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Australia Gets a B Minus on Report Card - Health and Wellbeing of Young Australians

image Flickr Christopher Chan (chanc)

This morning at Parliament House Canberra, Ms Elaine Henry OAM, Chairperson of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) launched ARACY's second Report Card on the Wellbeing of Young Australians. Describing Australia as "middle of the road" when it comes to children's health and wellbeing in Australia, the Report Card identifies areas of concern in areas such as child poverty, infant mortality, and youth participation in education and employment. Speaking at the launch, Dr Norman Swan, also a board member of ARACY, highglighted income inequality and early childhood education as significant areas of deficit in Australia's policy and practice.

Ms Sarah Hanson Young, Greens spokesperson on youth, early childhood education and childcare, spoke at the launch of the Report Card and expressed her concern about youth homelessness, support for single parents and the fact that one in six of Australia's youth live at or below the poverty line. Pointing out the relative wealth of Australia and its natural resources, Ms Hanson Young expressed her devastation at results indicating Australia is in the bottom third of OECD countries for so many youth wellbeing indicators. Quoting a figure from Dr Pia Britto, Yale Child Study Center: "for every one dollar we spend on early childhood education and care you get $17 back..." , Ms Hanson Young made the point that more money is being saved by cutting the single parent's pension ("700 odd million dollars") than is being collected from the mining tax - "that's a very stark reminder that we don't have our priorities right", said Ms Hanson Young.

A diverse and expert group of researchers, policy makers, service providers, business and community organisations brought together by ARACY formed what is referred to as The Nest to develop a National Action Plan for child and youth health and wellbeing. 
The first ARACY Report Card released in 2008 compared the indicators of wellbeing for children and youth (aged 0- 24 years old) for the total Australian population, the Indigenous Australian population and international comparators. Today's Report Card now also includes the views of children and families across Australia; children were consulted widely during the process of formulating the Report Card with up to 3700 children and youth asked about their hopes, needs and desires in areas such as feeling loved and safe, learning and participating in the community.
Australia's Children and Youth In Comparison with OECD Countries
Report Card 2 ranks Australia's performance in the areas of child and youth wellbeing with data from 34 OECD countries where the data is available. In summary:
- the Report Card gives Australia a "moderate" ranking with its OECD counterparts in relation to child and youth health and wellbeing.
- in about one quarter of the health and wellbeing indicators, Australia ranked in the top third. For example, Australia leads the world in areas such as low youth smoking rates, certain education and employment outcomes and enivronmental conditions in homes.
- Australia ranks in the middle third of OECD countries for about half of the health and wellbeing indicators. Health, love and safety and some material basics are areas where its indicators are in the middle third.
- In the bottom third for about one quarter of the indicators, some of Australia's areas of significant concern include: jobless families, infant mortality, incidence of diabetes and asthma, young people in education, 3 to 5 year olds in education and carbon dioxide emissions.
This 'B Minus' result is encouraging in some respects because since 2008 there have been some small improvements in important areas such as rates of youth suicide, parents' engagement in early childhood literacy and numeracy, and the number of young people concerned with bullying, emotional abuse or family conflict. However, as with all report cards, Australia will need to look at action plans to improve performance in some very critical areas of children's wellbeing where results have flatlined or declined steadily since the last Report Card.
Where Australia Can Do Better for Its Children and Youth
Former CEO of ARACY Professor Fiona Stanley, AC, points out that for 74% of the health and wellbeing indicators, Australia was in the middle or bottom third of OECD countries, and "the 28% of indicators where we are in the bottom third, compared with other countries, are ones that of are considerable concern, as they have lifelong impacts." For example, Professor Stanley expressed alarm that Australia is in the lowest third for whooping cough vaccination, our teenage pregnancy rate is not falling as quickly as in other countries and stressed that we "really must take a serious look at early childhood educaiotn and our science and maths outcomes in school."
Taking a parental eye to scan over the report card, the following are three examples where Australia is the in "D" zone on its Report Card:
- a 30/34 rank for the percentage of children attending preschool or a preschool program before starting school (bottom third)
- a 19/24 rank for the percentage of children scoring above a low standardised benchmark of performance in reading in Year 4 (bottom third)
- a 25/31 rank for the percentage of youth participating in education (bottom third)
Can Australia do better? ARACY Board members certainly say 'yes'. Speaking at the launch today of the Report Cards, Youth Ambassador for ARACY Dan Ryan highlighted the need for policy makers to continue to engage and consult with children and youth and used the example of social media of one important way of involving Australians in the process of improving health and wellbeing outcomes. Australia's new Children's Commissioner will no doubt be actively involved in considering the intersection between children's human rights and Australia's latest Report Card Results.

