Annual Report 2007‚Äď2008

Overview of Growing Up in Australia

This section is an edited extract from an article published in Family Matters no. 79, "Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children is now walking and talking", by Matthew Gray and Diana Smart.

The Growing Up in Australia study aims to shed light on the development of the current generation of Australian children, and to investigate the contribution of the children's social, economic and cultural environments to their adjustment and wellbeing. More specifically, it seeks to improve understanding of the complex interplay of factors that foster or impede healthy early childhood development, to identify opportunities for early intervention and prevention in policy areas concerning children, and to inform the policy debate in general.

Multiple facets of children's development, health and wellbeing are examined, including physical health, social, cognitive and emotional development. The study collects information on children's attributes (such as their temperament) and the contexts in which they are raised, particularly their family, child care, school, neighbourhood and community experiences. The study also examines dynamics within these settings; for example, the parenting practices and the quality of co-parental relationships to which children are exposed, and the care received in differing types of non-parental care.

A set of 14 key research questions guides the study, clustered around the themes of child and family functioning, health, child care, and education. These are:

The study commenced in 2004 with the recruitment of two cohorts: about 5,000 families with infants aged 0-1 years (B cohort), and 5,000 families with 4-5 year olds (K cohort). The study is using an accelerated cross-sequential design in which the two cohorts of children are followed. This design will enable information on children's development over the first 10 or 11 years of life to be collected in 6 years. From Wave 3 onwards, the two cohorts will be able to be compared at overlapping ages (e.g., at 4-5 and 6-7 years), to gauge the effect of growing up in differing social conditions and policy settings (see Table 1).

Table 1: Age of cohorts, Waves 1-4

Table 1: Age of cohorts, Waves 1-4

The sampling frame was the Medicare Australia enrolment database. A multi-stage selection process was used to recruit a representative sample residing in urban and rural areas of all states and territories of Australia. The fieldwork for Wave 1 was conducted by I-view, and for Waves 2-4 is being undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Wave 2 of the study was conducted in 2006, with a response rate of 90%. The third wave of data is currently being collected. In addition, there have been two between-waves mail surveys of the sample in 2005 and 2007.

The study collects information on a wide range of topics. A summary of the topics covered and their scope is provided in Table 2.

Table 2: Topics covered by Growing Up in Australia, Waves 1, 2 and 3

Family demographics

Demographic information relating to the family, such as parental education attainment, occupation, ethnicity and religion.

Family finances

Financial information, such as income, financial hardship, receipt of government benefits.

Family relationships

Information on the quality of relationships; primarily focused on the relationship between parents, but also on broader family harmony.

Health behaviour and risk factors

Behaviours and risk factors that potentially impinge upon or promote the health of the study child or his/her family. Includes behaviours such as parental smoking and drinking, child physical activity and diet, as well as risk factors such as a parent experiencing diabetes during pregnancy.

Health status

Information about the physical and mental health status of the study child, such as body mass index, diagnosis with conditions and number of hospital stays. Information on parents' physical and mental health is also collected.

Home educational environment

Information on factors likely to promote or hinder the child's learning while at home, such as parental support for education, number of books in the home and TV use. Also contains information on parent interaction with teachers, such as parent-teacher interviews, with parents' and teachers' perspectives being obtained.

Housing

Information on housing, such as number of bedrooms, tenure type and payments.

Learning and cognitive outcomes

Information on the child's development in the areas of learning and cognition, including language, literacy and numeracy.

Learning environments

Characteristics of child care or school environment, such as practices employed by teachers and child care workers in their work, including time use, use of resources and general philosophies.

Parental employment

Information on work status, such as employment type, occupation and work/family interactions.

Parenting practices and style

Information on parenting styles and other aspects of parenting, such as self-efficacy.

Parents living apart from the child

Details of the child's other parent, such as the relationship to study child, interactions with resident parent and child support.

Program characteristics

Characteristics of the school, preschool or child care program, such as type of program, number of days or hours the child attends and staff satisfaction.

Social and emotional development

Information relevant to the social and emotional development of the child, such as temperament, behaviour, peer interactions and emotional states.

Social capital

Information on social capital, such as interactions with neighbours, neighbourhood characteristics and use of services.

With the release of data in August 2007 from the second wave of the study, Australia now has national longitudinal data on children's development. While there are questions that can be answered using cross-sectional surveys, there are many that can only be answered using longitudinal data, as they provide information about the dynamics of change at an individual or family level and insights into the effects of experiences earlier in life on outcomes later in life. Growing Up in Australia is now well on the way to achieving this aim.

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