14 June 2013

The University of Queensland is working on a collaborative project to improve health and education conditions for Australia’s poorest Indigenous communities.

The research explores the link between health and education outcomes and socioeconomic circumstances in an Indigenous child’s life and the impact it has on them when they are older.

Associate Professor Richard Brown and Professor John Mangan from the School of Economics and Professor Heather Douglas and Dr Peter Billings from the TC Beirne School of Law are leading the project.

It also involves Dr Prabha Prayaga and Ms Beth Davies from the School of Economics and international collaborators Dr Colin Green from Lancaster University and Dr Simon Quinn from The University of Oxford.

Dr Prayaga said inequality and the long-term effects of the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health and education outcomes were severely understudied in Australia.

“The aim of the research is to study and analyse the causes and consequences of Indigenous inequality, and then develop new policy initiatives and recommendations to address these problems,” she said.

“What we know is that educational attainment is a key factor in determining adult socio-economic and labour market outcomes, and Indigenous Australians lag heavily behind non-Indigenous Australians.

“Early interventions in education are the most effective means of addressing this disadvantage for Indigenous Australians, as gaps in basic skills that appear as early as age five or six are often difficult to close.”

Professor Douglas said the long-term impacts of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in Indigenous children had an impact on interventions.

FASD includes a range of effects that can result from pre-natal exposure to maternal drinking.

“FASD leads to an alarming range of cognitive and physical impairments, including development disabilities, mental health issues, and the need for child protection services or
supported living,” Professor Douglas said.

“These can result in bigger problems as the child gets older, including impulsive offending, offence escalation and victimisation in custody.”

The collaborative research uses Footprints in time – the longitudinal study of Indigenous children, developed by the Australian Government’s Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA).

The study provides high quality data about Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged between zero and five years, selected from 11 sites across Australia.

Associate Professor Brown and Dr Prayaga are collaborating with the Young Lives Project, an international study of childhood poverty in four developing countries – Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam – hosted at the University of Oxford.

They will present a paper on the cognitive development of Australian Indigenous children at the Inequalities in Children’s Outcomes in Developing Countries conference at Oxford in July.

Media: Prabha Prayaga, p.prayaga@uq.edu.au. Professor Heather Douglas +617 3365 6605.