Children’s wellbeing is determined by family circumstance and postcode, AIHW finds
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Children’s wellbeing is determined by family circumstance and postcode, AIHW finds

by Freya Lucas

December 17, 2019

The wellbeing of Australia’s children varies by family circumstances, and where they live, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has found. 


Children’s experiences of life, and in a range of outcomes, can vary depending on where they live and their families’ circumstances, the Australia’s children report found. 


By bringing together data about children and their experiences at home, school and in their communities, along with statistics on important influences such as parental health, family support networks and household finances, authors were able to paint a picture of the trajectory of the life of a child from birth to age 12, spanning spanning infancy, early childhood and primary school years.


“From an early age, most Australian children have the foundations to support good health and wellbeing as they grow up,” AIHW spokesperson Louise York said. The report found, for example, that between 2011 and 2017, the number of mothers who smoked during pregnancy decreased, from one in eight to one in ten. 


Those mothers who chose to drink alcohol during pregnancy also fell, dropping to 35 per cent in 2016, compared with 42 per cent in 2013. 


More parents are reading with their children, with almost four in every five Australian children from birth to two years of age hearing stories regularly in 2017. There was good news in the preschool sector also, with 90 per cent of eligible children enrolled in a preschool program in the year before they entered full-time school.


In some areas, children in Australia show signs of healthy lifestyles — for example, in 2017-18, almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of children aged 5-14 ate enough fruit every day. Despite this, very few (4 per cent) ate enough vegetables and almost half (42 per cent) usually consumed sugar sweetened drinks at least once a week.


Physical activity in children showed mixed results, with around 65 per cent of children aged 5-8 years of age, and 78 per cent of children aged between 9-11 years joining in with organised physical activities outside of school hours at least once per week in 2018. 


However, other data sources included in the report suggest that in 2011-12, less than one-quarter (23 per cent) of children aged 5-14 undertook the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day and less than one-third (32 per cent) met the screen-based activity guidelines (to limit screen-based activity to no more than 60 minutes per day). 


“In 2017-18, about a quarter of children aged 5-14 were overweight or obese, similar to 2007-08. The likelihood of a child being overweight or obese is greater if they live outside major cities, in one-parent families, or if they have a disability,” Ms York said.


Educationally, the report explored literacy and numeracy as the fundamental building blocks for children’s educational achievement, lives outside school, engagement with society and future employment prospects. 


In 2018, almost all Year 3, 5 and 7 students achieved at or above the minimum standards for reading and numeracy. However, results were lower among some groups of children. For example, Year 5 students in more remote areas of Australia were less likely to meet the minimum standards, as were Indigenous students.


In terms of social and emotional wellbeing during the schooling years, the authors noted that bullying is an issue for many children, adding that in 2015, almost three in every five Year 4 students reported that they experienced bullying monthly or weekly during the school year. The rise of the internet has also enabled bullying to spread online.


“In 2016-17, receiving unwanted contact and content was the most commonly reported negative online experience for children aged 8-12, experienced by about a quarter of all children,” Ms York highlighted.


Household finances — including whether adults in the household have a job — can affect a child’s health, emotional wellbeing, education and ability to take part in social activities. In 2017-18, there were 2 million low-income households in Australia, about a quarter of which had at least one dependent child aged 0-14.  


Ms York said there is always more to learn about children and their experiences, including how children transition through major developmental stages and how longer-term outcomes may vary depending on childhood circumstances.


“In particular, it is important to learn more about how certain groups of children are faring, including those with a disability, those from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds, and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, or children who have intersex variations,” Ms York said.


“It is also important to gather more evidence about children’s own perspectives on issues affecting their lives and development, to ensure children’s views are heard.”


The report is the AIHW’s first comprehensive report on children since 2012. It updates and extends data about Australia’s children and provides suggestions for how to fill known information gaps, and may be accessed in full here

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