Almost a third of Australian children experience some form of disadvantage that can have a lasting impact on their development, a new study of more than 5,000 children has found.
Changing Children’s Chances identifies patterns in children’s experiences of disadvantage between birth and age 9 and how these experiences related to children’s development at 10-11 years of age to quantify the long-lasting impact.
Researchers from RMIT University, and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute measured how four types of disadvantage – sociodemographic factors, geographic environments, health conditions, and risk factors – impacted on critical childhood development such as interpersonal and motor skills, literacy and numeracy.
Using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australia’s Children, they found 41 per cent of children who had experienced disadvantage in the bottom 15 per cent of NAPLAN literacy and numeracy test scores.
Co-author Dr Hannah Badland from the Healthy Liveable Cities Group based at the RMIT Centre for Urban Research said living in a neighbourhood lacking in amenities, such as local parks, libraries, and good quality early education and primary schools, had long-term impacts on children’s health and development.
“When people hear the word disadvantaged they often think about how wealthy someone is, how much power they have, how much prestige they have,” she said.
“For children, disadvantage manifests in the circumstances in which they live, learn and develop.”
Badland says that children’s exposure to disadvantage in the neighbourhood environment showed a widening gap over time, meaning child development inequities were increasing depending where you lived.
“Those who started out in the most advantaged neighbourhoods, became more advantaged over time, while those who started in most disadvantaged neighbourhoods became more disadvantaged,” she said.
“The good news is that it may be easier to change our neighbourhood environments – something as simple as building a library or safe open spaces all have excellent benefits for a child’s development.”
Chief investigator Professor Sharon Goldfeld from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute says that the findings suggest the importance of sustained, evidence-based solutions to address childhood disadvantage.
“At a population level, successfully addressing all aspects of disadvantage in childhood could reduce poor developmental outcomes by as much as 70 per cent,” she said.
“Better understanding of how specific aspects of disadvantage relate to child development domains is necessary for greater precision in policy responses.
“If we don’t take into account how disadvantage manifests and occurs over time, well-intended public health and public policy interventions to address inequities could be undermined.”
(Source: RMIT University)