2023 awards

We are proud to present the outstanding organisations and professionals who have been recognised in the 2023 HESTA Early Childhood Education & Care Awards.

Advancing Pedagogy & Practice

Individual Leadership

Outstanding Service

Read the media release



Advancing Pedagogy & Practice




Balnarring Pre-School
Balnarring, VIC

Karen and the teaching team at Balnarring Pre-School have been leaders in implementing a nature program which involves learning in and with natural environments.

They teach towards embedding First Nations Peoples' knowledge and cultures, to ensure First Nations Peoples' teachings are part of everyday practice.

The team has strengthened relationships with Boon Wurrung Elders N’arwee’t Dr. Carolyn Briggs and Fay Stewart-Muir who have, through these respectful relationships, granted permission for them to share Boon Wurrung language and cultures within their pedagogical practices.

A Reconciliation Action Plan and Reconciliation Policy have been developed by the team to express the commitments required by all who are part of the preschool.

The esteemed Elders have also taught the centre language pronunciation, with the team creating a book to revisit the learnings.

In future, Karen and the team would like to complete further cultural awareness training, facilitate and financially support the Bundjill Nest conference which provides learning opportunities for teachers across the education sector, and run a Little Long walk later this year.


Goodstart Early Learning Smithfield
Smithfield SA

The team at Goodstart Early Learning Smithfield is recognised for using their EChO (Enhancing Childrens Outcomes) training to provide families and children experiencing disadvantage and trauma with the holistic care they need.

Their program focuses on emotional security and dispositions, as they know a child who feels safe and confident is a child open to learning.

The children participate in a breakfast program, receiving nutritious meals to eat on-site and extra meals cooked by the centre’s cook to take home. Families receive hampers from Foodbank and Oz Harvest to ensure no child goes hungry. The team also implemented the Health to Go program, where children can receive initial health and development assessments at the centre for free.

After taking on a journey of upskilling and knowledge building, the team now prides itself as a service that understands and supports the needs of the local community and provides an inclusive environment for children and families.

Next, they hope to train their staff in music and art therapy programs, with this knowledge to be passed on to children and families. 


Rebecca Martin
Sesame Lane Care & Kindergarten, Moreton Bay, QLD

Rebecca is nominated for being one of the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Cultural Liaison educators in the sector. In this role, Rebecca encourages children’s understanding and respect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

Through her work, Rebecca helps families to integrate into early childhood education at the kindergarten, while building relationships across community and supporting educators to become more culturally aware.

In the future, Rebecca and the team at Sesame Lane Care & Kindergarten hope to support deeper connections with local Traditional Owners, who hold the knowledge and wisdom to impart specific cultural responsiveness with the Sesame Lane team of Educators.

Rebecca is hoping to organise events that foster closer relationships between Elders and Sesame Lane Care & Kindergarten, also supporting Early Learning Services within the Moreton Bay Region.


Individual Leadership



Rachael Phillips
Birrelee Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Service, West Tamworth, NSW

Rachael is a proud Gomeroi women, recognised for her leadership in advancing education for both First Nations children and advocating for more culturally appropriate early childhood settings. Rachael advocates nationally for improving outcomes for First Nations children, as well as for better working environments for educators and women in business.

During the pandemic, Rachael demonstrated innovative thinking when considering the needs of children, families, and the community. She redirected employees and resources to where they were most needed, which was central to the Service’s ability to continue to operate and maintain 100% enrolments.

In the future, Rachael hopes to learn from very early childhood providers in remote areas where traditions, stories, languages, and connections to land are still strong and thriving and share this knowledge across the early childhood sector. 


Heidi Patrick
Elanora Heights Community Preschool, Elanora Heights, NSW

Heidi is recognised for individual leadership for her role in developing several quality improvement programs.

