Data gaps and development opportunities

Much is known about the health and wellbeing of young people in Australia. There are still notable gaps and limitations, however, which limit national population-level monitoring over time. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted some of these limitations, particularly the need for nationally consistent time-series data on a wide range of topics.

This section identifies overarching data gaps that affect the quality of reporting against all, or most, of the 7 domains of the wellbeing of young people (see Introduction). It includes nationally relevant data gaps that relate to specific topics.

The national relevancy of these data gaps has been established, based on whether the topics have been identified as national policy priorities—such as those outlined in Healthy, safe and thriving: National Strategic Framework for Child and Youth Health, and in the National Action Plan for the Health of Children and Young People 2020–2030—and/or raised by a national expert group as topics for which data gaps exist.

The information presented here forms a basis for future discussions on national data and information development priorities; it not exhaustive.

Overarching data gaps

A number of overarching data gaps affect several topic areas and/or domains. Some of these gaps, such as lack of information on some health and community services, also apply to whole-of-population reporting.

The voice of young people

Current ongoing, national data sources that support population-level monitoring over time are predominantly:

  • administrative (information is collected as part of service delivery)
  • surveys (which are generally administered only to those aged 15 and over or 18 and over).

This means that, for some measures, data on young people ages 12–15, or sometimes 12–18, are not available.

Reporting on the voice of young people may mean looking at different modes of data collection and also understanding how young people would like to see their opinions and data reported.

Population groups

Reporting data for different population groups is critical for understanding issues of inequity, and for providing services and resources based on need. But it is often not possible to report data by population groups. This is particularly the case if the data come from surveys with small sample sizes that may not be representative of smaller population groups.

The range of population groups for which data are not readily available include:

  • young people of refugee and asylum seeker families
  • young people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds or children born overseas
  • young people living and who have lived in out-of-home care
  • incarcerated young people
  • young people with disability
  • young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, or young people who have intersex variations.

Where some groups are included in surveys—such as those from a CALD background, or those living in the lowest socioeconomic areas—small sample sizes often prevent any significant differences being detected between groups.

Health and community services

These services may be delivered by governments, or by non-government organisations (for-profit and not-for-profit). Existing data are often fragmented, incomplete and inconsistent. Policy and service delivery approaches for young people vary across Australia, involving multiple sectors and governments. This can influence the scope and consistency of data collection at a national level. Current data are generally available for specific services or life stages (for example, from hospitals and schools).

Many health and community services collect data as part of their daily operations. Some services have data collated and routinely reported at national level (such as specialist homelessness services and child protection services), but many do not. This may be because:

  • data are inconsistently collected
  • there is no national mechanism for collating and/or reporting
  • collated data are not nationally comparable.

Better reporting of some health and community services—for example, primary health care, sexual assault services, youth services and family domestic violence support services—could provide a more complete picture of service use by young people across Australia. It could also benefit service planning by identifying:

  • the most in-demand services
  • the key needs of young people accessing the services
  • any unmet need.

This information, together with other data on prevalence and experiences, could then be used to predict demand and needs.

Pathways, transitions and outcomes

There are currently no nationally agreed indicators to measure how:

  • young people transition through major development stages
  • young people interact with services and different systems
  • these interactions impact outcomes.

The growth of nationally linked (or joined up) administrative data may help to provide more insightful indicators in the future (Box 1).

At a national level, data linkage activities continue to develop. There are some enduring national integrated data sets to support cross-sectoral and pathways analysis. However, with no single, proven national approach to routinely linking Commonwealth and state and territory data, there is limited ability to follow young people holistically through a wide range of data sources to assess their service use patterns and needs, outcomes, and related risk and protective factors. National integrated data sets can support governments and others to effectively evaluate services and to better understand young people’s experiences and outcomes over time.

Box 1: Nationally linked administrative data

National Disability Data Asset (NDDA)

The NDDA is currently in a pilot phase. The pilot aims to identify the most effective ways to share, link and access de-identified data to develop a more complete picture and a better understanding of the life experiences and outcomes of people with disability in Australia, their families and carers.

It will also focus on the best ways to protect people’s privacy, including data de‑identification and information security methods (DSS 2020). One area in which the NDDA could provide a better understanding of outcomes for young people with disability is the transition pathway from education to work.  

Data Over Multiple Individual Occurrences (DOMINO)

The longitudinal researchable database on income support payments and characteristics (Data Over Multiple Individual Occurrences: DOMINO) aims to examine the long-term welfare outcomes and transitions for vulnerable and disadvantaged young people.

Two successfully completed linkages have shown the value of viewing a young person’s experiences from a broader perspective. These were for:

  • children who have experienced out-of-home care—by linking DOMINO with state and territory out-of-home care data (AIHW forthcoming)
  • young people leaving youth justice supervision—by linking DOMINO with the Youth Justice National Minimum Data Set (AIHW forthcoming).

Geographic areas

There is limited information routinely available at small geographic levels to inform local needs assessment and planning. High-quality data reported by geographical areas would provide useful information (for instance, how far young people travel to access certain services or employment) or identify areas with higher rates of disease where services should be targeted.

Future reports could explore the inclusion of data at lower geographic areas. However, nationally, some data gaps also exist in these areas.

