More early parenting centres to help Victorian families
We’re expanding Victoria’s early parenting centre (EPC) network to support new parents and carers.
Having a baby or child under four years of age is a special time for families. But it can also be a stressful time.
For some, support from loved ones, their local doctor, and a maternal and child health service will be enough.
Others will experience more persistent challenges. That’s where EPCs can help.
EPCs support parents or carers with children up to four years old. The centres help build parenting skills, from enhancing parent-child relationships to providing support with:
- sleep, settling or feeding
- bonding and attachment
- infant and child behavioural concerns
- strengthening parenting capacity and skills.
EPCs provide services in four main ways:
- day-stay services – an intensive day program providing early parenting support
- residential services – a centre-based intensive parenting program in which parents can stay at the centre for a multi-day period to build parenting competence and capacity
- telehealth services – early parenting support provided as stand-alone support or complementary to other EPC services
- home-based services – individually tailored, flexible, intensive early parenting services aimed at providing practical supports to assist families to nurture and care for their child independently.
Importantly, EPCs provide families who have more complex needs or vulnerabilities with access to wrap-around support. This includes care planning, referrals and community support.
Text on screen: What is an Early Parenting Centre (EPC)?
Images: animations of a toddler asleep on a moon, feeding bottles and a father feeding a young baby Images: an artist impression of an EPC frontage with carpark
Text on screen: EPCs support parents or carers build parenting skills supporting sleep Images: animation of father feeding baby and toddler asleep on a moon
Text on screen: settling and feeding supporting bonding and attachment Images: animation of feeding bottle and child’s mobile Images: artist impression of an EPC playroom with children and parents interacting, followed by artist impression of an EPC bedroom with parents cuddling their small children
Text on screen: That’s why we’re tripling the number of EPCs across Victoria
Images: artist impression of external garden area of an EPC with various family members
Images: A screen displays ‘Learn more at vhba.vic.gov.au along with the Victorian Health Building Authority and Victoria State Government logos.
A final frame displays the Victorian Government logo and the text ‘Authorised by the Victorian Government, 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne’
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More EPCs means more care and support
When parents are supported, children can thrive. That is why the Victorian Government is investing $148 million to expand the Victorian EPC network with the EPC expansion and upgrade program.
Victoria’s population is expected to reach 11.2 million by 2056. In some regional areas, health services are expecting up to 40 per cent more births in the coming decades.
It’s also estimated more than 13,000 children and their caregivers will need the extra developmental support EPCs provide by 2026. That’s why we’re tripling the number of EPCs across Victoria.
The EPC expansion and upgrade project includes:
2 upgraded centres
in Footscray and Noble Park
4 new centres in metropolitan Melbourne
Casey, Hastings, Whittlesea and Wyndham
4 new centres in regional Victoria
Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and Shepparton
5,000 extra families supported each year
In May 2019, the Victorian Government announced a $123 million investment to expand and upgrade the EPC network. The initial investment includes:
- the upgrade and expansion of existing EPCs in Noble Park and Footscray
- the construction of seven new centres in the growing areas of Ballarat, Bendigo, Casey, Hastings, Geelong, Whittlesea and Wyndham.
In May 2022, the Victorian Government announced an additional $25 million. This brings the total investment in the EPC and upgrade program to $148 million. Part of this additional funding will be used to support the delivery of an eighth EPC in Shepparton.
Factors such as locations of existing centres, population growth, and levels of need for healthy child development were considered when deciding locations for the new EPCs.
Each of the initial seven new centres will be single-storey and will have up to 10 residential family units.
The new EPCs will also include:
- day-stay places
- shared kitchen and dining areas
- multi-purpose rooms
- indoor and outdoor play areas
- administration and staff areas.
Two of the residential family units at the new EPCs will be larger than the standard rooms to support families with special needs. These will be designed in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
Upgrading existing facilities
The upgraded Footscray EPC will include:
- a new wing which adds three new residential family units, including two Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant residential family units
- private amenities for each of the units including ensuites.
The upgraded Noble Park EPC will include:
- a new welcoming entrance
- two standard residential family units
- two Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant residential family units.
