This discussion paper scopes opportunities for enhancing measurement of child wellbeing. It is a companion paper to Measurement and accountability for child wellbeing outcomes in Australia (Walsh 2018), and focuses primarily on the national data and information landscape. It has been prepared by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and funded by The Benevolent Society (TBS).

This paper provides a preliminary summary of the current national child wellbeing data and reporting landscape, identified key data gaps and opportunities for development. It is expected that this material will continue to evolve and expand as a result of further stakeholders discussions, with specific development opportunities highlighted in this paper designed to serve as a starting point for any future targeted consultation.

Key messages

There is a solid foundation for national data and reporting of children’s wellbeing

  • There are several national reporting frameworks which relate to child wellbeing. Overall,these national frameworks reflect a common understanding of the critical concepts(domains) required to describe children’s wellbeing.
  • Collectively, the large number of indicators which underpin these frameworks cover a wide range of topics; for example, protective and risk factors for both children and families, chronic disease, education outcomes, family income, and employment status.
  • However, there is variation in the:
    • breadth of topics covered in each domain. For example, national data are available for indicators over 20 topics within the Health domain, compared with less than six topics for the domains of Employment, and Income and finance combined.
    • maturity of indicators available for reporting, with generally well–established indicators used to describe most of the existing topics in the Health, Education and skills, and Income and finance domains, and relatively less-established indicators used to describe several topics in Social support, and Justice and safety, particularly for children outside of the child protection population.
    • type of indicators included, with the majority of indicators reflecting outcomes for which multiple entities (governments, service providers, or other) are all likely to have an impact.
  • This variation reflects a number of factors, including the different purposes of the frameworks, and the availability of appropriate data sources and/or indicator specifications.

A number of data and information gaps exist

Data and information gaps limit the extent to which Australia can understand child wellbeing. In regards to national reporting examined, data gaps and/or limitations exist in regard to:

  • Specific topics related to child wellbeing

    A number of both long-standing and new (emergent) gaps exist across all domains related to children’s wellbeing. For example, current national population-level monitoring over time is limited for topics such as parenting, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, sleep, cultural identity, children’s subjective views on a range of life areas, school expulsion, intergenerational welfare dependence, access to specific social supports (such as community health and family support services), and community and environment factors, such as walkability, and natural environments.

  • Disaggregation by relevant sub-population groups

    Current reporting does not adequately report data by a number of special population groups, including refugee and asylum seekers, children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds or born overseas, children with disability, and children in contact with the child protection system. Reporting by socioeconomic status and low levels of geography is limited.

  • Service-level data

    At a national level, there are a large number of administrative data collections which can describe children’s use of government-funded services (for example, community mental health services or hospitals) or receipt of child-related payment supports. However, data are not routinely and/or consistently available on the wide range of other services provided to children and families, for example those services provided by non-government organisations (NGOs) and other state or local-based community health and welfare services.

Development opportunities exist

This paper provides a number of potential development opportunities relating to data and information, data linkage and reporting.

  • Some national reporting gaps could potentially be filled through enhancements to existing data sources: for example, the ABS Time Use Survey; the development of new indicators (for example, using Centrelink data); and considering further how alternative data assets could inform related national data development and/or reporting.
  • The integration (linkage) of individual data sources, using secure methods that protect the privacy and confidentiality of individuals, provides opportunities for substantial research and policy insight not previously available. In particular, analysis of linked data can be used to better understand children’s pathways and transitions, evaluate services and policies, and provide a valuable evidence base for defining risk and protective factors which can inform the development of more predictive indicators. In addition, where data are already captured about special needs groups, such as children in contact with the child protection system and/or out-of-home care, linkage provides opportunities to compare patterns across groups, particularly with respect to their different pathways and outcomes.
  • A sophisticated national data and reporting platform which supports the collation, presentation and sharing of people-centred data about children, across multiple domains, and according to place or location, would inform a wide range of information needs related to children’s wellbeing. Sharing of such information would be in the context of modern data governance practices that assure the privacy and confidentiality of individuals and organisations contributing data, while maximising the benefits of these important public data assets.