Thriving in adversity: disadvantaged children performing well in school
Chief Investigator: Dr Catherine Chittleborough
Funding Amount: $72,164
Recipient: University of Adelaide
Australian Early Development Census results for South Australian children show 23.5% are developmentally vulnerable at age 5. South Australia is consistently the second worst performing Australian jurisdiction on NAPLAN literacy and numeracy. Vulnerability is much more common among disadvantaged children. Despite this, some disadvantaged children thrive. This study will use SA whole-of-population data to investigate the effect of different types and combinations of adversity, and characterise children who thrive in spite of adversity, on developmental and academic outcomes, to help identify intervention opportunities for South Australian children.
Researchers: Catherine Chittleborough, Helena Schuch, Rhiannon Pilkington, Murthy Mittinty, John Lynch
Research Completed: 2021
Experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage, poor health, or child maltreatment in early life can have disruptive effects on children’s developmental and academic outcomes. However, we know little about children who, against the odds, have good developmental and educational outcomes despite experiencing adversity. The aim of this study was to quantify the proportion of children experiencing socioeconomic, health and maltreatment adversities, and examine development and educational outcomes among children experiencing high levels of these adversities.
This study used population-wide linked administrative data from the Better Evidence-Better Outcomes Linked Data (BE-BOLD) platform for children born in South Australia between 1999 and 2010. A total of 26 indicators of adversity from birth to age 5 were drawn from seven administrative datasets (Births, Deaths and Marriages birth records, South Australian Perinatal Statistics Collection, School Enrolment Census, South Australian Housing Authority, Integrated South Australian Activity Collection inpatient hospitalisations, Emergency Department presentations, and Department for Child Protection records) to classify children into high or lower levels of early life socioeconomic, health and maltreatment adversity. Being on track in the first year of school was defined as scoring in the top 75% of the population on all five domains (language and cognitive skills, social competence, emotional maturity, physical health and wellbeing, and communication skills and general knowledge) of the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC). Children were defined as educationally on track if they scored above national minimum standard in all five domains of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) in Year 3 or Year 5. We also examined children with data available on all three outcomes (AEDC, Year 3 NAPLAN and Year 5 NAPLAN).
Detailed findings will be reported in the paper being prepared for journal publication, including the proportion of children who experienced high levels of socioeconomic, health or maltreatment adversity by age 5, either in isolation or in combination with other high adversities.
The proportion of children who were on track on developmental and educational outcomes decreased as the number of high adversities increased. Few children who experienced two or three types of high adversity remained on track for all three AEDC, Year 3 and Year 5 NAPLAN outcomes. For children who experienced no high adversities, most of them continued to be on track in Year 3 NAPLAN and Year 5 NAPLAN if they were on track in the AEDC. The proportion of children who were on track on AEDC and remained on track by Year 3 or Year 5 was lower for those who had experienced two or three high adversities.
Females were more likely to be developmentally or educationally on track, irrespective of the number of high adversities experienced. The proportion of children developmentally or educationally on track was higher among those with mothers who had a partner. However, this advantage of having a partnered mother was lost for children who experienced two or three high adversities; these children were more likely to be developmentally or educationally on track if their mother did not have a partner. Similarly, the proportion of children developmentally or educationally on track increased as maternal age increased, but this maternal age gradient was only observed for children with less than two high adversities, not for children who experienced two or three high adversities. The proportion of children developmentally on track on AEDC was similar for children whether they lived in major cities or remote areas, although children were less likely to be educationally on track by Year 3 or Year 5 if they lived in outer regional or remote areas. Children were more likely to be developmentally or educationally on track if their mother lived in an advantaged area when they were born. Poor developmental and educational outcomes are not an inevitable consequence of childhood adversity, but few children were developmentally or educationally on track if they experienced two or three types of socioeconomic, health or maltreatment adversity. Children experiencing socioeconomic or maltreatment adversity were less likely to be developmentally on track than children who experienced health adversity.
Key Outcomes: Analyses of population-wide data from the Better Evidence-Better Outcomes Linked Data (BE-BOLD) platform showed that poor developmental and educational outcomes are not an inevitable consequence of childhood adversity. However, few children who experienced multiple socioeconomic, health or maltreatment adversities were on track on school-entry development or Year 3 or Year 5 education outcomes.
Journal article in preparation
• Kalamkarian A, Brown TM, Pilkington RM, Montgomerie A, Schuch H, Mittinty M, Lynch JL, Chittleborough CR. (2021) Thriving in adversity: positive child development and educational achievement despite early disadvantage in a whole-of-population linked data study.
• Chittleborough CR, Brown TM, Schuch H, Kalamkarian A, Pilkington R, Montgomerie A, Mittinty M, Lynch JW. (2021) Thriving in adversity: positive child development despite early disadvantage in a whole-of-population data linkage study. World Congress of Epidemiology, Melbourne, Australia. (Note this abstract was submitted for the 2020 World Congress of Epidemiology, but this conference has been postponed to 2021, due to COVID-19)