Children from disadvantaged communities going hungry in ECEC, UQ research finds
The Sector > Quality > In The Field > Children from disadvantaged communities going hungry in ECEC, UQ research finds

Children from disadvantaged communities going hungry in ECEC, UQ research finds

by Freya Lucas

October 27, 2022

Children living in disadvantaged areas of Australia are going hungry when attending early childhood education and care (ECEC), new research from the University of Queensland (UQ) has found


A study of more than 900 services in Queensland, conducted by Professor Karen Thorpe from UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute, showed services in disadvantaged communities, where food insecurity was highest, were less likely to provide meals to children than those in more affluent areas.


Only 65 per cent of services in rural and remote areas were providing meals for children, Professor Thorpe explained, something which was considered to be a cost saving measure, with services providing food charging up to $140 a day, while those not providing food charged significantly less – in some cases as little as $60 a day. 


While some services in low income areas with high levels of market competition did provide food without increasing fees, the amount and quality of the food being served to the children was found by researchers to be “inadequate”. 


A report released earlier this year by the United Workers Union showed that some services budget as little as 65 cents per child per day, consistent with the findings in the UQ report. 


“We know without adequate nutrition it’s harder for children to learn and regulate their behaviour,” the Professor said.


“For children living in disadvantage, to then get poor quality food at childcare (sic.) is a further blow.”


In the services where families were providing food for children, food insecurity was an issue for many of the enrolled children, with some families living below the poverty line who simply couldn’t afford enough food for their children, or if they did, it was poor quality.


Staff in some services are providing food for the children from their own sources, when they themselves were struggling financially, Professor Thorpe added. 


In response to the findings, she would like to see the provision of high-quality food in Queensland’s most disadvantaged communities become a public health priority.


“It would mean children can learn and have a positive trajectory in health and education,” she said. “There’s currently a lot of investment in early childcare, but you need to spend the money wisely. You can’t deliver a high-quality education program if the children and staff are going hungry.”

The study has been published in Social Science and Medicine and may be accessed here.

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