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Changing Children's Chances

  • Inequities in children’s health and development are differential outcomes that are unnecessary and potentially preventable. Inequities in children’s health and development are increasing in Australia, across children’s physical health, social-emotional wellbeing, and academic learning. Early inequities lead to a range of serious problems in later life and carry significant costs for society, such as greater costs for health services, and forgone public benefits, such as lower productivity.

    The Changing Children’s Chances research project will contribute to a greater understanding of the causes of inequities, including the potential for health and education systems to prevent inequities. To achieve this, powerful existing data and new analytic approaches will be used to examine the many contexts in which children and their families live and grow. We are working collaboratively with policymakers and practitioners to find the most promising short to medium-term leverage points for interventions to reduce child inequities in Australia.

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    By the time Australian children start school, clear inequities in their health and development are evident. In the 2015 Australian Early Development Census, 6.7% of Australian school entrants living in the wealthiest areas were developmentally vulnerable on two or more domains of early childhood development, compared with 18.4% of children who lived in the most disadvantaged areas. Inequities in early childhood often continue into adulthood, contributing to the unequal prevalence of physical, social-emotional, and academic difficulties.

    The major causes of health and developmental inequities arise from the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age (the social determinants of health). Inequities in child health, development, and wellbeing can be reduced through public health and public policy interventions, but for these interventions to be effective we first need to better understand the complex pathways through which inequities arise. This requires a broad perspective that examines the relative contribution and cumulative impact of the many factors at the child, family, school, and community level that play a role in shaping inequitable child outcomes.


    Changing Children’s Chances brings together leading national and international child equity researchers to identify potential ways to reduce early developmental inequities in Australian children. This will contribute to the development of an evidence-based framework for informing effective policy responses that can potentially reduce child health and developmental inequities.  

    Specifically, Changing Children’s Chances aims to:

    1. Describe inequities in Australian children’s physical health, social-emotional wellbeing and academic development, mapping the ways in which disadvantage and development interact over time;

    2. Identify child, family, early childhood education, school, and community factors contributing to inequitable health and developmental outcomes that may be amenable to change through public health and policy interventions (intervention targets).    

    Data sources

    Changing Children’s Chances will capitalise on powerful national and Victorian datasets. This includes a new linkage between the:

    • Australian Early Development Census (AEDC), providing teacher-reported information on key domains of early child development, including physical, social-emotional, and academic development, with near universal coverage of Australian school entrants in 2009, 2012, and 2015;  

    • National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), a population–level direct assessment of Australian children’s academic skill development at grades three, five, seven, and nine;

    • Victorian School Entrant Health Questionnaire (SEHQ), a detailed population assessment of child health completed by parents at school entry; and

    • Geospatial measures for the AEDC communities, including the presence of parks and green spaces, schools, distances to neighbourhood destinations, and neighbourhood walkability.   

    In addition, the AEDC has been linked to the:

    • Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), where six completed waves of data collection provide data from Australian children from birth to ages 10-11 years. Detailed descriptions of the child’s family environment and wider social context, including multiple indicators of family-level disadvantage, as well as linked Medicare records are recorded.  


    Research Snapshots

    Changing Children's Chances – Addressing disadvantage to optimise children’s development in Australia (PDF)

    Changing Children's Chances – Understanding Child Disadvantage (PDF)

    Journal articles

    Goldfeld, S., O’Connor, M., Cloney, D., Gray, S., Redmond, G., Badland, H., Williams, K., Mensah, F., Woolfenden, S., Kvalsvig, A., & Kochanoff, A. (2018). Understanding child disadvantage from a social determinants perspective. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 72, 223-229. doi:

    Goldfeld, S., O’Connor, M., O’Connor, E., Chong, S., Badland, H., Woolfenden, S., Redmond, G., Williams, K., Azpitarte, F., Cloney, D., & Mensah, F. (Accepted). More than a snapshot in time: Pathways of disadvantage over childhood. International Journal of Epidemiology.

    Goldfeld, S., O’Connor, M., Chong, S., Gray, S., O’Connor, E., Woolfenden, S., Redmond, G., Williams, K., Mensah, F., Kvalsvig, A., & Badland, H. (in press). The impact of multidimensional disadvantage over childhood on developmental outcomes in Australia. International Journal of Epidemiology. doi: dyy087

    Investigator Team

    Changing Children’s Chances brings together leading equity researchers with policy experts.   

    The University of Melbourne


    Professor Sharon Goldfeld, Department of Paediatrics

    Professor Katrina Williams, Department of Paediatrics

    Professor Gary Freed, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health

    Flinders University      Associate Professor Gerry Redmond, School of Social & Policy Studies
    Murdoch Children's Research Institute
         Professor Frank Oberklaid, Centre for Community Child Health
    Dr Fiona Mensah, Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit
    Sydney Children’s Hospital Network and
    The University of New South Wales
         Dr Sue Woolfenden, Department of Community Child Health
    University of Otago      Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, Department of Public Health
    Australian Department of Education and Training      Dr Jianfei Gong
    Victorian Department of Education and Training      Dr Jenny Proimos
    Brotherhood of St. Laurence      Dr Eric Dommers
    Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT)    Dr Hannah Badland, Centre for Urban Research 

    Funding source

    Changing Children’s Chances is funded by the Australian Research Council Discovery Program (DP160101735, 2016-2018).   

    For further details

    For further details about Changing Children’s Chances, contact lead investigator Professor Sharon Goldfeld, or Dr Sarah Gray, Project Manager. 


Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

The Centre for Community Child Health is a department of The Royal Children’s Hospital and a research group of Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.