Health and wellbeing of children and young people in Tasmania
Deborah Kirkwood, Adam Dean
A recent report published by Tasmania’s Commissioner for Children and Young People draws on a range of existing data sets to provide an overview of the health and wellbeing of Tasmanian children and young people through early childhood, their transition to school, middle childhood and adolescence. The report also looks at the range of interventions for children and young people in Tasmania, particularly in the areas of child protection, family violence and homelessness.
While there are positive trends in early childhood development and decreasing rates of alcohol, drug use and offending in adolescence, the report highlights that Tasmanian children grow up with higher levels of disadvantage than children in other Australian states and territories. The report also highlights that the number of children in out-of-home care in Tasmania increased between 2011–2017 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be over-represented in the Tasmanian child protection system.
Tasmania’s children living with higher levels of disadvantage
Over 112,600 children and young people aged 0–17 years were living in Tasmania at 30 June 2017, representing almost a quarter of Tasmania’s population. In 2016, Tasmania had the highest levels of disadvantage compared to the rest of Australia with more than two-thirds of children and young people living in areas of relative disadvantage; characterised by low income, low educational attainment and high unemployment.
Early childhood development
The majority (approximately 80%) of Tasmanian children were developmentally on track between 2009 and 2015 according to Australian Early Development Census data. In 2015, Tasmanian children performed above the national average in their physical and social development and communication skills, but were below the national average for their emotional, language and cognitive skills development. While there are some children in all communities across Tasmania who experience developmental vulnerability, the report highlights there are key communities with a higher proportion of children who are developmentally vulnerable.
Middle childhood and adolescence
The report highlights a number of positive trends during middle childhood and adolescence. It found an overall decline in the:
- rate of young offenders aged 10–17 years between 2013/14 and 2016/17
- percentage of young people aged 12–17 years who smoke, consume alcohol and use illicit drugs over the last couple of decades.
These positive trends are occurring despite concerning levels of mental health problems and only a small proportion (30%) of children and young people meeting recommended levels of physical activity. A third of Tasmanian children were reported to have exceeded the recommended number of hours for electronic media use.
In 2017, the rate of school attendance by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people was higher in Tasmania than the national average. However, the NAPLAN data show that fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (52.1%) remain in school through Year 10 to Year 12 compared to non-Indigenous young people (72.4%).
Interventions for children and young people
The report also summarises the numbers of children and young people in contact with protective services and interventions that respond to their safety and wellbeing, including child protection, family violence and specialist homelessness services.
Despite overall rates of children reported to child protection services in Tasmania declining over recent years, the rate of reports to child protection remained higher than the national average in 2016/17. Since 2011, the number of children in out-of-home care in Tasmania has increased from 966 to 1,205 children and young people in care at June 30, 2017 – the second highest rate in Australia.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continued to be over-represented in Tasmania’s child protection system. Approximately 69 per 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were reported to child protection in 2016/17, compared to approximately 55 per 1,000 of all children in Tasmania. Although it has increased from the previous year, only 41.3 per cent of Tasmania’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were placed according to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Placement Principle in 2016/17, compared to 67.6 per cent nationally.
Children were present at over half of the family violence incidents attended by Tasmania Police in 2016/17, with overall reports of family violence incidents increasing from 2,283 to 3,098 between 2012/13 and 2016/17. In 2016, 15 per cent of all victims of family violence related assault in Tasmania were children and young people aged 0–19 years, which has increased slightly from previous years. However, in more positive trends, the report highlights that the number of children waiting for therapeutic counselling services after experiencing family violence has decreased between 2013/14 and 2016/17.
In 2016/17, 34.9 per cent of Tasmanians who received specialist homelessness services were children and young people aged 0–17 years; a rate higher than the national average. In the same year, almost a half (47.9%) of the unmet need for accommodation and support related to children and young people; again, higher than the national average (30.8%).
A range of other issues relating to the health and wellbeing of Tasmanian children and young people is explored in the Commissioner’s report. Download a copy via the Commissioner for Children and Young People Tasmania website.
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- Developmental differences in children who have experienced adversity
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- The intersection between the child protection and youth justice systems
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- Enhancing the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle: Policy and practice considerations
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