Social and emotional outcomes of young Australian children from Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

Social and emotional outcomes of young Australian children from Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

18 July 2012

Evidence from developed countries suggests that young children from Indigenous and cultural and linguistic diversity (CALD) backgrounds experience poorer health and wellbeing outcomes compared to their peers.

But it is difficult to know what explains these different outcomes, as apparent effects of ethnicity, culture and immigrant status may also reflect different family or neighbourhood circumstances.

A recent study of the social and emotional outcomes of Australian children from Indigenous or CALD backgrounds aimed to provide some insights on these issues. The study was based on analyses of Wave 1 of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, including children aged 4-5 years.

The social emotional outcomes of children were compared according to their mothers’ country of birth, Indigenous status and language spoken at home.

The characteristics of these families were compared by looking at factors that may place children at heightened risk of having poorer outcomes, including indicators of socioeconomic disadvantage such as low maternal education, low parental income and living in an unsafe neighbourhood.

Compared to the children with Australian born English speaking mothers, children with an Indigenous mother or an overseas born mother with poor English proficiency were significantly:

  • more likely to have low parental income;
  • more likely to have a mother with incomplete secondary education;
  • more likely to have a mother with low consistent parenting;
  • less likely to live in neighbourhoods rated as safe or as good for raising children; and
  • more likely have a mother with low warm parenting and high hostile parenting.

Overall, these findings highlight that children fromIndigenous and CALD backgrounds are more likely than other children to be exposed to risk factors for poor child mental health outcomes within their family and neighbourhood environments.

Child mental health was then evaluated with items from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Comparison of the SDQ total difficulties scores showed that children of mothers who were Indigenous and children of mothers who were overseas born with poor English proficiency were more likely to have higher levels of total difficulties compared to children with Australian born English speaking mothers. Other groups of children did not differ significantly from children with Australian born English speaking mothers.

These differences were analysed further to see if they could be explained by the different characteristics of children in each of these groups.

For children of Indigenous mothers, the differences remained after controlling for family and neighbourhood characteristics. This suggests that other risk and protective factors within their contexts are contributing to their poorer outcomes. Such factors identified in other research include extended family and kinship networks, cultural identity, and racism.

For children of overseas-born mothers with poor English proficiency, their outcomes were no longer significantly poorer when taking account of the family and neighbourhood characteristics of these children. This suggests that these settings for children are particularly important in explaining their poorer outcomes.

Children from Indigenous and CALD backgrounds experience poorer mental health outcomes at school entry than their Australian born, English-speaking peers. They are also more likely to be exposed to risk factors for poor child mental health outcomes within their family and neighbourhood environments.

Further information on the analyses in this study, and references to support the assertions in this short article can be found in the following journal article:

Priest, N., Baxter, J. A., & Hayes, L. (2012). Social and emotional outcomes of young Australian children from Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Australian New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 26(2), 183–190.

Acknowledgements

This work was conducted as part of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) New Investigators Network (NIN). We would like to acknowledge the support we received from NIN mentors Ann Sanson, Steve Zubrick and Alan Hayes as well as from other NIN participants in the preparation of this paper. The paper uses unit record data from Growing Up in Australia, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. The study is conducted in partnership between the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The findings and views reported in this article are those of the authors and should not be attributed to FaHCSIA, AIFS or the ABS.

Comments

Before I comment fully I would like some further information on the questions asked when compiling the data in this study. In redaing the brief it appears to me, an Aboriginal woman, that vital biological data is missing. We know that DNA + environment = genome. An SDQ process would not even begin to identify the problems of the child especially in the area of mental health. The first process should be to create a profile of each individual child's pre-birth history including the past 2-3 generations to identify their exposures to teratogens, that is, agents that cause developmental disorders beginning with: 1. family stress and domestic violence 2. alcohol 3. smoking 4. cannabis and other illicit substances 5. prescription drugs 6. other Data bases without this crucial information are not worth analysing as they do not contribute even half the profile of the child' functioning. It becomes merely an outsider's viewpoint derived from inadequate assessment tools. A full biological and neuropsychological picture must be constructed from a range of cross disciplinary perspectives. To make assertions about the child in the absence of such critical information is a moral and ethical issue which breaches the basic rights of the child who could be dependent on having their disability recognised.
Julie Trindall

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Authors

Jennifer Baxter

Dr Jennifer Baxter is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

 

Naomi Priest

McCaughey Centre, University of Melbourne

Linda Hayes

Cancer Council Victoria

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