As a social epidemiologist, much of the focus of my research is on the impact of society on child development. With the release of the 2015 AEDC results, I shed some light on what these results mean for Australian children and how Australia is contributing to the international evidence base about what is important for child development.
The 2015 AEDC results show that, while we continued to see improvements in some areas of early development such as language and cognitive skills domain, other areas such as social skills and physical health continue to show decline. This presents us with important questions about how we can best meet Australian children’s developmental needs in a holistic way and it challenges us to examine the impact of the environments we are providing to children.
The results also highlight how developmental vulnerability can look quite different depending on where children live. For example, for children living in the most remote parts of the country, there has been an increase in developmental vulnerability. The story is also not uniform across the socio-economic spectrum. The national data show that on the whole since 2009, children living in communities with greater socio-economic resources have seen decreases in vulnerability, while those living in the most socio-economically disadvantaged areas have seen an increase in vulnerability. This challenges us to consider the reach of services and support, the challenges faced by families that are associated with where they live, and what we can be doing differently to support those families to provide the best possible environments for their children.
A particularly encouraging outcome of the 2015 AEDC results has been the continuation of a closing of the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children and non-Indigenous children. The AEDC has been a powerful tool for advocating for provision of better and earlier support for children growing up in communities faced with complex challenges. While there is still a significant way to go and it’s important that we keep working to ensure all children get the best start, it is promising to see that we are on the right track.
Also, with the third round of national data collection in 2015, we are now able to detect emerging trends. This means we are able to monitor how shifts in policies and service provision impact children and families. Looking at how this impacts differently on subgroups in communities, it allows us to fine tune what we do. It also means that we can make sure we are using investment in the most effective way.
From a global perspective, the AEDC puts Australia in good stead to contribute to the international evidence base about what is important for children and families in the earliest years of life. We are in a unique position to be able to shape global policies and responses to international challenges on how to reduce social inequalities, deliver services in remote locations, overcome barriers faced by families in accessing services and supports, and building an early childhood education and care sector that holistically meets the needs of children.
The AEDC is a fantastic tool that enables us to begin to build the evidence base of what works at a whole of population level to ensure all children have the best possible start.