KEY PRESENTER PRESENTATION ABSTRACTS

Professor Richie Poulton

Early life predictors of later success: Implications for interventions and policy making

The Dunedin Lifecourse Study has identified a small number of powerful factors in childhood that both predict and promote later wellbeing and success. The findings align with developmental neuroscience in highlighting the critical role played by early brain development. This is because the young human brain is especially sensitive to environmental inputs. When these inputs or contexts are positive, healthy development is likely. When toxic stress is the norm, taking the form of poor intra-uterine exposures, neglectful/abusive caregiving, parental violence, substance abuse or mental health difficulties, then brain health and wellbeing are compromised. A programme of joined-up ("across-sector and life-stages"), evidence-based interventions supported by the State, beginning at (or even before) conception through to the early 20's and beyond according to proportional universal principles, is empirically supported and should be implemented.

 

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Dr. Charlene Smith

Universal early learning: distilling the evidence and checking the claims

The provision of preschool for all Australian children has been codified via National Partnership Agreements since 2009. In recent years advocacy for an additional year of preschool before compulsory schooling has been gaining momentum. This presentation will interrogate the evidence base for provision of preschool programs at scale, with particular focus on the question of universal access and the nature and importance of quality. Questions to be discussed include: What are the likely benefits of preschool? Why are two years better than one? Which children are most likely to benefit? Is universal provision the best option? How can we ensure access and inclusion for the children at highest risk? What is the role of policy in this conversation?

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Bob Perry

Provision of Quality Preschool Education in Rural and Remote Areas of Queensland and Other Parts of Australia

In 2007, the then Rudd Labor government declared that all Australian children would have access to 600 hours of quality preschool education in the year before they started compulsory schooling. While this provision falls way short of that in many other countries around the world, it was the first time in Australia where such a declaration of children's entitlement to preschool education has been made. Since the declaration, people at all levels of government in Australia have been trying to operationalise it. In the major and regional cities and even in many smaller country towns, it was clear that such access could be provided through existing and developing centre-based early childhood programs, some of which had long and proud histories. Of course, since Australia is a federation of states and territories, different things happened in different jurisdictions but the overall thrusts were similar. But...

What happens if a preschool-aged child lives in an isolated community which cannot sustain a viable preschool centre, or in an Indigenous community, or on a station hundreds of kilometres from a preschool centre? Queensland has accepted the challenge posed by this question as a matter of social justice and children and families' rights. It has introduced programs such as Foundations for Success, eKindy and the Remote Kindergarten Pilot. The presenter has been involved in various guises with all of these programs and will outline their various purposes, approaches and impacts, drawing on his own research in Queensland and other Australian jurisdictions. All children have the right to a quality preschool education but how can this be achieved?

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Professor Ross Homel

Creating Pathways to Child Wellbeing in Disadvantaged Communities

Children living in economically deprived areas, especially First Nations children in these areas, are more likely that those from more affluent communities to: drop out of school, become trapped in inter-generational cycles of poverty and welfare dependence, or get caught up in the child protection or youth justice systems. Despite the best efforts of governments and caring organisations, and billions of dollars they have spent of several generations, the gap is not narrowing. Today, where children live has an even greater impact on their life chances than it did 30 years ago. The recent widespread adoption of collective impact frameworks for place-based initiatives is a promising innovation, but robust methodologies based on rigorous research have yet to emerge. The challenge now facing Australia is to build prevention science methods and insights into large scale sustainable economically efficient, early prevention delivery systems.

In this presentation, I describe how the CREATE Research Team, with partners from academia, government, and non-government organisations, is responding to this challenge. I present an overview of the results to date of three related research programs:

  • Analyses of the Pathways to Prevention Child Longitudinal Database, based on work conducted with Mission Australia and local schools in a disadvantaged are of Brisbane between 2001 and 2011. Little is known about the medium and long-term effects on children of routinely delivered family support in disadvantaged communities. The Pathways analyses show that family support can indeed have positive long-term effects, but the results are mixed when the focus is child social-emotional wellbeing and classroom behaviour (ages 5-11, Grades 1-7), and on offending (10-16 years).The implementation of
  • Rumble's Quest, an interactive game for tables and computers that gives children an opportunity to report for themselves about their feelings and lives as they progress through primary school. Rumble's Quest provides a robust and reliable measure of child social-emotional wellbeing. It is suitable for use in non-clinical settings with large numbers of children aged 5-12 years, has been tested for psychometric quality (validity and reliability) with 8,000 Queensland children, and is being progressively implemented in NSW and Queensland primary schools.
  • The CREATE-ing Pathways to Child Wellbeing Project, a national program of preventive research with 14 partner organisations working in 9 Communities for Children sites in NSW and Queensland. The aim is to construct and implement a Prevention Translation and Support System, and to evaluate its impact on child outcomes, as well as on family-school engagement and the quality of functioning of local partnerships involving schools and community agencies. The PTSS incorporates electronic tools and resources - including Rumble's Quest - and the services of a new profession, Collective Impact Facilitators (CIFs) in each community.

These research programs provide many lessons for schools and community agencies working in disadvantaged communities. One lesson is that we have good grounds for optimism: much of what is happening across Australia is achieving good outcomes for children. But a second lesson is that we could do much better if schools and community agencies worked together within a collective impact framework that genuinely empowered local communities to make data-driven decisions that guided evidence-based practice across the entire public health cycle of Coming Together; Deciding Together; Planning Together; Doing Together; and Reviewing Together.

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Professor Kerry Arabena

First 1000 Days Australia in Indigenous Context

First 1000 Days Australia - The Australian Model of International 1000 Days movement - aims to provide a coordinated, comprehensive strategy to strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families so they can address their future health and wellbeing. This presentation will showcase what is being achieved through time specific, multidisciplinary and multi-knowledge approaches to building resilience; learning and innovation, fostering leadership and generating and using evidence for impact. Conceived of and led by Indigenous academics, First 1000 Days Australia is premised on the family remaining the primary and preferred site for developing and protecting culture and identity in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Dr. Tim Moore

Understanding and meeting the needs of families facing multiple challenges: Towards a new synthesis

No parent sets out to do a less than optimal job of caring for and raising their children, but some may end up doing so as a result of a range of personal and environmental challenges. This presentation begins by considering the nature of these challenges, focusing on the way that environments can shape health and development, constrain people's choices, and compromise their decision-making. The barriers to families fully engaging with social networks and making use of the available services will also be explored. In the light of this analysis, what should we do to better support such families? The default approach has been to seek to provide them with additional services, targeting those most 'at risk', and ensuring that services are evidence-based. Each of these strategies can be interpreted and applied in different ways with different effects. First, relying solely or mainly upon services ignores what we know about the importance of the immediate physical and social environments in which families are living, and the relatively minor role played by services. Second, the way in which we target those most in need determines how effectively we engage with them. Third, in seeking to improve the efficacy of services provided to such families, governments have increasingly sought to ensure that services are evidence-based, and begun to compile lists of evidence-based programs for services to choose from. However, properly understood, evidence-based practice is not reducible to a list of evidence-based programs, but involved making decisions about services based on several sources, including the needs and preferences of the families themselves. Based on this broader understanding, a model of evidence-informed decision-making will be described. The presentation concludes with key messages about effectively supporting families facing multiple challenges.

 

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Early Years Conference - Today’s Children - Tomorrow’s Future

The conference is Financially Supported by the Australian Government Department of Social Services