The first ARACY Report Card released in 2008 compared the indicators of wellbeing for children and youth (aged 0- 24 years old) for the total Australian population, the Indigenous Australian population and international comparators.

Today's Report Card now also includes the views of children and families across Australia; children were consulted widely during the process of formulating the Report Card with up to 3700 children and youth asked about their hopes, needs and desires in areas such as feeling loved and safe, learning, and participating in the community.

Australia's Children and Youth In Comparison with OECD Countries

Report Card 2 ranks Australia's performance in the areas of child and youth wellbeing using data from 34 OECD countries where the data is available. In summary:

  • The Report Card gives Australia a "moderate" ranking with its OECD counterparts in relation to child and youth health and wellbeing.
  • In about one quarter of the health and wellbeing indicators, Australia ranked in the top third. For example, Australia leads the world in areas such as low youth smoking rates, certain education and employment outcomes and environmental conditions in homes.
  • Australia ranks in the middle third of OECD countries for about half of the health and wellbeing indicators. Health, love and safety and some material basics are areas where its indicators are in the middle third.
  • In the bottom third for about one quarter of the indicators, some of Australia's areas of significant concern include: jobless families, infant mortality rates, incidence of diabetes and asthma, young people in education, 3 to 5 year olds in education and carbon dioxide emissions.

This 'B Minus' result is encouraging in some respects because since 2008 there have been some small improvements in important areas such as rates of youth suicide, parents' engagement in early childhood literacy and numeracy, and the number of young people concerned with bullying, emotional abuse or family conflict. However, as with all report cards, Australia will need to look at action plans to improve performance in some very critical areas of children's wellbeing where results have flatlined or declined steadily since the last Report Card.

Where Australia Can Do Better for Its Children and Youth

Former CEO of ARACY Professor Fiona Stanley, AC, points out in the Report Card that for 74% of the health and wellbeing indicators, Australia was in the middle or bottom third of OECD countries, and "the 28% of indicators where we are in the bottom third, compared with other countries, are ones that of are considerable concern, as they have lifelong impacts." For example, Professor Stanley expressed alarm that Australia is in the lowest third for whooping cough vaccination, our teenage pregnancy rate is not falling as quickly as in other countries and stressed that we "really must take a serious look at early childhood education and our science and maths outcomes in school."

Casting a parental eye over the Report Card, the following are three examples where Australia is the in 'D' zone:

  • a 30/34 rank for the percentage of children attending preschool or a preschool program before starting school (bottom third)
  • a 19/24 rank for the percentage of children scoring above a low standardised benchmark of performance in reading in Year 4 (bottom third)
  • a 25/31 rank for the percentage of youth participating in education (bottom third)

Can Australia do better? ARACY Board members certainly say 'yes'. Speaking at the launch today of the Report Card, Youth Ambassador for ARACY Dan Ryan, highlighted the need for policy makers to continue to engage and consult with children and youth and used the example of social media as one important way of involving Australians in the process of improving health and wellbeing outcomes. Australia's new Children's Commissioner will no doubt be actively involved in considering the intersection between children's human rights and Australia's latest Report Card results. Ms Hanson Young congratulated the Federal government for "getting the job done" in its appointment of a Children's Commissioner, but stressed the need to ensure the Commissioner's work is fully funded and supported, particularly in giving a voice to, and advocating for young Australian's rights and wellbeing.