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Changing Children's Chances

  • Inequities in children’s health and development are differences in outcomes that are unjust and preventable. Child health inequities are driven by the circumstances in which children live, learn and develop (i.e. social determinants)

    The first phase of the Changing Children’s Chances project (2016-2020) brought together leading national and international child equity researchers to describe children’s experiences of disadvantage and its long-lasting impact on their development. 

    Our findings showed that:

    • childhood disadvantage is complex and can change over time
    • children with higher levels of disadvantage over time experience poorer health and developmental outcomes.

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    Reducing the equity gaps between disadvantaged and advantaged children is a public health priority. It would create substantial savings for government budgets and raise the productivity of society significantly. Governments are now also facing the challenge of preventing the adverse and inequitable child outcomes that will undoubtedly emerge from the indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated necessary public health interventions.


    Developmental-outcomes-children-graph


    Existing policies and resources across education, health, and social care can play a critical role in reducing inequities. While Australian governments are committed to reducing child health and developmental inequities, the existing research evidence does not offer clear pathways to action. 

    What is our aim?

    In the next phase of the Changing Children’s Chances project (2020-2023), we aim to work collaboratively with policymakers to create new evidence that can inform more effective and precise policies to reduce inequities in children’s mental health, physical health and academic achievement. The findings will help decision makers to direct limited public funds towards intervention opportunities that will have the greatest impact on child inequities, with a focus on better use of existing resources.

    What is our approach? 

    We will use innovative analytic approaches with existing data sources to look at the causal effect of social determinants on inequities in children’s health and development. Our Knowledge Translation Reference Group, which brings together policy experts from Australian State and Federal Governments and NGOs, will help us to prioritise our investigations to focus on intervention opportunities that have current policy relevance. Some example areas of investigation are:

    In the family environment, intervening on parents’ mental health difficulties is recognised as one promising approach to reduce risk for their children. The most effective timing of such interventions in relation to children’s development is not yet well understood. 

    Evidence strongly supports the role of quality preschool programs for promoting healthy child development, and potentially reducing the developmental gap between disadvantaged and advantaged children. We lack evidence though about the specific features of preschool (e.g. teacher qualification, one versus two years of attendance) that are most beneficial and how they might impact on the most vulnerable families. 

    There is increasing interest in the role of the neighbourhood built environment (e.g., physical features such as housing density and green space) in shaping children’s development. It is not clear which aspects of the built environment have the biggest impacts on children and greatest potential to reduce child inequities.  

    Data sources

    Changing Children’s Chances will capitalise on powerful national and Victorian datasets.

    This includes the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) where seven completed waves of data collection provide data from Australian children from birth to ages 12-13 years. Detailed descriptions of the child’s family environment and wider social context are recorded. LSAC also includes linkages with the following datasets:

    • 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, 2015 and 2018.

    • 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.

    • Child Health CheckPoint providing a one-off assessment of the physical health of Australian children (at age 11-12 years old) and their parents.

    • Neighbourhood built environment measures, including the presence of parks and green spaces, schools and childcares, distances to neighbourhood destinations, housing density and neighbourhood walkability.   

    • National Medicare data.

    Publications

    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

    Investigator Team

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


    The University of Melbourne


           

     Professor Sharon Goldfeld (lead investigator)

     Dr Margarita Moreno-Betancur

               
    Murdoch Children's Research Institute
             Dr Meredith O'Connor
               
    Monash University           Professor Katrina Williams 
               
    University of New South Wales          Associate Professor Susan Woolfenden 
               
    Australian National University          Associate Professor Naomi Priest 
               
    Loughborough University, UK          Dr Francisco Azpitarte-Raposeiras
               
    Brotherhood of St. Laurence          Dr Timothy Gilley 
               
    Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT)          Associate Professor Hannah Badland
               
    Beyond Blue          Dr Alicia McCoy

    Funding source

    Changing Children’s Chances in funded by the Australian Research Council Linkage Program (LP190100921). The University of Melbourne and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute are partnering with Beyond Blue, The Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, The Australian Government Department of Health, The Australian Government Department of Social Services and Brotherhood of St Laurence. 

    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.