  • The quality and consistency of geographic units (such as postcode or ABS Statistical Area Level 2) varies between data sets.
  • Even if available, geographic data may not be able to be presented due to concerns about confidentiality and the statistical validity of reporting data from small populations, or it may be based on service location rather than the young person’s location.

International comparisons

Inclusion in international youth wellbeing surveys allows Australia to compare how its young people are faring relative to their peers in other countries. International comparisons, where data are readily available, have been included in the report.

Currently, Australia does not provide data to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) on life satisfaction. Nor does it participate in the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey, which includes measures for 15-year-olds on a range of wellbeing measures, including family and peer relationships.

Topic-specific data gaps

Australia’s Youth provides a national overview of how Australian young people are faring at a particular point in time, in a way that enables regular updating and tracking of progress.

For this reason, the report focuses mainly on national data, collected periodically, that supports population-level comparisons. Table 1 summarises current topics where national data for this purpose are not available or are limited.

Topics are grouped according to the child-centred domains, and a separate category—the Environment. Environment includes built and natural environment topics as well as those covering contextual factors, such as service availability.

Table 1: Topic gaps in national reporting of the wellbeing of young people, by domain

Domain

Topic gaps

Health

  • Body image (noting the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing will include data on binge eating, and the importance of weight and/or shape to perception of self for those aged 16–85)
  • Sleep (for example, amount and quality)
  • Food allergies
  • Medical technology and devices used by young people with health conditions
  • Impact of device and social media usage on health
  • Health literacy in primary and secondary school students, including what they consider to be their key sources of health-related knowledge
  • Health of children of population groups, including young people in out-of-home-care or involved with the justice system
  • Co-occurrence of health conditions among population groups (for example, young people involved with the justice system)

Social support

  • Aspects of family and household composition (for example, family networks outside the household dwelling)
  • Parenting
  • Topics related to family functioning
  • Shared care arrangements (for example, number of children in these arrangements and the proportion of time children spend with each parent)
  • Extracurricular activities (outside of organised sport)
  • Cultural identity

Education

  • Student engagement (cognitive)
  • School expulsions and suspensions
  • Truancy and school dropout rates
  • National level data on student wellbeing and experiences for primary and secondary school students

Housing

  • Transport (for example, access to private transport, public transport and a driver’s licence; and relationship between access and socioeconomic factors)
  • Housing instability, including the characteristics of young people who experience this

Justice and safety

  • Prevalence of child abuse and neglect
  • National data on diversionary programs
  • Children’s exposure to violence
  • Bullying (Note that, in 2019–20, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment commissioned the Telethon Kids Institute, led by Professor Donna Cross, to undertake a literature review and develop a project plan as a first step to determining requirements for an updated Bullying Prevalence Study. Progression to stage two of this project is still under consideration.)
  • Racism

Environment

  • Physical environment (built and natural)
  • Social environment (for example, number of interactions with peers online and/or face-to-face)
  • Community governance (for example, participation in local decision making)
  • Civic engagement and political participation (for example, participation in campaigns or direct action strikes)
  • Impact of climate change on current and future wellbeing
  • Access to technology (for example, smartphones)

What could be done to improve the evidence?

A number of options are available for improving national information on the wellbeing of young people. These options are not exhaustive, and different options will meet different information needs.

Table 2: Options for improving national data

Option

Strategy

Enhance existing data sets

Add flags or data items to data sets for specific population groups or geographies (for example, adding more detailed data items on disability, sex, gender, variations of sex characteristics and sexual orientation)

Adopt appropriate sampling techniques to ensure survey data can more accurately represent smaller population groups, such as CALD young people

Add new questions to capture data related to a topic not captured elsewhere

Create new data collections or safely link existing data

Establish a new administrative data collection in gap areas, or a national youth-specific survey, which includes topics where data are not currently available and/or captures data for specific age groups where data are limited (for example, for those aged 12–15)

Analysis of linked data can provide insight on young people’s experiences and outcomes across multiple dimensions of wellbeing, and over time

Indicator development, including refreshing existing national youth indicators

Multi-sectorial linked data sets enable new, more comprehensive indicators to be developed and reported that provide additional insights into the wellbeing of young people. For example, information on potentially vulnerable households could be gained by linking Centrelink data to other sources on vulnerability (such as data on homelessness or hospitalisations).

Similarly, linked data could be used to measure the proportion of children in child protection who are later involved in the youth justice system

Locally relevant data

Demand is increasing for locally relevant data on young people that span multiple aspects of their experience. Potentially, the sort of data presented in this report could be built on to produce a layered national data and reporting platform to support collating, presenting and sharing people-centred data about young people across multiple domains and according to place or location. Such a data platform, focused on young people, would inform a wide range of information needs on the wellbeing of young people in Australia.

An initiative to be developed between 2021 and 2023 is the Australian National Child Health and Development Atlas project, led by the Telethon Kids Institute. This project aims to create a national data asset (including proof of concept dashboard) that maps data on children and young people across Australia, enabling the visualisation, analysis and monitoring of health and wellbeing metrics for children. It aims to incorporate Australian, state and territory data, as well as data from non-government organisations that are relevant to the health and wellbeing of Australian children.

For information on data gaps specific to younger children see Australia’s children, Data gaps.

Reference

DSS (Department of Social Services) 2020. The National Disability Data Asset. Canberra: DSS. Viewed 20 November 2020.