Improving early childhood outcomes for Indigenous children the focus of new Clearinghouse paper

Ways of improving the outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the  early childhood years is the focus of a paper released today on the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse website.

The paper, Review of early childhood parenting, education and health intervention programs for Indigenous children and families in Australia, reviews prevention and early intervention research design and outcomes for over 50 research reports.

The strongest evidence of program impact on Indigenous children was for improvements in children's behaviour and infant health.

Child behaviour was improved through programs that involve active skills education for parents and a culturally sensitive approach including the Indigenous Triple P parenting program, the parent-delivered early childhood program HIPPY, and the behaviour-focused Let's Start Parent-Child program.

Measurable improvements in mothers' and babies' health came from community embedded maternal and infant health programs, such as the NSW Aboriginal and Maternal Infant Health Strategy and the Mums and Babies Program.

A common characteristic of programs with positive outcomes for children was that they focused strongly on attracting and retaining Indigenous families, often through use of Indigenous workers.

A key message from the research was that how a program is delivered was every bit as important as what is delivered.

Strategies found to be important in the implementation and delivery of a program included:

  • The building of trust and the establishment of relationships with the community.
  • Running programs in places that are perceived as comfortable and safe, and where participants feel a sense of ownership and control.
  • Adopting a strengths-based, family centred approach.

A second Clearinghouse paper, Supporting healthy communities through arts programs, shows that arts programs can have a range of benefits for Indigenous communities, such as increased social inclusion and cohesion, improvements in school retention and attitudes towards learning.

The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse (http://www.aihw.gov.au/closingthegap/) is jointly funded by all Australian governments and provides an online source of information on what works to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage. It is delivered by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS).

Canberra, 7 February 2014

Further information: Jess Cumming, AIHW, tel. 02 6249 5033 mob. 0401 769 793 or Elizabeth Ingram, tel. 6249 5048 or 0431 871 337