Annual Report 2006‚Äď2007

Director's report

In 2004, over 10,000 children and families around Australia agreed to take part in Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). This study is designed to identify policy opportunities for improving support for children and their families and for intervention and prevention strategies. This longitudinal study involves two representative cohorts of children - approximately 5,000 infants aged 0-1 years (B or infant cohort), and 5,000 children aged 4-5 years (K or child cohort), when the families agreed to take part in 2004. It is following the development of these children until 2010 and possibly beyond.

The study addresses a range of key questions about children's development and wellbeing. Information is collected on the children's physical health and social, cognitive and emotional development, as well as their experiences in key environments such as the family, community, child care, pre- and primary school settings.

Information is collected via interviews with parents (and children from age 6-7 years); direct assessments of the children; self-complete questionnaires filled out by mothers and fathers (including those living apart from the child), carers and teachers; and time use diaries completed by parents about their child's activities over two 24-hour periods (during the week and on a weekend).

This report, the third in a series, focuses on the Wave 2 data collection and early trends emerging from this second wave, as well as recent research findings and dissemination activities completed in the past year.

Wave 2

The main activity for 2006-07 was the Wave 2 data collection. This was completed early in 2007 and we are delighted to announce that 90 per cent of Wave 1 families were interviewed at Wave 2. For a study of this size, this result is outstanding.

Our thanks are extended to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (as the study's data collection agency), their dedicated and hardworking interviewers and, especially, to the Growing Up in Australia families for their contribution to this pleasing result. Further details of the second wave of data collection are given later in this report.

The Wave 2 data was released to researchers and policy makers in September 2007. Along with the inclusion of data from Wave 1.5, it is now possible to begin to explore longitudinal trends for both the B and K cohorts. User documentation accompanied the release of data, including a data dictionary, a user guide, a technical paper on weighting and non-response, and copies of the marked-up questionnaires. These products are available on the study website: www.aifs.gov.au/growingup

At the time of writing, there are about 200 users of the Growing Up in Australia data. The Institute continues to play a major role in the analysis, reporting and promotion of the data, for example through articles published in the Institute's journal, Family Matters, and presentations at many conferences, both national and international. Details of the users and uses of the data are provided later in this report.

Wave 3

A second major activity for 2006-07 was the development phase for the third wave of data collection. The third wave will be especially interesting, as it presents the first opportunity to exploit the cross-sequential cohort design. In Wave 3, children in the B cohort will be the same age as the K cohort children were in Wave 1, allowing inter-cohort comparisons.

The development process for Wave 3 began in early 2006, with design teams (comprising members of the Consortium Advisory Group, government departmental representatives, and other experts) convened to identify potential additions and changes in the research domains of health, education, child care, family functioning, child functioning and socio-demographics. Key considerations were: the maintenance of longitudinal fidelity and continuity across waves; the need for adjustments to measure children's developing attributes and capacities as they age; and the identification of opportunities for improvements in measures and data collection methodologies.

A number of new content areas were identified in this process, and testing of these occurred in late 2006 and early 2007. New content included family functioning measures, such as extended caring roles and shared parenting, as well as a longer interview with the K cohort children, now aged 8-9 years, covering such issues as self-esteem, bullying, friendship and antisocial behaviours.

For the first time, the B cohort is to take part in a direct assessment component (as occurred for the K cohort in Wave 1), comprising a short form of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT), and the Who am I? school readiness activity. Two new direct assessments of literacy and numeracy were trialled for use with the K cohort, but did not provide the quality of information needed in a time-efficient manner. It was thus decided to maintain the cognitive tests completed by K cohort children in Wave 2 (a short form of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and the Matrix Reasoning from the WISC IV), which will yield three waves of data on the PPVT and two on the Matrix Reasoning. Additionally, results from the National Literacy and Numeracy Benchmark testing will be sought to augment the information obtained on child functioning.

The development phase was completed in June 2007 with the identification of measures and instruments to be included in the Wave 3 data collection.

The primary data collection method, namely a face-to-face interview with the child's main parent (Parent 1) will continue, with self-complete forms for parents and teachers as before. A computer-assisted telephone interview is being used with parents living apart from the study child.

The first stage of data collection commenced in August 2007, with the main collection phase scheduled to begin early in 2008.

Contact between waves

Approximately one year after Wave 1, study families were mailed a short questionnaire (termed Wave 1.5) to gain an update of the study child's progress in specific areas. Data from Wave 1.5 was released in November 2006. The data set included responses to questions covering aspects of the children's behaviour, development and general health issues such as asthma, injuries and sleeping patterns. The areas of education, child care, stressful life events and parents' mental health were also covered, and parents were asked to give a free-text response about what they liked about their child.

