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Early Start Kindergarten (ESK) grant

During the rollout of the Best Start, Best Life reforms, Early Start Kindergarten (ESK) remains an important grant which gives eligible three-year-olds priority access to 15 hours of free or low cost kindergarten per week. Children who experience vulnerability have the most to gain from two years of high-quality kinder. The ESK grant aims to reduce financial barriers for families accessing kinder. The grant is paid to services and attracts extra funding to support children’s inclusion and success in the kinder program. Continue reading to see if the ESK grant can support the children and families you work with.


To be eligible, a child must be three by the 30th of April in the year they are going to start kinder and:

  • be from a refugee or asylum seeker background, OR
  • identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, OR
  • the family has had contact with child protection.

To reduce barriers to access, exemptions to the above exist.

For example, families with a second generation experience of child protection or displacement may be eligible for ESK.

Eligible children should be specifically enrolled in ESK, even where 15 hours of free thee-year-old kinder is offered.

What is available?

Children who are eligible for ESK can attend 15 hours of free or low-cost kinder in a stand alone kinder or long day care (LDC) setting. The kinder program is led by a qualified Early Childhood teacher.

Enrolling children through ESK ensures eligible children have priority of access, and services can receive additional funding and support such as school readiness funding (SRF). This funding may be used to support children’s inclusion and sustained attendance at kinder. Examples of supports are:

  • additional educators to assist in reducing child to staff ratios
  • bicultural educators
  • professional development, including training related to trauma and culturally safe practices.

Children can attend kinder under the ESK grant in a:

  • three-year old group OR
  • four-year old group OR
  • mixed aged group.

Which group a child is in will depend on what the individual service has to offer, while the number of hours a child attends kinder will depend on their individual needs. Set-up a meeting with the kinder service and the family to support a positive transition, keeping the child’s development and family's needs in mind.

Financial Support

The ESK grant attracts  additional funding which is paid directly to the kinder service. A standard  place in a Long-hours Day Care (LDC) is funded for $2,050 compared with $6,796 for an ESK standalone kinder enrolment (rural services  may attract more funding).

 Services are encouraged to use any additional funds from the grant to support the child’s enrolment and participation in kinder by covering:

  • enrolment fees
  • covering additional out-of-pocketcosts for families such as excursions/incursions
  • covering gap feesfor the family in a LDC not covered by CCS/ACCS

There may be a gap fee if ESK is accessed in a long dare setting. The Child Care Subsidy (CCS) and Additional Child Care Subsidy (ACCS) should also be considered to reduce the financial cost for the family.

When to apply for the ESK grant?

  • If you are working with a family where a child is two, start the conversation about kinder now
  • If you are working with a family where an eligible child has turned three by April 30 – they can enrol in ESK this year or next year
  • If you are working with a family where an eligible child is three after April 30 they can start ESK the following year.

This age calculator will help families consider when to enrol their child in kinder and subsequently, school.

It is optimal for all children to engage in two full years of kinder before school, but some is better than none. This is especially the case for children who are experiencing vulnerability. Mid-year enrolment is possible and, in some cases, may be very protective for the child and their family.

How to access

Find A Kinder is an interactive map that can be used to search for a Victorian government funded kinder nearest to a family.

To reduce barriers to access, Families can:

  • verbally notify an Early Years Service of their eligibility OR
  • give their consent for a professional to do so on their behalf

Services will then apply for the grant and there is no need for additional paperwork outside of the typical enrolment process.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

Support a family to connect to a culturally safe ECEC service so they feel safe to identify the child as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander at enrolment. No proof of Aboriginality is required to meet the ESK grant criteria and if this is being requested contact a Koorie Engagement Coordinator for support. LOOKOUT Koorie cultural advisors may assist for children in Out of Home Care. More information on cultural safety at kinder can be found at Koorie Kids Shine. The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) has a great tip-sheet on Starting Kinder and more helpful resources can be found on their website.

Children in Out of Home Care

For additional support for children in Out of Home Care, the LOOKOUT team can provide support.

Children from a refugee or asylum seeker background

For additional support for children from a refugee or asylum seeker background, contact the Early Years team at Foundation House.


If you are unsure about eligibility, please get in touch with your local Early Childhood Improvement Branch. With the roll out of the Victorian Government, Best Start, Best Life reforms there is a mandate for reducing barriers of access for children experiencing vulnerability to access two years of kinder before school. Your branch can assist both professionals and families to troubleshoot issues.


The Department of Education (DE) has multiple resources available to support families access ESK, including:

  • Postcards to provide to families when discussing ESK. Contact details of supporting professionals can be written on the postcard, and then shared with kinder services by families to advise of their ESK eligibility. This eliminates the need for the family to verbally identify their own eligibility if they feel uncomfortable to do so.  
  • Brochures to promote ESK with families, translated into 6 languages
  • Brochures to promote ESK with families from a refugee and asylum seeker background, translated into over 20 languages

To order ESK print material free of charge, set up a free account and order material via the DE webpage.

Reviewed March 2024