Stable housing in first thousand days a powerful predictor of child development

by Freya Lucas

May 15

New research from PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the Strong Foundations collaboration has found that housing stability in the first thousand days of a child’s development has a potential economic benefit of $3 billion annually.

 

Living in a stable housing situation in the first thousand days of a child’s development (from conception to two years of age) leads to societal benefits of approximately $36,000 over a child’s lifetime, with 94 per cent of those benefits occurring as a result of increased adult earnings.

 

The economic analysis by PwC Australia was developed with the support of experts from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) and the Bupa Health Foundation, who collectively make up the Strong Foundations collaboration.

 

The subsequent report, The first thousand days: A case for investment points to a variety of benefits from housing stability, including alleviating parental stress, helping to build a stronger sense of community and belonging, and supporting a more connected experience of antenatal care and the development of stronger relationships with care providers.

 

Home ownership was chosen as a proxy to estimate the potential economic benefits of housing stability for children within their first thousand days due to a paucity of data in relation to alternate examples of housing stability, such as long-term leasing, Zac Hatzantonis of PwC said.

 

The report also outlines the potential economic benefits of reducing the prevalence of smoking amongst pregnant women, in addition to the healthy development of children. For each woman who stops smoking during pregnancy, there is an estimated saving of $29,000 over her child’s lifetime. The figure is calculated on a reduction of obesity costs, totalling 50 per cent, along with 35 per cent of increased earnings, and 15 per cent for a reduced likelihood of smoking as an adult. The annual potential benefit of all pregnant mothers choosing not to smoke during pregnancy is close to $1 billion.

 

Penny Dakin, ARACY CEO, said the question was how to turn the knowledge into practical outcomes for children. The report acknowledges the work already being undertaken by the Government to improve early childhood outcomes.

 

Four immediate steps are presented in the report, to improve policies, programs and initiatives targeted at the first thousand days:

 

  • Raising awareness of the impact the first thousand days on lifelong health, wellbeing, learning and development outcomes;

 

  • Investing in environmental determinants of health and disease, to avoid the need for later expenditures addressing inequalities;

 

  • Improving and targeting services to the earliest stages of childhood and conception, and on programs that target the most impactful interventions; and,

 

  • Undertaking further research to map current investments and gauge their success, and whether innovative ideas could work in future.

 

Annette Schmeide, Bupa Health Foundation Executive Leader, said there were a number of steps to be taken to improve outcomes by targeting the first thousand days.  

 

“In terms of policies, programs and initiatives, we can focus on improving information and education, we can improve services and supports provided to families during this period, and we can improve the environment families and children live in,” she said.

 

The report is the second in a series examining the first thousand days. The first, released in September last year, outlined the nature and significance of development during pregnancy and infancy, the ways in which experiences during the first thousand days shape development, and the long-term consequences of these experiences for health, wellbeing, learning and development throughout the child’s life.

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