Issue 91

Family Matters No. 91, 2012

Journal issue feature image

Growing Up in Australia and Footprints in Time

Features articles based on presentations from the 2011 Growing Up in Australia: Longitudinal Study of Australian Children and Footprints in Time: Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children Conference

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Executive Editors: Ben Edwards

Editorial panel: Jennifer Baxter, John De Maio, Ben Edwards, Jacqui Harvey, Alan Hayes, Daryl Higgins, Rae Kaspiew, Killian Mullan, Carol Soloff, Jacqueline Stewart

Editor: Lan Wang

Cover art: The Family Matters 91 cover drawing is by Emma, 11 years old, 2010, study child from Growing Up in Australia, "It is my imagination running wild". From the Growing Up in Australia 2012 calendar. Reproduced with permission.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 91
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, December 2012, 105 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Digital natives? : New and old media and children's language acquisition

Michael Bittman, Leonie Rutherford, Jude Brown and Leonard Unsworth

The current generation of young children has been described as “digital natives”, having been born into a ubiquitous digital media environment. They are envisaged as educationally independent of the guided interaction provided by “digital immigrants”: parents and teachers. This paper uses data from the multiples waves of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) to study the effect of various media on children’s development of vocabulary and traditional literacy. Previous research has suggested that time spent watching television is associated with less time spent reading, and ultimately, with inferior educational outcomes. The early studies of the “new” digital media (computers, games consoles, mobile phones, the Internet, etc.) assumed these devices would have similar effects on literacy outcomes to those associated with television. Moreover, these earlier studies relied on poorer measures of time spent in media use and usually did not control for the context of the child’s media use. Fortunately, LSAC contains measures of access to digital devices; parental mediation practices; the child’s use of digital devices as recorded in time use diaries; direct measures of the child’s passive vocabulary; and teachers’ ratings of the child’s literacy. The analysis presented shows the importance of the parental context framing the child’s media use in promoting the acquisition of vocabulary, and suggests that computer (but not games) use is associated with more developed language skills. Independently of these factors, raw exposure to television is not harmful to learning, as previously thought.

Evaluating the effectiveness of the Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY)

Tony Barnett, Fatoumata Diallo Roost and Juliet McEachran

Children living in disadvantaged areas are vulnerable to developmental delay. In 2009, the Australian Government commenced the rollout of the Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY) to 50 socially disadvantaged communities across Australia. HIPPY aims to support parents in their role as their four-year-old child’s first teacher, so that their child starts school on an equal footing to that of their more advantaged peers. A two-year quasi-experimental research design was used to evaluate the effectiveness of HIPPY. A propensity score matching technique was used to identify a matched control group from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Positive effects were found across a number of important developmental domains and spheres of influence, including the child’s cognitive ability and social-emotional adjustment, the parent’s self-efficacy and parenting style, the home learning environment, and the parents’ social connectedness and inclusion. Currently, HIPPY operates as a targeted place-based initiative. But, if the program is to have an impact on reducing social inequalities in child school readiness at the population level, it will need to reach the majority of parents and vulnerable children who are in need of more support and be linked to a universal early childhood education and care platform.

Joint attention and parent-child book reading : Keys to help close gaps in early language development, school readiness and academic achievement

Brad Farrant

Language development in early childhood plays a critical role in school readiness and subsequent academic achievement (Brinkman, Sayers, Goldfeld, & Kline, 2009; Hoff, 2012; Janus & Offord, 2007). This paper describes and builds on the results of research into early vocabulary development using data from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Combining these findings with those of international research indicates that joint attention and parent–child book reading are important facilitators of children’s early vocabulary development in Western societies. Importantly, research has demonstrated that interventions that target joint attention and parent–child book reading enhance children’s language development. It is concluded that incorporating what we know about joint attention and parent–child book reading into early childhood services and integrating these with Child and Parent Centres on school sites could provide the seamless ongoing support that disadvantaged families and children need to help them close the gaps in early language development, school readiness and academic achievement.