In 2018, Heidi initiated a program to ensure families can access speech therapy sessions to help bridge any gaps between home and the early childhood learning environment. She has also collaborated with NSW Health on a series for educators, aimed at supporting early childhood educators with knowledge and practical ideas on how to embed healthy eating and physical activity within daily programs for children whilst in their first 2000 days of life.

More recently, Heidi has been involved in the development of a pilot program designed to help children, parents, and teachers respond effectively to social, emotional, and behavioural development.

Heidi intends to further her professional qualifications and enhance the services offered by the preschool to the community.


Rebecca Harrison
KU Children's Services, Sydney NSW

Rebecca is an Autism Support Facilitator and Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) therapist recognised for her leadership in the education and care of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Rebecca has been central to supporting and implementing a Guided Practice Model to assist early childhood educators in facilitating the equitable inclusion of children diagnosed with ASD.

In 2022, Rebecca began to lead a team of ESDM therapists/Autism Support facilitators in implementing this model. The team has supported 335 children with ASD across 76 services.

Rebecca’s leadership of the team has been critical in changing educator mindsets, increasing their capacity and reducing stress. Due to its success, the model is now being offered to all educators working for KU Children’s Services.

Rebecca intends to undertake further professional development in inclusive education supporting neurodiverse children in ECE settings and training in mentoring. 


Outstanding Service


Nazareth Early Childhood centre
Findon, SA

Nazareth Early Childhood Centre is a Catholic long day care service, recognised for its diversity and focus on enhancing children’s development through their unique approach to literacy.

The centre is dedicated to building community, nurturing family life, and making a positive impact on the world by drawing upon social justice teachings which value the importance of inclusion and breaking down barriers.

After reviewing their Australian Early Development Census community profile and assessing the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on families and children, they questioned participation, inclusion and equity and identified a need to provide extra support.

As literacy development was a core focus for growth, the centre began to acknowledge children’s birthdays by gifting them a birthday book, which was grounded in the principle of inclusion. Simultaneously, a project evolved which documented children’s engagement when they experienced storytelling. In partnership with Flinders University, they also provide community Speech Pathologist and Occupational Therapy services, free of charge, to families. 


Goodstart Early Learning Calala
Calala, NSW

Goodstart Early Learning Calala is recognised for working collaboratively with families to create a positive learning environment for every child. 

The centre’s program focuses on inclusive learning experiences. Their outdoor learning spaces, a blend of nature and play structures, stand as a testament to their dedication. They prioritise inclusivity by addressing barriers within the centre and fostering understanding of disabilities among families, helping children feel settled, happy, and content.

The centre recognised that inclusion needed a significant place in their enrolment and transition process that families attend at the end of the year. They use this time to help families talk with their children about children with disabilities or additional needs, helping foster a sense of inclusion.

Looking ahead, they would like to develop a library of inclusive resources, such as communication tools and adaptive equipment. Their goal is to create more accessible spaces, including stages, outdoor areas, and facilities catering to children with diverse needs. 



KU Craigieburn Children's Centre
Craigieburn, VIC

KU Craigieburn is recognised for its dedication to embracing cultural diversity, helping foster a sense of belonging for children, bilingualism, and cultural understanding.

They have worked to address language barriers and increase the participation of refugee families, incorporating home languages into the program. The service also worked with a local Aboriginal Elder, Aunty Jo, to learn about Indigenous culture and include new perspectives into children’s programs.

KU Craigieburn Children's Centre recognises the importance of inclusion and support for children with different needs. They have joined forces with organisations to overcome language barriers, creating accessible materials.

Upon recognising a lack of participation in community health checks, leading to undisclosed learning support needs, the service collaborated with maternal and child health services to implement comprehensive health assessments, including free dental checks, to foster inclusivity and provide timely support for children.

KU Craigieburn Children's Centre aims to provide further professional development for the team. They want to learn about different ways of educating children and how to include all children, regardless of their background.

Read about other recent HESTA Early Childhood Education & Care Awards finalists.

2021  |  2022

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Learn more about the HESTA Early Childhood Education and Care Awards