Family Matters No. 84 - May 2010

Institute seminars

Putting age discrimination in perspective: Everyone is an ageing worker

Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Commissioner Responsible for Age Discrimination

Seminar held at the Institute on 6 August 2009

Seminar report by Rachel King

In this seminar, Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Commissioner Responsible for Age Discrimination, discussed the pervasive, systemic, invisible and accepted nature of age discrimination that limits all individuals' participation in the workforce, stating everyone, from their first job, is an ageing worker. Ms Broderick considered this issue within a human rights framework, and questioned whether age discrimination would actually nullify individuals' ability to work to the new pension eligibility age of 67.

Ms Broderick's presentation described age discrimination as a culmination of stereotypes based on age-related characteristics, that, in relation to work, is placed above qualifications, experience, or other relevant employment attributes. Discussing the manner that workplaces reflect broader social contexts in which youth and appearance are highly valued, Ms Broderick highlighted the following key points regarding the influence of age discrimination in the work environment:

  • The recruitment process entails many elements that overtly represent opportunities for employers to be discriminatory based on age.
  • Workplaces can minimise the value and investment of a worker based on their age, leading to under-employment, demotion, redundancy and harassment or bullying.
  • There may be a serious leakage of talents, which leads to skill shortages in various types of work.

Ms Broderick also discussed the influence of age discrimination on the social and psychological health of individuals, including:

  • internalisation of negative stereotypes;
  • lack of confidence in re-entering the work force, and in skills;
  • marginalisation in the work place;
  • poverty;
  • psychological affects such as depression, isolation and cognitive decline.

Finally, Ms Broderick outlined three integral areas in which resources should focus:

  • Undertaking research to ensure policy frameworks and solutions are evidence-based, and address the paucity of rigorous age discrimination research.
  • Increasing communication so that a social movement and education campaign is launched to challenge and ultimately change the stereotypical ageist attitudes and behaviours entrenched within communities.
  • Federal and state legal reform to eradicate the existence of barriers and disincentives that risk creating individuals 45 years and older unable to be recruited, unemployable, discriminated against, and at risk of poverty, poor mental health and social exclusion.

Protecting children: Where to from here?

Dr Adam Tomison, Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology

Seminar held at the State Library of Victoria on 10 September 2009

Seminar report by Briony Horsfall

As part of the Institute's activities celebrating National Child Protection Week, Dr Adam Tomison, Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, gave a seminar presentation entitled 'Protecting Children: Where to from here?' Dr Tomison posed the challenge to decision makers to think 'more radically' in order to address the entrenched social problems behind the abuse and neglect of children.

In the seminar, Dr Tomison guided the audience through the historical development of present-day western child protection systems and described the 'pendulum swings' between an emphasis on prevention efforts to an emphasis on statutory intervention. This has eventuated in a contemporary context where therapeutic efforts with children and parents have been over-shadowed by forensic responses (such as mandatory reporting and statutory intervention). This has contributed to barriers to prevention and early intervention through public health approaches. Using the example of sexual abuse, he proposed that positioning forensic responses as the main strategy for handling child protection concerns ignores the multitude of individual, family, community and societal factors that contribute to the occurrence of child maltreatment.

The major issue, as argued by Dr Tomison, was the need for a more strategic approach to reforming child protection systems and practices in Australia. Positive long-term change is possible though strategic planning that prioritises the needs of children.

Drawing on local and international case studies, he offered three possible areas for reform - these were put forward not as solutions, but as ideas for discussion. First, a separation of forensic investigatory services and therapeutic services was proposed as having the potential to provide a clearer distinction between statutory cases of child abuse and neglect and families requiring therapeutic responses. Second, establishing 'confidential doctor services', whereby a general medical practitioner would engage with a multidisciplinary team to coordinate services for children and parents, was offered as a possible strategy to strengthen the family support and therapeutic pathway. Finally, he recommended that communities be repositioned as local experts, especially for remote and rural areas, in order to foster positive attitude change and community engagement. This strategy would see community-based, culturally appropriate solutions in partnership with professional solutions to child maltreatment.

While acknowledging the complexity of child protection, Dr Tomison's presentation provided both inspiration and pragmatic strategies that can be undertaken in the present for the benefit of improving the wellbeing of Australia's children.

Developmental pathways in language emergence from two to seven: Late starts and surprising arrivals

Professor Stephen Zubrick from Curtin University

Seminar held at the Institute on 8 October 2009

Seminar report by Suzanne MacLaren

In this AIFS seminar, Professor Stephen Zubrick from Curtin University presented results from the RASCALS study, a research collaboration with the University of Kansas, which has investigated the nature of early language acquisition in children, with an emphasis on the phenomenon of late language emergence (LLE). The RASCALS research was driven by the need to further unlock the inner workings of language development, and discover what aspects (such as environmental risk factors) may impact on development. Researchers sought particularly to answer the question 'Does starting to talk late matter?'