Housing and children's wellbeing and development: Evidence from a national longitudinal study

Matthew Taylor and Ben Edwards

In this paper we present national estimates of the association between the housing circumstances of young Australian families and the developmental outcomes of children aged between 4 and 9 years old using the third wave of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). We find large differences in measures of both receptive vocabulary and emotional and behavioural problems according to the housing tenure of children’s families with children in public housing displaying the worst outcomes. We also find evidence that residential mobility adversely affects the outcomes of some children. Interestingly, we do not find that housing stress, as measured by the 30/40 rule, has any association with the developmental outcomes of children after taking into account the low household incomes of these families.

Footprints in Time: The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children: An overview

Laura Bennetts Kneebone, Jodie Christelow, Annette Neuendorf and Fiona Skelton

Footprints in Time: The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC), has been shaped by a steering committee chaired by Professor Mick Dodson AM since 2003. This article outlines the study design, shows where data collection occurs and introduces some of the findings. As requested in consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia, the study is community-based, focuses on strengths and has Indigenous people involved in the design, implementation and feedback to communities. Three waves of data are currently available to approved researchers who are examining topics such as: culture and language acquisition; nutrition and development, the impact of child, family and socioeconomic characteristics on Indigenous children’s development; educational engagement and learning; and the social and emotional wellbeing of parents and children. As annual data is collected and released, the study is rapidly accumulating valuable information about the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children that can contribute to closing the health, education and life expectancy gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers with quantitative or qualitative backgrounds are encouraged to use the data to contribute to improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Footprints in Time: The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children: A guide for the uninitiated

Mick Dodson, Boyd Hunter and Matthew McKay

The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children is arguably a landmark for the development of an effective policy to address Indigenous disadvantage early in the life cycle. This paper highlights how the study might inform policy-makers by providing some historical context about the survey design and collection. The brief history of LSIC provides an extended rationale for the need for the data and directly reflects on the survey design and methodology. The paper includes an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of LSIC, with reference to a few selected variables that may be useful in potential research. Some useful research questions are identified that LSIC data may be used to address, and the authors reflect on growing research that is using LSIC data. The community engagement strategy has been integral key to maximising participation and retention rates, especially the use of Indigenous interviewers to elicit potentially sensitive information. The main constraint for analysing the study is the relatively small sample size, which limits the statistical power of the resulting analysis.

Post-separation parenting and Indigenous families

Maggie Walter and Belinda Hewitt

This paper explores the shape and practice of Indigenous family relationships as they relate to post-separation parenting. While we already know that Indigenous families are younger, poorer and more likely to be sole parent families than non-Indigenous families we currently know very little about how these families practice the complexities of post-parental separation parenting. Data from the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children, Wave 2, allows for the mapping of these dimensions of family life. In this study we investigate, for those children whose other parent lives in another household, the pattern of study children’s interaction with non-resident parents and ongoing financial support from that parent, primarily as reflected by the payment or receipt of child support.

Do individual differences in temperament matter for Indigenous children? : The structure and function of temperament in Footprints in Time

Keriann Little, Ann Sanson and Stephen Zubrick

Studies of children from Western backgrounds have indicated that temperament plays an important role in children’s development, but little research has investigated the nature and importance of temperament for Australian Indigenous children. Drawing on data from Footprints in Time: The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LISC), this study investigated the structure of temperament in Indigenous children and how temperament, along with parenting style, is linked to later emotional and behavioural adjustment. Where possible, comparisons were made with data from Growing up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Findings suggested similarities in the structure, nature and function of temperament in Indigenous and non-Indigenous preschool-aged children, with both temperament and parenting style affecting later adjustment in ways that are broadly comparable with those found in studies of non-Indigenous children. However, parents of Indigenous children in LSIC responded to the temperament questionnaire rating scale differently to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous parents in LSAC and to other non-Indigenous parents in previous research. Various possible reasons for this are explored with no conclusive answers, but this finding indicates the importance of careful scrutiny of measures when used in different populations or with different modes of administration to previous use. In this particular case, we recommend a new way of scoring the temperament data.