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More than 40 per cent of disadvantaged children were in the bottom 15% of NAPLAN numeracy and literacy test scores, according to a recent study.
Changing Children’s Chances is a research project that identifies patterns in children’s experiences of disadvantage, and how these disadvantages affect critical childhood development.
Professor Sharon Goldfeld from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and chief investigator on the project said the issue needed more attention.
“This is a major problem,” Prof Goldfeld said.
“It should be a number one priority to consider how do we make a difference.”
Disadvantage is much more than socio economics
The project brings together professionals from universities, charities, hospitals and government bodies to better understand the types of disadvantage and the long term effects on disadvantage on children between birth and age 10.
It was found that one in three Australian children were exposed to some form of disadvantage.
“When people think about disadvantage they're just thinking about socio-economic things like education and income,” Prof Goldfeld said.
“We were interested in...four things, socio-demographics, health conditions, risk factors and geographic environment.”
“Disadvantage is much more than socio economics.”
The study found that the different types of disadvantage develop differently over time, and have different effects.
“If you look at socio-economics...when you start disadvantaged you stay disadvantaged,” Prof Goldfeld said.
On the other hand, if the disadvantage came from geographical causes, inequalities increased over time.
When it came to risk factors and health conditions, the degree of disadvantage could change either positively or negatively.
“So that sort of makes us think, wow, there could be some things in here that are modifiable, in other words where we could start to make a difference,” Prof Goldfeld said.
“It’s unlikely that there’ll be one thing, we’ll just do that, and everything else will get better, so I think the challenge will be what are the multiple things that we can do that really shift those pathways and trajectories for children onto really a much, much better developmental outcome,” she said.
It was found that if disadvantage was not experienced by a child, 70% of developmental outcomes would be improved.
“If you can get rid of [negative] developmental outcomes, you improve adult outcomes and of course that’s got benefits for adults and society,” Prof Goldfeld said.