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Media Release by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

Growing Up in Australia Study Launched

Ninety-six per cent of four-year-olds are read to by a family member at least once a week, preliminary findings of a new major study have found.

The Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Kay Patterson, today launched the $20.2 million, Growing up in Australia study in Melbourne. She described it as the most important research ever undertaken into Australian children.

The national data collection project, conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, and a consortium of leading researchers from eight universities and research institutions around Australia. It is the biggest and most comprehensive of its type in Australia.

“This project will mark a major milestone in the development of a National Agenda for Early Childhood,” Senator Patterson said.

Senator Patterson said the study would chart the lives of 5000 babies aged under 12 months and 5000 four-year-olds. It would collect data on their experiences within their families and communities, their health, their child-care experiences and the early years of their education.

A preliminary study surveyed 500 children and their families in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. It will feed into the Growing up in Australia study launched by Senator Patterson today.

She said the preliminary study had found that 96% of four-year-olds are read to by a family member at least once a week and 59% report that this happened daily.

Senator Patterson said: “This is a very encouraging preliminary finding and gives us a snapshot of the importance that parents have placed on reading regularly to their children, something many parents have known for a long time but which the new Labor leader, Mr Latham, seems to have only recently discovered.

“As a developmental psychologist I am encouraged to see that parents know the value of reading to their children and are already acting on this.

“It is this sort of information that will contribute to the development of quality, evidence-based early intervention programs which can greatly improve the life chances of young children as they grow.”

Senator Patterson said the first wave of the main data collection would start next month (March).

Senator Patterson said: “Nothing of this scale has ever been done before in this country,” she said. “The study reflects the Government’s recognition that the kind of experiences children have early on – what they learn, how they are treated and what opportunities they are given – can really affect the quality and happiness of their lives as they grow up.”

“Until now we have not had comprehensive research about children’s development from a very young age through their primary school years in a national context.

“As the longitudinal study continues over the years we want to use the results to develop better early childhood policies.”

Senator Patterson said establishing a solid evidence base about what goes right and what goes wrong for children as they develop would make a big difference in making sure that future policies were more targeted, effective and practical.

“We will use the research to develop quality early intervention programs which can improve the life chances of young children as they grow, particularly for children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds,” she said.