Families with young children who face economic and related adversities are the most likely group to miss out on the advantages of regular sustained participation in high quality early childhood education and care. In Australia, there are an estimated 11% of children assessed by teachers to have two or more developmental vulnerabilities and many of these children are living in economically disadvantaged contexts. Government policy in Australia aspires to provide universal access to Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services to support children’s outcomes and ensure workforce participation, but policy falls short of ensuring all families can take up high quality early childhood education and care. Government responses to the Covid crisis saw significant changes to the ECEC policy and funding mechanisms. It is timely therefore to reflect on the level of ‘competence’ in the Australian ECEC systems. Coined this term to refer to a system that is sustainable, inclusive, and effective for all families.