The predominant view in current literature is that late language emergence is chiefly driven by environmental factors, rather than genetic or neurobiological factors. Professor Zubrick's research explored the relationship between genetics, neurobiology and environment, and their impact on language acquisition.

RASCALS is a longitudinal study comprised of 1,766 West Australian families with children born in 1995/1996. Parents of participating children were asked to fill in the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, which identified differences in the children's level of language acquisition.

Professor Zubrick began by providing a description of the fundamental features of language emergence in children, explaining that language acquisition takes place early (normally between 18 to 24 months), occurs largely independent of 'formal, structured inputs', and is strongly focused on attaining the adult model of language. Other fundamental features of early language are its universal capability - the child's ability to pick up any language as a first language - and the robustness of language, meaning only very powerful obstacles can get in the way of its development.

LLE could be identified in the study children at age 2, and in contrast to much of the accepted literature on the topic, the predictors of this status were principally 'internal to the child' - suggesting genetic rather than environmental influences. While some of the family characteristics measured in the study such as family size and family history of late talking had some impact on late language emergence, no maternal characteristics - like mother's age, education or parenting style - impacted on LLE status. The biggest influence on LLE status stemmed from the birth characteristics of gender, gestational age and fetal growth and also child characteristics at age 2: gross and fine motor skills, personal-social functioning and adaptive functioning.

The children in the study were again examined at age 7, and although there were still some differences in those children who had late language emergence at 2 and those who didn't, it was found that LLE status at age 2 does not effectively predict future language outcomes. Many children who were found to be struggling with language skills at age 2 were no longer behind at 7, and it was discovered that many boys who had lagged behind their female peers at this age had caught up in their language development by age 7. Additionally, some children who did not show LLE did show language difficulties at 7 years.

In conclusion, Professor Zubrick suggested that age 4 may be a better stage to predict later language difficulties in children, and that prediction from earlier life cannot be relied upon. Work with the RASCALS data will continue, with the aim of increasing the understanding around the predictive nature of LLE in young children.

The role of family policies in the promotion of child wellbeing: Lessons from the OECD report Doing Better for Children

Dominic Richardson

Seminar held at the Institute on 6 November 2009

The November seminar featured Dr Dominic Richardson, Policy Analyst (Child Well-Being) at the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). Dr Richardson's work focuses on comparing and modelling child and family policies, and designing a frame-work through which policy-amenable indicators of child wellbeing can be compared across the OECD.

In this engaging presentation, Dr Richardson drew directly from the OECD's Doing Better for Children report (of which he is a co-author) and explored how policy structures and social spending on families in OECD countries are associated with a range of child outcomes. The report compared these countries' public spending on children by type as they age. The levels of spending on families in OECD countries and the way in which it is spent varies widely, even though the goals of promoting the health, education and general wellbeing of children are similar across the OECD. More specifically, the ages at which children receive more or less support through family cash benefits also vary.

Key questions explored in the presentation included:

  • How do spending patterns on family policies compare across OECD countries?
  • How do policy-amenable child wellbeing measures compare across OECD countries?
  • Does the timing of social spending matter for child wellbeing outcomes?
  • Does the type of spending matter?

Dr Richardson finished the seminar by outlining areas of policy recommendations for tailoring social spending patterns to improve child wellbeing outcomes in OECD member countries.

Policy recommendations for system design included:

  • supporting the present and future wellbeing of children across a range of domains;
  • developing policy to support child wellbeing as a coherent system;
  • monitoring child wellbeing to identify improvements and areas needing policy attention;
  • spending on children as if it were an investment portfolio, subject to a continuous iterative process of evaluation; and
  • setting child wellbeing targets, unless these create strong perverse incentives.

Resourcing recommendations included:

  • "frontloading" by spending early and relatively more on prenatal policies and early childhood;
  • "risk-loading" by spending relatively more on children at high risk of poor wellbeing, especially early on; and
  • spending relatively less on highly medicalised, universal policies surrounding child birth and on programmes captured by advantaged children.

Dr Richardson closed his address with some approaches that may be worth exploring in future, such as prenatal interventions, coordinating breastfeeding with paid parental leave, home visiting and early childhood education interventions, methods of targeting resources to the most disadvantaged children, conditional cash transfers for children and experimental and non-experimental policy evaluation options.

This presentation contained unpublished analyses. Do not cite without the express consent of the author.