As 2016 draws to a close, I have been reflecting on a year that has been at times inspiring and at times troubling, both nationally and on the global stage. Of course, of particular interest to me and my colleagues is the events of the year that have had implications for children and families.
March 2016 saw the release of the third round of Australian Early Development Census data. While the results showed that 78 per cent of children nationally are considered to be doing well, we are still seeing around 22 per cent of Australian children vulnerable on one or more developmental domains. There continues to be a large gap in outcomes between those children living in the most socio-economically disadvantaged communities compared with those living in the least socio-economically disadvantaged communities.
These data, alongside other measures of children’s outcomes, reinforce our view that redesigning services and systems to focus on prevention and early intervention is critical, and that this requires both policy- and practice-level change. As a result, we continue to take every opportunity to contribute to government reform, with a focus this year on the Victorian Government’s Roadmap for Reform, Education State and 10 Year Mental Health Plan and the Federal Government’s Jobs for Families Child Care Package and Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the National Education Evidence Base.
In contributing to these reform agendas, my colleagues and I have been particularly focused on the following:
- Infant and child mental health: We know that the pathways for health and wellbeing are determined from the antenatal period, yet we have had to continually challenge reform agendas that reference mental health in relation to adolescents and adults only. Getting child mental health on policy radar screens continues to be a major challenge.
- Early education and care: The evidence clearly shows high quality early education and care is one of the means by which disadvantage can be moderated, therefore we continue to call for decision-making about ECEC to be primarily based on children’s needs, rather than workforce productivity agendas. We continue to support, and encourage everyone to get behind, the Early Learning, Everyone Benefits campaign, developed by a partnership of leading early childhood peak bodies, research and advocacy organisations, and service providers.
- The health/education interface: We are particularly concerned by the approximately 18 per cent of children who start school each year with emerging health and developmental needs, and who are often not eligible for special needs funding. Managing children across a needs continuum requires transformational work at the interface between teaching, pedagogy and health.
Throughout 2016, we have continued to focus our efforts on supporting communities who are working hard to implement change at the local level to improve outcomes for children and families. Every new community and initiative we work with adds to our body of knowledge and our expertise in system redesign, service integration, parent and community engagement, and data and measurement. We are looking forward continuing to expand our expertise in data collection and collation, analysis, linkage and visualisation in 2017.
I’m also pleased that CCCH (through the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute) has been able to work in partnership with the Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth, Bupa, the Bupa Health Foundation, and PwC Australia to support an increased focus on the first 1000 days of childhood. This First 1000 Days Partnership has been formed in response to the limited policy focus on, and public understanding of, the significance of the period of development from conception to age two.
While it has been a tumultuous year, with some steps forward and some steps backward for children and families, and for society as a whole, what continues to drive me forward is the motivation and dedication of the staff who surround me. In 2016, the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute celebrated its 30 year anniversary, and of the 42 researchers featured in its Brilliant Minds campaign, five CCCH staff were featured. I would like to congratulate Professor Sharon Goldfeld, Professor Melissa Wake, Professor Harriet Hiscock and Doctor Anna Price, who were recognised alongside myself for their contribution to children’s health and wellbeing. While they have achieved particular recognition, all CCCH staff receive my personal congratulations and thanks for their efforts, and for their unwavering commitment to our vision of improving health and development outcomes for all children.
I wish all of our partners, collaborators, funders, colleagues and friends a happy, healthy and relaxing festive period, and I look forward to working with you again in 2017.
Professor Frank Oberklaid – Director, Centre for Community Child Health.