Public Release: 

National snapshot of children's development

Research Australia

Nearly a quarter of Australian children could be developmentally at risk, according to the findings of the Australian Early Development Index (AEDI), a national research project that measures children's developmental progress as they enter school.

The AEDI, an initiative of the Centre for Community Child Health (CCCH) (a key research centre of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute) in partnership with the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research (TICHR), surveyed over 16,700 children in 25 communities across Australia.

The AEDI is funded by the Australian Government Department of Family and Community Services, as part of the National Agenda for Early Childhood, with corporate support from Shell in Australia.

The findings of the AEDI were announced in Broadmeadows, Melbourne today by the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Kay Patterson.

The AEDI also found that of the children surveyed:

  • 65.1% were performing well (in the top 25%) in at least one area of development
  • 22.6% were developmentally vulnerable (in the lowest 10%) in at least one area of development
  • 11% were developmentally vulnerable in two or more areas of development

CCCH Director, Professor Frank Oberklaid said the AEDI is a powerful tool for creating communities where all children can thrive and grow to fulfill their potential.

"We know that the first five years of life are critical to a child's life-long development, and that communities who put effort and resources into those early years will reap long-term benefits," said Professor Oberklaid.

"The AEDI assists communities to understand how their children are doing in crucial areas of development such as language and communication, emotions, behaviour and social competence.

"What's important about the AEDI is that it offers communities the opportunity to measure their success in providing services to young children and their families and then to target their efforts in the most effective way. As it is a relative index, communities can compare their results with other communities across Australia and to question the reasons behind any differences," he added.

Professor Sven Silburn of TICHR explained that the wide variation of results within communities was equally important.

"Communities will find that in some areas of child development, children are doing better then expected while in other areas there are more concerns. For instance, the picture for language might look different to the picture for emotional development or social competence. This can be due to the social environments for child rearing in a particular community or because of the available opportunities for early language stimulation and exposure," said Professor Silburn.

"This information will help communities to rally around the kinds of action needed to address their specific needs. We know that local resources and access to services can make a difference and this is vital to helping all children make the best possible start as they enter primary school."

"Child friendly communities with good social networks and easy access to services such as community centres, libraries, playgroups and parent support groups, can have a profoundly positive long-term effect on child development," he said.

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Communities wishing to implement the AEDI in 2006 should contact the AEDI National Support Centre, located at the Centre for Community Child Health, on tel: (03) 9345 6530 or email: australian.edi@rch.org.au by December 16, 2005. Further information on the AEDI is available at www.australianedi.org.au

Media information

A copy of the Australian Early Development Index: Building Better Communities for Children report is available at www.australianedi.org.au. Audio interviews with Professor Frank Oberklaid are available for download from www.mediagame.com.au. Access is free and unlimited.

Detailed community results will be on the AEDI website on December 8, 2005.

Rachel McConaghy, CCCH, Tel: +61 393 454 854 email: rachel.mcconaghy@mcri.edu.au

ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN EARLY DEVELOPMENT INDEX:
Building Better Communities for Children project

The Australian Early Development Index: Building Better Communities for Children Project provides communities from around Australia with the opportunity to better understand how children are developing by the time they reach school age in order to guide their efforts toward improving outcomes for children.

The project is conducted by the Centre for Community Child Health (a key research centre of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute) in partnership with the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research. It is an initiative funded by the Australian Government Department of Family and Community Services and is also supported by Shell in Australia.

Communities from all over Australia are able to apply to be part of the project, which will be run in up to 60 communities between 2004 and 2006. In 2004 and 2005, 25 communities from five states and territories implemented the AEDI.

What does the AEDI measure?

The AEDI is based on the Canadian Early Development Instrument (EDI) (Janus et al) and is a population measure of young children's development from a teacher-completed checklist and measures five developmental domains:

  • Language and cognitive skills
  • Emotional maturity
  • Physical health and well-being
  • Social competence
  • Communication skills and general knowledge

Teachers complete a 100-point checklist online for each child in their first year of school. The AEDI provides data on populations of children and is interpreted at the level of suburb or postcode of the child's residence, not their school. Personal information is not collected and data cannot be interpreted at an individual level for diagnostic purposes.

Why is the AEDI important for communities?

The purpose of the AEDI project is to measure the health and development of populations of children to help communities assess how well they are doing in supporting young children and their families. By using the AEDI to map children's development it is possible to begin to identify and understand the influence of socio-economic and community factors on children's development. The AEDI can also be used to monitor changes over time.

How does the AEDI help children, families and communities?

Supporting children in the years before school greatly increases their chances of a successful transition to school and better learning outcomes whilst at school. The AEDI provides community members and families with the opportunity to understand the health and development of local children, and facilitates increased collaboration between schools, early childhood services, and local agencies supporting children and families.

The AEDI data and maps can help identify:

  • Where the children who are developmentally "vulnerable" live.
  • Variations in child development within different parts of the community.
  • The strengths and vulnerabilities across the domains of child development.
  • The possible influence of socio-economic and community factors on child development.
  • How well the community is supporting young children and their families.
  • Where there have been successful early childhood programs.
  • Where change is still needed.

How does the AEDI influence planning and policy?

The AEDI can influence planning and policy by:

  • Providing an evidence base for the development of community initiatives that support healthy child development.
  • More effectively allocating existing resources.
  • Exploring new ways in which schools, early childhood services, and local agencies can work together to ensure children get the best possible start in life.
  • Reorienting community services and systems towards a greater focus on children.
  • Increasing awareness of the crucial importance of the early years for children.
  • Creating and evaluating effective community-based responses.

For more information visit www.australianedi.org.au

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