Our Impact: Early Childhood Development

A child’s early years are a critical time for development, offering a unique window of opportunity to dramatically improve their chances of success in school, and in life.

During this period, children’s brains can form up to 1000 neural connections every second – a once in a lifetime pace – with these connections forming the building blocks of every child’s future.

Children who are read to, talked to and sung to are not only happier on a day to day basis – they will have better cognitive capacity throughout the rest of their life.

But in Australian communities of disadvantage, up to 1 in 3 children are missing out, not receiving the stimulation and interaction needed to help them reach their full potential. Most children starting school behind will never catch to their peers, severely limiting their opportunities to lead happy, healthy and productive lives.

That’s why United Way Australia is working with business and community groups to bring books and early learning materials to thousands of families, supporting parents to build their children’s vital early literacy, numeracy and language skills.

With your generous support, here’s what we’ve achieved:

174,864 BOOKS

delivered to children in more than 50 Australian communities as at the end of 2017. 

8816 children

reached through the Imagination Library, targeting communities with high rates of childhood vulnerability.

97% of parents

and carers said the books were useful for teaching children about words, sounds, colours and the world around them.

69% of parents

and carers said the resources increased the frequency and/or amount of time they spent reading together.

“I have really started to enjoy reading with Jack, knowing I’m doing it in an engaging way for him. The parent (book tip) sheets have really increased my confidence in this area.”

– Parent, Acacia Ridge, QLD

“My son waits for his book every month, and when he reads his name on the envelope, he says ‘It’s my book mummy!’ He keeps on looking at the book and all the images for so long, it creates interest for him, and me too.”

– Parent, Doveton, VIC

“Children love receiving their books, which are very special to them. They bring their Imagination Library books to the Centre and tell us which ones they like.  The feedback from the school this year has been every positive.”

– Partner, Doomadgee, QLD

Case studies

Turning the page for Children in out of home care

Children in foster care are among the most at-risk group in the country when it comes to stating school developmentally vulnerable.

That’s why we’re partnering with community organisations and funders to bring books and imagination to children in care,  while providing carers with the learning resources and tools needed to build trust and vital early literacy skills.

Harrison Craig, Voice Winner, Speaks up for Vulnerable Children

In 2017, United Way Australia was privileged to welcome performer and children’s book author Harrison Craig as our official  Ambassador.

Watch the video to find out Harrison is helping raise awareness of the importance of early learning and literacy across Australian communities of disadvantage.

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library

The Imagination Library continues to be the key initiative supporting United Way’s work in building community awareness of the importance of early learning, and in providing parents and carers with the resources, skills and confidence to engage in shared reading. 

Thanks to hundreds of dedicated community groups around the country, as well as to our own generous partners and supporters, there are now almost 50 local Australian Imagination Libraries, each bringing quality free books and literacy resources to children aged 0-5.

For their fantastic support in making this possible, we would like to thank:

Our Supply Partners:

Our Community Partners

  • Anglicare
  • Ardoch Youth Foundation
  • Barnados
  • Benevolent Society
  • Berry Street
  • Communities for Children
  • Connections
  • Explore & Develop
  • Gailes Community House
  • Inner Wheel
  • Koolkan Community Centre
  • Leichardt One Mile Community Centre
  • Mission Australia


  • Mundubbera Public School
  • Noah’s Ark
  • Nurturing Literacy Inc
  • OzChild
  • Paint the Town REaD
  • Pormpur Paanthu Aboriginal Corporation
  • Quantum Support Services
  • Save the Children
  • St Luke Anglicare
  • The White Feather Foundation
  • Victorian Aboriginal Childcare Agency
  • Wesley Mission
  • YMCA

Our Rotary Partners:

  • Rotary Club of Albert Park
  • Rotary Club of Bayswater
  • Rotary Clubs of Illawarra
  • Rotary Club of Macarthur Sunrise
  • Rotary Club of Goodna
  • Rotary Club of Gympie
  • Rotary Club of Healesville
  • Rotary Club of Noble Park
  • Rotary Club of Redcliffe
  • Rotary Club of Salisbury & Salisbury State School
  • Rotary Club of Fairy Meadow

Return to the 2017 Annual Report homepage:

2017 Annual Report

Find out more about our early childhood work:

Early Childhood Initiatives