Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Launch Wave 1 of Footprints in Time – the Longitudinal study of Indigenous children

Location: Canberra

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I would like to thank Auntie Louise for her Welcome to Country and pay my respects to the traditional owners of this land.

When we launched Footprints in Time in April last year we embarked on the first longitudinal study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children ever conducted.

Tracking the progress of 1,687 children.

Measuring the footprints of Indigenous children aged between six months and five years from 11 sites across Australia – along with their parents and carers.

Families from Katherine to Inala, Torres Strait Islands to Adelaide, from Fitzroy Crossing to Dubbo who collectively speak more than 100 different languages.

Families like the Watsons in Darwin whose son Jarrah is participating in the study.

Jarrah’s parents Brendon and Rebecca want to see an emphasis on Indigenous culture in school curricula to increase awareness among Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

After a year collecting data, the importance of education, health and the significance of culture are also common themes.

From brushing teeth to breastfeeding, from sleep patterns to reading books, from cultural identity to major events that affect family life – we are monitoring the critical factors influencing the early development of Indigenous children.

In this way it can form part of the evidence base that’s essential to develop policies and implement programs to close the gap.

The policies and programs to support Indigenous children to grow up to be healthier, more positive and strong adults.

Earlier this year, more than 260 000 Australian children participated in the Australian Early Development Index.

The results of this index expected later this year will provide a comprehensive profile of Australian 5 year olds, including their physical, cognitive, emotional and social development.

As part of this initiative, we have also funded an Indigenous Adaptation Study to ensure that the questions we ask as part of the index get the most accurate outcomes for Indigenous children, including new resources to guide teachers.

In different ways, the Index and the Footprints in Time Longitudinal Study are critical to getting things right.

Last year we launched this landmark study to run for 4 years or longer.

Today we are here to launch the Key Summary Report from Wave One of the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children.

In our first report, we see that nearly half of the parents have experienced 3 to 6 major life events in the past year such as pregnancy or giving birth, family death and housing problems.

They may have got a job or started study; had alcohol and drug problems; or experienced being humbugged, robbed or assaulted.

Their child might have been badly scared by a family argument or by another person’s behaviour.

One fifth of parents reported they had experienced seven or more of these major life events in the past year.

There were also some strong messages about what parents want for their children.

One of the highest priorities for parents is for their children to have a good education and a good career.

The importance of culture is also a common theme.

Over two thirds of parents (67 per cent or 1,122) had taken their child to an Indigenous cultural event, ceremony or sorry business.

Around 71 per cent of parents tell us they have a strong family network which is always there to help.

And while almost all parents (97 per cent) rated their children’s health as either excellent, very good or good, the data also reveals ear problems (20 per cent), chest infections (15 per cent), asthma (13 per cent) and eczema (11 per cent) are quite common.

The Government’s commitment to Footprints in Time reflects a conviction which all of us here share – the right of every child, whoever they are and wherever they live, to a happy, healthy and safe childhood.

The best interests of children will always be the bedrock of our policies.

We have set ambitious targets to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and Footprints in Time is leading the way to providing the essential data for this change to happen over the long-term.

Halving the gap in infant mortality under the age of five within 10 years through a strong focus on child and maternal health.

Delivering universal access to early childhood education, including in remote areas.

And recognising that the best strategy for supporting children is to invest in services that strengthen their family – the Government is establishing 24 additional Indigenous Parenting Support Services across Australia to help more than 700 Indigenous families.

$7 million over two years will establish services in Remote Service Delivery Strategy sites in the Northern Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

The new sites are among 50 across Australia funded under the $16.6 million Indigenous Parenting Support Services, a four year program to increase the number of families using parent-child services.

The Footprints in Time team has covered a lot of country to collect this data from 11 sites in urban, regional and remote areas of Australia – from Derby in WA, to Eden on the South Coast in New South Wales.

It can be challenging at times – Darwin in the full sun with the temperature getting to 47 degrees.

The first summary report is testament to the work of the Indigenous Research Administration Officers and FaHCSIA staff.

But it is the families and children who are at the heart of this ambitious research project.

Their willingness to open their doors and their hearts has made it happen.

The families welcomed the research teams into their homes and shared their lives.

And for that we are all sincerely grateful.

Grateful as well, for the efforts of all of you here.

In particular, Mick Dodson and the Steering Committee for their commitment and leadership.

I have great pleasure now in launching the Key Summary Report from Wave One, the Community Feedback Booklet and the DVD of the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children.

The first of many reports integral to achieving the best life chances for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children across the country.