A critical review of the early childhood literature

Early years

AIFS has produced a critical review of the leading evidence on the value of preschool for three year olds, Indigenous children and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The report includes literature from Australia, as well as the UK, US, Canada and Europe. The international evidence has consistently shown that the most disadvantaged children have the most to gain from high quality early childhood programs. The review showcases seven high quality early childhood programs that have been rigorously evaluated and offer opportunities to promote healthy child development in Australia.

Australian children growing up with opportunity

Early years

This paper discusses trends related to access to formal childcare in Australia and the impact that attendance has on childhood development. It focuses on the impacts of childcare and preschool for disadvantaged groups in particular, noting the evidence that childcare may have greater positive impacts on child outcomes for disadvantaged groups. Nonetheless, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are much less likely to access formal childcare. The article provides recommendations to improve policy and reduce inequality of opportunity.

Being Present: An exploratory study on the use of mindfulness in early childhood

Early years, Mental Health, Safety and wellbeing

This small US study looks at the types of mindfulness practices currently being used in an early childhood education setting to promote a sense of wellbeing in children. Many teachers reported that they use meditation and mindfulness when the children in their classroom were restless or stressed. The majority of teachers included in the study reported that using mindfulness practices resulted in positive behavioural and physical outcomes in their early childhood classrooms.

Bridging the divide: Supporting children and young people in their middle years

Early years

Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand (Good Shepherd) undertook this research to highlight some of the unique challenges faced by children and young people in their ‘middle years’ (between the ages of 8 – 12 years). The middle years are a critical time of development and change. Children can face difficulties transitioning from primary to high school, caring for parents or younger siblings, being subject to inappropriate sexualisation and sexual exploitation, and being denied the opportunity to have meaningful input into decisions that affect their lives. Good Shepherd makes recommendations to government, schools and the community sector to ensure that we are better able to meet the needs of children and young people in their middle years.

Can early childhood interventions decrease inequality of economic opportunity?

Early years, Mental Health

This article published in the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, investigates whether expanding access to early child education and care (ECEC) will reduce economic inequality later in life. The evidence suggests that multiple life domains, including academic achievement, behaviour, and mental health, can be improved if children are exposed to quality early childhood education.

Changes to the National Quality Framework

Education, Early years

The Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) has published an information sheet outlining agreed changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) as part of the 2014 Review of the National Partnership Agreement on the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care. It includes a summary table of the proposals and final decisions by Ministers. Most changes commenced on 1 October 2017 in all states and territories.

The latest issue of Children Australia includes a range of articles about social work practice and children experiencing vulnerability, including articles about the leadership of young people in family violence prevention, the engagement of refugee families in early childhood services, and the therapeutic supports required for child to recover from family violence.

Children’s reading literacy achievement: PIRLS 2016

Education, Early years

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) has released the Australian report for the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). The findings show that the literacy achievement of Australian Year 4 students has improved on average since the previous study in 2011. However, this is not true for students with the lowest literacy skills. Furthermore, there are still significant achievement gaps by gender, Indigenous status, socioeconomic background and school location.

Children’s television viewing and multi-screen behaviour: Analysis of 2005–16

Early years, Families and parenting

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has released a report looking at Children’s television viewing and multi-screen behaviour. It provides insights into viewing practices and habits of Australian children, and information about parental attitudes, including content concerns. Parents are finding it increasingly difficult to monitor or limit their children’s viewing, as the number of media devices they have access to increase.

Identify, Design, Implement, Evaluate

Early Intervention Foundation website

Early years, Families and parenting, Evidence Informed Practice

Putting early intervention into action can be a challenging process. It involves people and resources from a wide range of local services, and decisions that will shape the future of those services for years to come. Find out more about the steps and stages in making early intervention work using the range of resources on the Early Intervention Foundation website.

Effects of child maltreatment, cumulative victimisation experiences, and proximal life stress on adult crime and antisocial behaviour

Early years

New research funded by the US Department of Justice seeks to understand the processes through which child abuse leads to antisocial and criminal behaviour in later life. Participants were drawn from the Lehigh Longitudinal Study, one of the longest running national studies examining the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect. Results showed that childhood abuse increased the risk of adulthood crime by promoting antisocial behaviour during childhood and adolescence, followed by the formation of relationships with antisocial partners and peers in adulthood.

Financing mechanisms for reducing adversity and enhancing resilience through implementation of primary prevention

Early years, Safety and wellbeing

Funding for primary prevention initiatives reducing childhood adversity is highly fragmented across multiple government agencies and the private and philanthropic sectors. This paper reviews the existing mechanisms for funding interventions to reduce adverse childhood experiences and explores emerging and innovative financing methods, such as pay-for-success contracts.