Anna and Paul’s story: Managing anxiety to help settle their baby girl
Anna and Paul have a 12-month-old baby with persistent sleep and settling issues. It is their first child, and they were referred to an EPC service by their local maternal and child health service nurse following their 12-month visit.
The family attends a day program at the centre. Program staff identify that both parents have a high level of anxiety about their baby, who is otherwise healthy and doesn’t have any health or development issues.
During a residential stay it becomes clear that Anna and Paul have a tendency to wake the baby by constantly checking on her.
Staff provide direct feedback and demonstrate a range of alternative strategies that will allow Anna and Paul to feel they can safely care for their child while establishing a regular sleep routine.
An on-site psychologist provides follow-up sessions to help Anna and Paul manage their anxiety. When they are discharged, they are referred back to the maternal and child health service and advised to see their general practitioner for further help if they experience ongoing anxiety.
How do I access an EPC?
An expanded Victorian EPC network will support a wider range of families - upwards of 5,000 each year - and ensure that more new parents receive early parenting support when they need it, closer to home, family, and support networks.
The good news is all Victorian families with children from birth and up to four years who need more specialised or targeted support can access these services.
Referrals to EPCs are usually from maternal and child health services, maternity services, general practitioners, and family support services. Families can also self-refer.
The services offered at EPCs in Victoria are state-wide services. This means new parents and carers can choose to attend any centre within the EPC network.
What to expect at an EPC
Services and experiences at EPCs vary depending on each family’s needs. Tailored programs can be delivered in person or via telehealth and can range in duration from hours to days.
Upon arrival, families receive an orientation of the centre and an outline of the program. This includes:
- assessment of family’s needs and parent’s goals and the development of an individual flexible program that will work for their family
- practical strategies that can be used at home
- group education that considers each family’s individual requirements
- referrals for additional support services in the community.
Parents are encouraged to actively participate in the EPC programs to develop safe, positive environments and relationships with their children. They are supported through one-to-one interactions with staff, group education sessions exploring parenting techniques, self-directed learning and sustained practice.
For residential stays, families are provided with meals and private residential rooms, as well as access to safe outdoor spaces to relax and play with their children.
The residential family suites are designed to be flexible and to support different family structures.
This means families may be able to bring multiple children, or accommodate an older sibling, grandparent or other carer during their stay.
Designed for local communities
Helping families feel at home
Childcare experts, diverse local community groups and Traditional Owners were consulted in the design of the new and upgraded EPCs by Brand Architects, who led the designs for the EPC expansion and upgrade program.
The carefully considered design ensures the centres reflect the communities they serve and allows families to:
- feel at home
- enjoy natural light
- experience a calm, safe environment
- feel accommodated in different family arrangements.
Cultural safety, accessibility and appropriateness were key considerations in the design process for the EPC expansion and upgrade program. The Department of Health worked with Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and stakeholders. The project also consulted with a dedicated Aboriginal Advisory Group.
Julie’s story: Building skills to improve bond with her daughter
Julie is a single mum with a two-year-old daughter. They have a history of insecure housing and homelessness as a result of family violence perpetrated by her previous partner when Julie was pregnant. Julie and her daughter are referred by their GP to an EPC for support with bonding, child attachment and child behaviour management support.
Julie and her daughter are admitted directly to an EPC residential program. During their stay, therapeutic and parenting skill-building sessions address attachment and behaviour issues and build Julie’s confidence to care for her child.
The program also identifies Julie’s social isolation, housing insecurity and history of mental illness as immediate concerns that are impacting on her current parenting capacity and her child’s behaviour.
Julie is discharged with a comprehensive care plan that connects her with a range of housing and mental health supports that she can access in her local community.
A joint home visit by the EPC team and the maternal and child health service is scheduled for soon after Julie finishes the EPC program to provide follow up support and community connection.
Helping more Victorian families
Every child deserves a great start in life. Expanding the EPC network means we’ll be able to help 5,000 extra Victorian families each year with early parenting support.
Learn more about the early parenting centres expansion and upgrade program.
Find resources on the early parenting centres page on the Department of Health website.
Last updated: 28 April 2023