Introduction: Healthy childhood development in the early years is critical for later adult health and well-being. Early childhood development (ECD) research has focused primarily on individual, family and school factors, but largely ignored community factors. The Kids in Communities Study (KiCS) will test and investigate community-level influences on child development across Australia. Methods and analysis: Cross-sectional mixed-methods study exploring community-level effects in 25 Australian local communities; selection based on community socioeconomic status (SES) and ECD using the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC), a population measure of child development, to create a local community 'diagonality type', that is, those performing better or worse (off-diagonal), or as expected (on-diagonal) on the AEDC relative to their SES. Data collection includes stakeholder interviews, parent and service provider focus groups, and surveys with general community residents and service providers, mapping of neighbourhood design and local amenities and services, analysis of policy documents, and the use of existing sociodemographic and early childhood education and care data. Quantitative data will be used to test associations between local community diagonality type, and ECD based on AEDC scores. Qualitative data will provide complementary and deeper exploration of these same associations. Ethics and dissemination: The Royal Children's Hospital Human Research Ethics Committee approved the study protocol (#30016). Further ethics approvals were obtained from State Education and Health departments and Catholic archdioceses where required. ECD community-level indicators will eventually be derived and made publically available. Findings will be published in peer-reviewed journals, community reports, websites and policy briefs to disseminate results to researchers, and key stakeholders including policymakers, practitioners and (most importantly) the communities involved.