These publications from the Department of Health and Human Services share the complexities of work with children, youth and families and some of the innovative practice approaches being used to address them. This is an annual publication shining a spotlight on examples of good practice and the variety of practice approaches available.

Helping young children who have experienced trauma: Policies and strategies for early care and education

Education, Youth Justice, Early years, Mental Health, Safety and wellbeing, Practice Tool

This National Centre for Children in Poverty (NCCP) paper presents an overview of early childhood trauma, the impact it has on young children and brain development and promising strategies for trauma-informed care in early care and education. Along with high quality programming, strong policy is crucial to meeting the emotional and early learning needs of children who have experienced trauma. The NCCP makes a series of recommendations to better support access to quality, trauma-informed early care and education.

Instrumental learning and cognitive flexibility processes are impaired in children exposed to early life stress

Early years

This research project aims to understand the impact of severe early stress exposure on learning and cognitive flexibility during adolescence. The results show that adolescents with histories of early stress were impaired in both instrumental learning and cognitive flexibility. Early stress can also have a profound impact on learning, attention and working memory. These finding may be used to guide early intervention programs with at-risk youth.

Maternal age and family circumstances of firstborn children

Early years, Families and parenting

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) Annual Statistical Report investigates whether maternal age influences the financial and parenting experiences of the family across the child’s first 10 years of life. Women having their first child in their early 20s or teenage years were more likely than those having their first child later in life, to experience disadvantage. Areas of increased disadvantage included living without a partner, low income and a higher chance of unemployment.

Playgroups in Australia: Building the evidence base

Early years, Safety and wellbeing

This suite of resources is intended to assist in the development of high-quality and consistent playgroups. It outlines nine key principles underpinning high quality playgroups. They provide an evidence-informed framework with which playgroups can be developed based on the local families’ and community’s needs. Most importantly, playgroups should be child-focused, child-inclusive and developmentally appropriate.

Prevention of child abuse and neglect

Early years

Produced in partnership with the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN), this Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) resource provides an overview of prevention of child abuse and neglect, with a focus on primary prevention. In particular, it details actions that can be undertaken at the community level to prevent child abuse and neglect before it happens.

Prioritising Possibilities for Child and Family Health: An Agenda to Address Adverse Childhood Experiences and Foster the Social and Emotional Roots of Well-being in Pediatrics

Early years, Safety and wellbeing

This paper takes a comprehensive look at the evidence relating to the negative health effects of adverse childhood experiences. Findings highlight the central role of positive family relationships, promoting resilience and establishing community partnerships in addressing adverse childhood experiences. The paper calls on key decision-makers, practitioners and community members to refocus on relationships and the regulation of emotion as a means of achieving overall health and wellbeing for children.

Problematic and harmful sexual behaviours of children in schools

Education, Early years

The Royal Commission into Institutional Reponses to Child Sexual Abuse has released the Report of Case Study 45 -Problematic and harmful sexual behaviours of children in schools. The institutions publicly examined in this case were Trinity Grammar School, The King’s School and Shalom Christian College. The report inquired into the systems, policies, procedures and practices for responding to allegations of problematic or harmful sexual behaviours of children within those schools.

In this ‘Kids Count’ policy report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation explores the intersection of children, opportunity, race and immigration. It explores the significant barriers facing children in immigrant families, and offers recommendations to help children in immigrant families gain the stability, economic resources and opportunities they need to thrive. The 2017 policy report considers the early care and education needs of children in immigrant families, and the importance of keeping the family together.

Responding to adverse childhood experiences with HOPE: health outcomes from positive experiences

Early years, Safety and wellbeing

This article introduces a framework called “HOPE: Health Outcomes From Positive Experiences.” The HOPE framework focuses on the need to actively promote positive childhood experiences that contribute to child wellbeing and development. The data presented demonstrates the powerful contribution of positive relationships and experiences to the development of healthy children.

The first thousand days: An evidence paper

Early years

A report by researchers at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute examines the impact of early experiences on different aspects of development and functioning, including health and wellbeing, mental health, social functioning and cognitive development. The report finds disadvantage can be passed down through the generations at a cellular level. New evidence included in the report underscores the significance of the first thousand days, and of the need to reform policies, practices and systems in response.

Vulnerable birth mothers and recurrent care proceedings

Early years

The Nuffield Foundation has published a summary report looking at vulnerable birth mothers in England who have had their children repeatedly removed from their care. Findings found that of the sample of 354 mothers: 66% of mothers had experienced neglect in their childhood; 52% suffered physical abuse; 53% were sexually abused and 54% of the mothers had spent time in out of home care as a child. More often than not, these mothers have experienced significant and overlapping adverse experiences in their own childhoods.