NFP Report Warning on Aussie Children’s Wellbeing
8 October 2013 at 2:36 pm
Australian children who experience serious disadvantage are likely to suffer lifelong negative consequences and the situation is likely to worsen unless Governments intervene, according to a new Not for Profit study.
The Benevolent Society has released a report to mark its 200th Anniversary that sounds a serious warning about the wellbeing of Australia’s children, and unsustainable future costs to fix social problems which it says can be prevented by more investment in support for families during children’s early years.
The report shows how children who in their first five years have a home environment where they experience poverty, abuse, neglect, poor health and nutrition, mental health or behaviour problems, are at greater risk in later life of unemployment, low income, depression, anxiety, drug abuse and anti-social and criminal behaviour, leaving school early, emotional problems and ongoing health problems.
It said that evidence indicated worsening or unacceptably high levels of problems among Australia’s children and young people.
“These problems will not improve – and could get worse – unless we are able to effectively intervene to prevent these problems from occurring in the first place or address the problems early before they become entrenched”, the report said
“In dealing with increasing problems such as crime, obesity, anti-social behaviour, child abuse and mental illness, our governments are stuck in a cycle of reacting too late when it’s more costly and less effective,” The Benevolent Society CEO Anne Hollonds said.
The report, Acting Early, Changing Lives: How prevention and early action saves money and improves wellbeing was commissioned by The Benevolent Society, Australia’s longest running Not for Profit organisation, and prepared by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
“In our 200th year we see the need for stronger commitment and better coordination of support for families with young children by all State and Federal governments,” Hollonds said.
“All the evidence shows us that investment in the early years of life is much more effective and brings greater economic returns to the community. This is when the foundations of mental and physical health and development are laid.
“Failing to invest in prevention and early action is like signing a blank cheque now for much higher future costs.”
The report lists worrying trends affecting many children in Australia today:
- One in seven Australian children is affected by a behavioural or emotional problem;
- Less than half of our kids who need professional help for a mental health issue receive the help they need;
- One in six children live below the poverty line and Australia has the fourth highest rate of children living in jobless families in the OECD [15 per cent];
- One in five Australian children are vulnerable in one or more developmental domains when they start school.
This report shows that the solution is acting early, especially by providing parenting support and early learning for children under five.
It highlights solid benefits of the world’s most effective early intervention programs:
- children did better in school and employment;
- they grew up to have better mental and overall health;
- their parents had better parenting skills which created a more supportive nurturing home life; and
- there were serious reductions in rates of risky behaviour, criminality and notifications of child abuse and neglect.
“If we, as a society, fail to make the modest investment in early action initiatives, we pay much more later,” Hollonds said.
“For example in the UK, the family nurse partnership program costs just £3,000 per family and results in reduced child accidents, behavioural problems and teenage arrests, compared with the £134,000 it costs to keep a teenager in juvenile detention.
“At The Benevolent Society we see parents every day who are struggling to cope with the increasing demands of parenting. The ones who get help are the lucky ones – Australia’s service system is so fragmented many people are not getting the help they need.
“What’s needed is more effective collaboration across services and government portfolios, such as accessible health, education, mental health, community and family support services, to ensure that young parents can get the help they need for their children. This requires change in the system to an integrated approach to improving child wellbeing.
“This is not necessarily about more money, it’s about getting value for money by investing in what works.
“The report presents a compelling case for investment earlier in a range of supports for families raising children in difficult circumstances.
“In a prosperous country like Australia, we can do better than this. Our Early Action, Changing Lives report points the way to real change that will not only improve lives but also contribute to improved productivity and lower costs for the community as a whole.”
The report was launched by the Governor-General of Australia Her Excellency, the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO.