An Expert Article By: Stephen Bartos, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth (ARACY). Children deserve a happy life, no matter where they come from or who they are. Some children however need support. Where a child faces adversity – for whatever reason, whether it be poverty, disability, illness, a learning difficulty, an abusive home environment or other factor – that child needs help. Often this is provided through a government program, sometimes via a charity or community group.

Children deserve a happy life, no matter where they come from or who they are.  Independent research confirms that for kids to thrive they need:

  • to be loved and safe, in a positive family relationship with parents or caregivers who look after them and community safety
  • have material basics met: food, clothing, housing, and employment opportunities in their future
  • health, both physical and mental
  • learning, lifelong from early childhood through to school and beyond
  • participation – a say in decisions that affect them
  • a positive sense of culture and identity.

We can improve kids’ chance for a better life in all of these dimensions.

Doing precisely that – making a better life for their children - is the aim of most parents, carers and families. 

Some children however need support. Where a child faces adversity – for whatever reason, whether it be poverty, disability, illness, a learning difficulty, an abusive home environment or other factor – that child needs help. Often this is provided through a government program, sometimes via a charity or community group. 

We can intervene more effectively when we apply evidence of what actually works.  Many past programs, driven by little more than good intentions, failed to achieve their objectives.  Increasingly governments at all levels, national, State and local, are using good evidence gathered through evaluations or randomised control trials on which to base their policies. 

Some pressing issues face all children: for example, the rising rates of depression and anxiety among young people, or Australia’s drop in international ratings of educational attainment.

We know however some kids are more likely to miss out than others.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids for example are almost ten times as likely as non-Indigenous kids to be placed in care.  The Productivity Commission notes the Indigenous juvenile detention rate remains 24 times that of the non-Indigenous population.  While there are some signs of progress, especially improved school retention rates and lower early childhood mortality, much more remains to be done. 

Being born into poverty means a child is more likely to face adversity throughout life.  The Australian Council of Social Services, ACOSS, estimates around 17 per cent of Australian children live in poverty.  These children are more likely to start school at a disadvantage and remain behind; more likely to be victims of crime or ill health.  Helping them helps us all. 

Investing in helping children thrive also makes sound economic sense.  Professor James Heckman, Nobel prize-winner for economics, estimates that high-quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13% per year return on investment:  way ahead of almost any other investment a society can make.  Other US studies show even higher returns, up to $17 for each dollar spent on early childhood. 

For Australia to prosper, we need children to thrive:  not only for economic prosperity but for the quality of everyone’s lives.

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