Media Release by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

Major study supports Governments work first approach

The majority of working parents agreed that working made them feel more competent, according to the first findings of the most detailed study ever of our youngest Australians.

Around half of parents felt that their working had a positive effect on their children. Most parents disagreed that family time was less enjoyable due to work.

The groundbreaking study also found that preschool and high quality child care attendance boosted social development and led to higher learning scores.

In releasing the report, Growing up in Australia – the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Kay Patterson said the findings supported the Howard Government’s work first approach announced in last week’s Budget.

“I have consistently said that children are better off in a household where parents have a job. Not only do they have more disposable income and access to security in retirement through contributions to superannuation, they also increase their self-esteem.

“Importantly the study confirms my view that high quality childcare can provide a very positive start in life for children. Parents as well as stakeholders have told me that they feel strongly that standards and regulations should be the same across all types of childcare and I have recently written to my State and Territory counterparts encouraging them to adopt a coordinated approach to provide better outcomes for early childhood learning and children in child care.

“It is appropriate that the release of the Longitudinal Study coincides with National Families Week 2005 and its theme Make a Lifetime of Difference – Support Our Children,” Senator Patterson said.

“Both initiatives are a practical demonstration of the Howard Government’s strong commitment to supporting children and families. National Families Week, introduced by the Australian Government two years ago, hosted more than 500 events last year involving about 350 organisations and 88,000 people.

“The release today of the first findings from Growing up in Australia is also a landmark in the development of a solid evidence base upon which future children and families policies can be developed.

“This first wave data of a $20 million seven year study, involving 5000 babies aged under 12 months and 5000 four to five year olds, has already uncovered significant information, which will help us to better understand the importance of the early years of life and how it affects outcomes in later years.

“Some of these findings are very positive, showing that the great majority of Australian children aged five and under are living with both parents and that 73 per cent of parents of infants and 65 per cent of parents of four to five year olds rated themselves as being better than average parents.

“With the increasingly significant problem of childhood obesity, however, it is a concern that 16 per cent of children consumed little or no fruit or vegetables in a day while 28 per cent of children ate high fat foods such as biscuits and potato chips at least three times during a day. Alarmingly, 52% of parents with obese children, did not recognise their children were overweight.

“The unique survey data collected on how children spend their time also suggests that four and five year olds are quite heavy users of television. The 89 per cent of four and five year olds who watch television, videos and DVDs, spend an average 2.3 hours a day in front of the screen.

“On the other hand there is evidence that children are being read to on a regular basis by their parents with about 70 per cent of four to five year olds and 59 per cent of infants being involved in reading or early learning activities on an average day.

“The survey shows that there is a lot that is going right with Australian families and their children, but families and the wider community need to be made aware that there is room for further improvement.

“This study is Australia’s first large, nationally representative survey of young children, and collects data from their parents, teachers and carers on their social and emotional development, their physical and mental health, their child-care experiences, and their early years of learning,” Senator Patterson said.