Annual Report 2004

Minister's foreword

From the Minister for Family and Community Services

The Howard Government understands the importance of long-term investment in developing the evidence base for social policy in Australia. Growing Up in Australia - the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (commonly known as LSAC) is one such investment.

Until the Coalition Government provided the funding for LSAC, Australia was one of the few OECD countries not to have a national longitudinal study of very young children. As we have seen from the experiences of Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, studies that follow children over time from the early years are vitally important to the development of sound and effective policies. They help governments, policy makers, researchers and communities understand how different factors influence and affect children's pathways as they grow and mature into adults. The study will also help us understand how well our young children are doing on a range of indicators - social and emotional development, language and school achievement, and mental and physical health. It will also guide our understanding about how and why these results and outcomes might change over time. By improving our understanding we can ensure that policy interventions are as effective and timely as they can be.

Part of the uniqueness of LSAC is in the tracking of two different age cohorts of children - infants and 4-5 year olds. Following the infants will enable us to understand the influences of the early years of life in Australia on later outcomes. The 4-5 year olds will be followed through a significant transition in their lives, as they move from home or child care or preschool into the school environment. Another highlight of the study is the richness of the data collected from the children's parents as well as their teachers and child carers, giving a well-rounded picture of the child's life and experiences.

This is the first annual report on LSAC, and coincides with the release of the data from the first wave of the study. The report explains the basis for the study and highlights some of the interesting findings. As future waves of LSAC data are collected we will have a high quality source of information on the dynamic nature of Australian children's lives and the factors that impact on their wellbeing and development. I hope that policy analysts and researchers find this report useful in the valuable work they undertake in contributing to the best foundation we can provide for Australian children.

Senator the Hon. Kay Patterson
Minister for Family and Community Services

 

Director's foreword

I have been delighted to witness the production of the first results from Growing Up in Australia - the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). It demonstrates that the great deal of careful thought and work that has gone into the design and implementation of this landmark study is already bearing fruit. To have the first data collection completed and to start analysis are significant milestones in the survey process.

On behalf of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, I extend our thanks to the Australian Government officials, the academics, the interviewers, and especially the many families who have helped make this first wave of the study such a success. I also particularly thank the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator the Hon. Kay Patterson, for her strong support.

The Institute is proud to lead the consortium of research agencies that conducts LSAC, and we are thankful for the hard work and commitment shown by members of the Consortium Advisory Group who assisted with the design of the structure and content of the survey. This is our first annual report, and with subsequent waves of the data - we will be out in the field again next year for Wave 2 - we will further reap the benefits that only large-scale longitudinal studies can provide.

The topics covered by the survey are comprehensive. The children in the study already have more than two thousand variables attached to each of their data files. The six broad domains covered in the survey are: health, education, child care, family functioning, child functioning and socio-demographics. Teams of expert researchers from the consortium, as well as other experts, developed questions for each domain, and we and the Department of Family and Community Services consulted widely on the final content of the questionnaires.

The way the data are collected is quite innovative. Using a team of some 130 interviewers we interviewed parents and sent questionnaires to teachers and child carers. Interviewers spent considerable time inside the homes of the children, administering questionnaires and taking direct measurements of the child (such as height and weight) and, for the older children, administering some early literacy tests. I want to thank both I-view and Colmar Brunton Social Research for their outstanding commitment to the fieldwork process for Wave 1 and, once again, the more than 10,000 families in the study who so generously contributed their time, information and thoughts.

One of the innovative aspects of the study is the inclusion of time-use diaries. For the first time in Australia, we know how infants and 4-5 year old children spend their time. This information will be of great use to policy makers and researchers as we continue to develop our understanding about what children do in their early years and how this might influence later life outcomes. How much time do children spend outdoors? How often do they eat? How often do they see particular members of their families and how do they play?

The beauty of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children is that it can allow us to give a collective voice to our children. While we cannot gather much information from them directly at these very young ages, we can gather information from people who are closest to them to paint pictures of what their lives are like. Over time, we will see their stories unfold in ways that will give those who make and implement policy a very valuable view of the determinants of different outcomes for children and insights into how we can best support families to raise healthy and happy children.

Professor Alan Hayes
Director
Australian Institute of Family Studies

 

Key personnel

Survey Management Team

Project Operations Team

Assistance was received from Institute researchers, Michael Alexander and Jenny Baxter, for the "Highlights from Wave 1" section of this report.

Consortium Advisory Group members

Consultants

LSAC Scientific and Policy Advisory Group

Australia

Canada

New Zealand

United Kingdom

United States of America

Department of Family and Community Services LSAC Project Team

Branch Manager, Strategic Policy Branch

Fiona Dempster

Longitudinal Surveys Section, Strategic Policy Branch

Karen Wilson, Paula Chevalier, Jane Dickenson, Peter Walkear and Margaret Wada

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