. Together, they use local language, culture and storytelling to develop Community Action Plans.
We engage a Community Partner, who supports the program and helps guide the approach on the ground for community-led and culturally safe early childhood projects. The Community Partner is SNAICC – National Voice for our Children which is contracted to oversee key aspects of the grant, including:
- scoping new Connected Beginnings sites
- offering foundational support to new sites
- providing ongoing support to existing sites.
When and how are grants offered?
When determining which communities to partner with, we consider:
- child development needs, as shown by the Australian Early Development Census
- population size and socioeconomic data
- consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies and state and territory government agencies.
Once we have identified a site, we start extensive community consultations based on engagement and collaboration. This helps both us and the community to decide whether and how to establish a Connected Beginnings project. This happens in three phases:
- Consultation with community leaders, such as Elders and ACCO and non-Indigenous service providers
The community must have a shared vision for early childhood development. We also consider the community’s willingness, capacity and capability to lead the effort.
- Readiness assessment
We work with the community to confirm they understand Connected Beginnings and want to be considered for a grant.
Together, we map what a Connected Beginnings project could look like. The community also recommends which organisation it believes is best placed to receive an invitation from us to apply for funding.
If a community decides it is not ready for a Connected Beginnings project, we won’t make a grant offer.
- Invite organisations to apply
Organisations that are invited to apply can get help from the Community Partner during the application process. Successful applicants become the backbone organisation.
Generally, we offer 6–8 grants per year.
How do I apply?
When we issue a grant offer, we will let you know what you need to do.
If you are successful applying for a grant, you must enter into a grant agreement. View a sample grant agreement.
What can grant money be used for?
Grants can be used to fund activities like:
- establishing and providing wages for a small backbone team
- operating expenses such as rent, lease of computers, phones and administration
- developing and implementing a model of shared governance for the project, involving the community, ACCO and mainstream services
- building community engagement for families and their children to connect to available services
- culturally appropriate resources to gather community voice, through systems mapping, surveys or interviews
- developing training for parents, carers, kinship networks on relevant early years topics or related topics that support a healthy environment for children at home and school
- developing and implementing data sharing and evaluation arrangements
- developing and delivering training packages for staff in community organisations, reinforcing new ways of working and cultural responsiveness and safety
- professional development including capacity building, community research, collective impact and trauma training.
Evidence and evaluation
Connected Beginnings aims to improve children’s school readiness. Success measures across Connected Beginnings sites include:
- an increase in Centre Based Day Care (CBDC) enrolment from 3,210 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the September quarter 2019 to 3,690 children in the September quarter 2022
- an increase in CBDC attendance from 346 hours in the September quarter 2019 to 381 hours in the September quarter 2022
- an increase in the year before full-time schooling preschool enrolment from 2,398 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in 2018 to 2,632 children in 2022.
Mid-term report 2023
We and the Department of Health and Aged Care commissioned a mid-term 2023 evaluation of the program. The review was in line with the program’s Understanding Measurement Evaluation and Learning Strategy.
The evaluation captured learnings for all partners to:
- inform the running of the program
- progress practice
- ensure accountability within government agencies to First Nations communities and governance groups
- provide strong evidence for place-based work.
Inside Policy conducted the evaluation. It found the program supported positive early educational and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. It found:
- qualitative examples of increased school readiness in Connected Beginnings communities
- children’s and mothers’ health and wellbeing were supported
- children experienced increased exposure to their culture
- parents felt empowered to support child health, development and early learning
- families were holistically supported.
Final report 2019
Connected Beginnings was initially evaluated in 2019.
Connected Beginnings Advisory Group
The departmental advisory group:
- provides high level advice and guidance on the program’s expansion
- strengthens how the program will embed the Closing the Gap Priority Reforms.
The group is co-chaired by SNAICC, and comprises leaders in:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early years
- child and maternal health
- place-based initiatives.
- Learn more in the Connected Beginnings program guidelines.
- If you are successful applying for a grant, you must enter into a grant agreement. View a sample grant agreement.
- Read Evaluation of Connected Beginnings Program.
- Backbone organisations can download templates for factsheets and presentations for program-related activities. These feature artwork from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artist. We also have versions where you can insert artwork from an artist from your own community
- Read the ACCO Leadership Transition Framework.
More information and contacts
Connected Beginnings is funded by us and the Department of Health and Aged Care.
Visit the Department of Health and Aged Care website for more information.
If you have more questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.