News

Varied wellbeing outcomes for the nation’s kids


Morgan Liotta


17/12/2019 2:58:50 PM

Overall, children are happy, healthy, safe, and have someone to talk to – but that picture can change according to individual circumstances.

Child
Most primary school-aged children ranked family and health as the most important for having a good life in 2014.

Australia’s children is the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) first comprehensive report on children since 2012, providing updated data and suggestions on how to fill information gaps.
 
The data helps paint a picture of children, mostly from the 0–12 age group, and their experiences at home, school and in their communities, along with statistics on key influences, such as parental health, family support networks and household finances.
 
The AIHW identifies that although most children are generally ‘doing well’, childhood is also a time of vulnerability and outcomes can vary depending on where they live and their family’s circumstances.

Dr James Best, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Child and Young Person’s Health network told newsGP the report shows some ‘really pleasing trends, as well as areas of concern that deserve prompt and targeted attention’.
 
Here are some of the key areas of the report.
 
Living a healthy lifestyle
Almost 72% of children aged 5–14 ate enough fruit every day in 2017–18; however, only 4% ate enough vegetables, and 42% usually consumed sugar-sweetened drinks at least once a week.
 
About a quarter of children aged 5–14 were overweight or obese, similar to 2007–08 findings, with the likelihood of a child being overweight or obese greater if they live outside major cities, in single-parent families, or if they have a disability.
 
Of the children who participated in organised physical activities outside of school hours at least once per week in 2018, 65% were aged 5–8, 78% 9–11, and 72% 12–14. In 2011–12, less than 23% of children aged 5–14 undertook the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day, while less than 32% met guidelines to limit screen-based activity to no more than 60 minutes per day.

Dr Best recognises these persistent figures relating to lifestyle and the need for improvement.

‘Some previously recognised threats to the health of our children, such as the very poor dietary habits, physical activity and excess screentime remain stubbornly difficult to turn around,’ he said. 
 
Education
Almost all students in years 3, 5 and 7 achieved at or above the minimum standards for reading and numeracy in 2018. In more remote areas of Australia and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, however, minimum standards were less likely to be met.
 
The proportion of Year 5 students achieving at or above the national minimum standard for reading and numeracy increased between 2008 and 2018. Reading increased from 91% to 95%, and numeracy from 93% to 96%.
 
Mental health
Almost three in five Year 4 students reported that they experienced bullying monthly or weekly during the school year in 2015.
 
‘Receiving unwanted contact and content’ was the most commonly reported negative online experience for children aged 8–12 in 2016–17, experienced by about a quarter of all children.
 
Dr Best said the high rates of children with mental health diagnoses and those who experience bullying remain ‘alarming’.

An estimated 14% of children aged 4–11 experienced a mental disorder in 2013–14, with boys (17%) more commonly affected than girls (11%). Despite these findings, 97% of children aged 12–13 reported having someone to talk to if they have a problem in 2016, with most (nine in 10) talking to their mother and/or father.
 
For children in years 4, 6 and 8, family and health ranked most important for having a good life in 2014.
 
Safety and harm
Nine out of 10 children aged 12–13 felt safe in their neighbourhood in 2015–16. Census night on 2016, however, revealed that around 19,400 of children aged 0–14 were homeless.
 
In 2017–18, 45% of children receiving specialist homelessness services accessed these services for interpersonal reasons such as domestic and family violence or family breakdown.
 
Hospitalised injury cases were slightly higher in 2016–17 than 10 years earlier, at around 66,500 for children aged 0–14, with boys 1.5 times as likely to be hospitalised for injury than girls. Falls accounted for 46% of hospitalised injury cases and were the most common reason for injury hospitalisation of children across all age groups.
 
Information gaps
The AIHW identifies known data gaps in the report, including further information on vulnerable groups, certain geographic areas, and collection on the child’s voice and individual experiences.
 
AIHW spokesperson Louise York said there is always more to learn about children and their experiences, including how children transition through major developmental stages and 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.’

Dr Best also noted that individual circumstances are key to identifying areas for improvement in children's lives.

‘The finding in the report that children's experiences and outcomes are influenced by where they live and their families financial circumstances should be food for thought for those deciding where to allocate resources and funding,’ he said.

‘We need to give the most support to those most in need and most at risk, and this report helps identify those children.’

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