Action needed to give Indigenous children a healthier start to life
AMA Indigenous Health Report Card 2012-13
“The Healthy Early Years – Getting the Right Start in Life”
The AMA Indigenous Health Report Card 2012-13, The Healthy Early Years – Getting the Right Start in Life, was released today by Assistant Minister for Health, Senator the Hon Fiona Nash, at Parliament House in Canberra.
AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said it is the right of every Australian child to have the best start in life but in Australia today not every child benefits from this right.
“In their early years, children need to be safe, have adequate opportunities for growth and development, and have access to adequate health, child development, and education services,” Dr Hambleton said.
“Many of our children are missing out, but none more so than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
“There have been some improvements in recent years with many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children making a successful transition to healthy adult life, but there are still far too many who are being raised in community and family environments that are marked by severe early childhood adversity.
“This adversity in early life can affect educational and social functioning in later life, and can increase the risk of chronic illness.
“Without intervention, these problems can be transmitted from one generation to the next – and the cycle continues.
“Good nutrition, responsive care and psychosocial stimulation can have powerful protective benefits to improve longer-term health and wellbeing.
“Strong culture and strong identity are also central to healthy early development.
“The costs to individuals, families, and society of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children failing to reach their developmental potential continue to be substantial.
“Robust and properly targeted and sustained investment in healthy early childhood development is one of the keys to breaking the cycle of ill health and premature death among Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders.
“We are seeing improvements through government commitment and cooperation on closing the gap initiatives, but much more action is needed
“It is crucial for the momentum to be sustained by renewing the COAG National Partnership Agreements on Indigenous Health and on Indigenous Early Childhood Development for another five years,” Dr Hambleton said.
The AMA makes several recommendations in the Report Card to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in their early years, including:
a national plan for expanded comprehensive maternal and child services that covers a range of activities including antenatal services, childhood health monitoring and screening, access to specialists, parenting education and life skills, and services that target risk factors such as smoking, substance use, nutrition, and mental health and wellbeing;
- the extension of the Australian Nurse Family Partnership Program of home visiting to more centres;
- support for families at risk with interventions to protect infants and young children from neglect, abuse and family violence;
- efforts to reduce the incarceration of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders;
- efforts to improve the access of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders to the benefits of the economy, especially employment and entrepreneurship;
- efforts to keep children at school;
- building a strong sense of cultural identity and self-worth;
- improving the living environment with better housing, clean water, sanitation facilities, and conditions that contribute to safe and healthy living; and better data, research and evaluation culturally appropriate measures of early childhood development and wellbeing.
The AMA Indigenous Health Report Card, The Healthy Early Years – Getting the Right Start in Life, is available at https://ama.com.au/2012-13-ama-indigenous-health-report-card-healthy-early-years-getting-right-start-life
Examples of good news stories in addressing early childhood adversity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children can be found at https://ama.com.au/2013-ama-indigenous-health-report-card-good-news-stories
Background - some key factors impacting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing in the early years:
Pregnancy and Birth
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have a higher birth rate compared with all women in Australia (2.6 babies compared to 1.9), and are more likely to have children at a younger age: 52 per cent of the Aboriginal women giving birth in 2010 were aged less than 25 years, and 20 per cent were less than 20 years, compared with 16 per cent and 3 per cent, respectively, for the broader community.
Early Childhood Education and Schooling
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were almost twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable than other Australian children, and to require special assistance in making a successful transition into school learning;
- the Closing the Gap target for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander four-year-olds living in remote communities to have access to 15 hours of early childhood education per week was achieved in 2013;
- across the country, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children achieving the national minimum standards decreases as remoteness increases. For example, in 2012, only 20.3 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander year 5 students in very remote areas achieved national minimum standards in reading, compared with 76 per cent in metropolitan areas;
- only modest progress has been made in achieving the Closing the Gap target to halve the gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in NAPLAN reading, writing and numeracy assessment scores by 2018.
10 December 2013
CONTACT: John Flannery 02 6270 5477 / 0419 494 761
Kirsty Waterford 02 6270 5464 / 0427 209 753
Published: 10 Dec 2013