The B cohort dataset also included information from a nested study, the Parental Leave in Australia Survey, by Dr Gillian Whitehouse, from the University of Queensland, regarding service utilisation, parental employment history, maternity and other leave, and employment after birth.

With over 70 per cent of families responding to Wave 1.5 in late 2005, this between-waves contact was shown to be an important and successful way of keeping in touch with respondents between the main waves of data collection in Growing Up in Australia, while also providing opportunities for nested studies and gathering data about areas of development that may change substantially within the two-year gap between waves.

Growing Up in Australia again contacted study families with a short mailed questionnaire during August 2007 (Wave 2.5). This questionnaire contained questions on children's media and technology use, parents' return to work and child support. The study design team worked with both the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) in the development of the questionnaire.

Life at 1 documentary

The AIFS is very pleased to be involved with a documentary produced by Film Australia in conjunction with Heiress Films, which drew on the experience of the Growing Up in Australia study. Life at 1 was the first instalment in the series, following 11 babies and their families through their ordinary routines and milestones, looking at the impact on their lives of factors such as their parents' relationships, finances, work, health and education. Two initial episodes were produced and screened on ABC TV in October 2006.

The documentary explored the factors that help or hinder children to thrive, with information provided by the children's families and experts, including members of the Growing Up in Australia Consortium Advisory Group, and analysis of data from the Growing Up in Australia study.

Following the successful screening of Life at 1, Film Australia has begun production of Life at 3. Institute researchers returned to conduct the Growing Up in Australia interviews with the families featured in the first documentary, and felt privileged to catch up with the families and see how they are progressing. Advice and commentary have again been provided by Consortium members. A Life at 2 website has been launched by the ABC, at www.abc.net.au/lifeat2, to provide updates on the families and their children between the documentary waves.

Keeping in touch with families

Keeping in touch with families is obviously very important for a longitudinal study. In December 2006, Growing Up in Australia families were sent a newsletter that provided an update on the study's progress, and a 2007 calendar featuring wonderful drawings by 6-7 year old study children. Birthday cards are sent to the children each year.

Growing Up in Australia goes international!

The Growing Up in Australia study received considerable overseas exposure during the year, including at the inaugural International Conference for Child Cohort Studies, hosted by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies and held in Oxford, UK, during September 2006. A number of papers using data from Growing Up in Australia were presented by both Institute staff and members of the study's Consortium Advisory Group.

Study findings

This Annual Report features preliminary analyses of the Wave 2 data, starting with an overview of the experiences and circumstances of the study children and their families. The presentation of findings continues with an examination of breastfeeding and return-to-work patterns, utilising data from Waves 1, 1.5 and 2, undertaken by Jennifer Baxter, a senior researcher at the Institute. Next, using Wave 2 data, parental employment and family financial wellbeing are explored by Matthew Gray, the LSAC Executive Project Manager, and Jennifer Baxter.

In July 2007, FaHCSIA released the first of a series of thematic reports using Wave 1 data, as part of its Social Policy Research Paper series. In this Annual Report, we include two extracts from the paper Mothers and Fathers with Young Children: Paid Employment, Caring and Wellbeing: one on child care and the other on parents' time with their children.

Data use

With the release of Wave 2 data, Growing Up in Australia has come of age as a longitudinal study. I am delighted at the steady increase in use of the data, both by Institute researchers and other colleagues, both nationally and internationally.

The pleasing progress of this groundbreaking study is the result of the expertise, dedication and hard work of the Consortium Advisory Group, the team from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and the Institute's Project Operations Group. I especially acknowledge the efforts of Institute staff: Carol Soloff, Linda Bencic, Sebastian Misson, Mark Sipthorp, Siobhan O'Halloran, Anna Ferro, Jo Slater and Robert Johnstone. Dr Matthew Gray (Executive Project Manager), Professor Ann Sanson (Principal Scientific Advisor) and Professor Steve Zubrick (Chair of the Consortium Advisory Group) are to be thanked for their leadership that contributes so directly to the success of this study. I also gratefully acknowledge Mr Andrew Whitecross and staff of FaHCSIA for their continuing commitment to Growing Up in Australia, and their generous support and advice. Finally, it is to the children and families who so willingly continue to participate in the study that my greatest debt of gratitude must be extended.

Professor Alan Hayes
Director
Australian Institute of Family Studies

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