By Nathan Stitt and Jenya Goloubeva
The latest Australian Early Development Census has found one in five children across the country are vulnerable in at least one area of their development when they start school.
- Childhood development improving in language, communication, general knowledge
- Lack of progress in emotional maturity, social competence, physical wellbeing
- Gap between Indigenous, non-Indigenous children narrowing
The 2015 census was the third of its kind to be conducted.
When it first took place in 2009, the number of children who were vulnerable in at least one area was at 23.6 per cent. It fell to 22 per cent in 2012, and has stayed there.
This year’s results pointed to overall progress in the language and cognitive skills area, with 84.6 per cent of children on track in 2015 compared to 77.1 per cent in 2009.
There was also improvement in communication and general knowledge, with the number of developmentally vulnerable children decreasing from 9.2 per cent in 2009 to 8.5 per cent in 2015.
The remaining three categories showed a lack of progress.
In the emotional maturity domain, progress that appeared to have been made between 2009 and 2012 was undone.
The number of children considered developmentally on track rose from 75.6 per cent in 2009 to 78.1 per cent in 2012, only to go backwards to 76.4 per cent last year.
The social competence domain has seen a slight decrease in the number of children on track, from 75.4 per cent in 2009 to 75.2 per cent in 2015.
There was also an increase in the number of children vulnerable in their physical health and wellbeing, from 9.3 per cent in 2012 to 9.7 per cent in 2015.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the onus for development in the preschool years was on families.
“With one in five children struggling in terms of their skills when they get to school, and particularly when it’s basics like whether they’ve had a good breakfast or a good night’s sleep, these are things that families and parents need to take responsibility for.
“But we can make sure there are services targeted in local communities to help those parents.”
Experts said it was essential not only for families but also for governments on all levels to make sure children were not being left behind.
“What we do for children in the first five to eight years is absolutely everlasting,” said Professor Sharon Goldfield from the Royal Children’s Hospital’s Centre for Community Child Health.