While a nationwide study has confirmed a fear we possessed, childhood disadvantage comes in many forms. Personal risk is just the tip of the iceberg.
A study involving more than 5,000 Australian children, conducted by RMIT University and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has found that almost 30 per cent of our kids face developmental challenges in response to them experiencing some form of disadvantage.
Using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australia’s Children, researchers examined the affect on the development of literacy, numeracy and interpersonal and motor skills by exploring four specific types of disadvantage: geographic environment, health conditions, risk factor and sociodemographic factors.
What they discovered was that among those who had experienced disadvantage, 41 per cent were ranked in the bottom 15 per cent of NAPLAN numeracy and literacy test results.
Dr Hannah Badland is the co-author from the Healthy Liveable Cities Group. She believes there is a long-term impact on the development and health of children who reside in areas that fail to offer amenities such as libraries, playgrounds, parks, and good quality schools and other early learning facilities.
“When people hear the word ‘disadvantaged’ they often think about how wealthy someone is, how much power they have, how much prestige they have. For children, disadvantage manifests in the circumstances in which they live, learn and develop,” Ms Badland said.
She also explained that there appeared to be a widening gap over time, among children exposed to disadvantage in the neighbourhood environment, whereby their development inequities tended to increase based on their location of residence.
“Those who started out in the most advantaged neighbourhoods, became more advantaged over time; while those who started in most disadvantaged neighbourhoods became more disadvantaged.”
“The goods news is that it may be easier to change our neighbourhood environments,” she added. “Something as simple as building a library or safe open spaces all have excellent benefits for a child’s development.”
The Chief investigator at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Professor Sharon Goldfeld, said these findings confirm the importance of sustained, evidence-based solutions to address childhood disadvantage.
“At a population level, successfully addressing all aspects of disadvantage in childhood could reduce poor developmental outcomes by as much as 70 per cent. A better understanding of how specific aspects of disadvantage relate to child development domains is necessary for greater precision in policy responses. “If we don’t take into account how disadvantage manifests and occurs over time, well-intended public health and public policy interventions to address inequities could be undermined,” she stated.