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The UN’s report card for Australian children

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UNICEF's report card highlights mixed results for Australian children's wellbeing, with poverty and mental health as major issues.
UN report Australian children

A new report card by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the wellbeing of Australian children has found mixed results.

The report card noted “most children are doing well in most areas”, but listed poverty, mental health, and overrepresentation of First Nations children in protective care as major issues.

Here’s a closer look.

Context

The UN children’s organisation UNICEF’s report card measures the wellbeing of children and young adults (up to 24 years old) across several areas.

These areas include family support, safety, material needs, physical and mental health, education, social inclusion and sense of identity.

Family and safety

Most Australian children enjoy a high level of family cohesion and the number of children concerned about family conflict has been falling. Most children also feel they have someone they can turn to for support.

However, outcomes for children in unsafe environments are worsening. The rates of children needing protective services have increased and are significantly higher for First Nations children.

There are also concerns about community safety, with a third of children feeling unsafe walking around their neighbourhood at night.

Material needs

Most Australian children have access to material basics – hunger rates are low and child homelessness is declining.

However, the report card found “a small subset” of children experience “profound deprivation”. One in six children under 14 lives below the national poverty line.

As well as undermining a child’s short-term welfare, child poverty can have a compounding effect for education, employment and health outcomes.

Health

Australian children perform well on many indicators of physical health, especially child immunisation – 95% of children are fully immunised by the age of five and this rate is higher for First Nations children.

Australian teenagers and young adults also have some of the lowest rates of excessive drinking and smoking in the developed world (although the smoking figures do not include vaping).

However, nutrition, exercise and mental health are all concerns.

Only 6% of Australian children get their daily recommended servings of fruit and vegetables. More than half of 15-24-year-olds describe their lifestyle as ‘sedentary’ and only a quarter of 10-14-year-olds play regular sport outside of school.

Reports of psychological distress have also increased in recent years, as have suicide rates. These outcomes are significantly worse for transgender and gender diverse children and for First Nations children.

Education

While education rates are high, Australia does not rank highly by international standards for pre-school education attendance. Early childhood education plays an important role in reducing educational inequality later in life.

There is also a “concerning” downward trend in academic performance for Australian high school students.

Social inclusion

There are many positive trends in feelings of inclusion among children.

The rate of children who say they are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ concerned about bullying has fallen. Rates of acceptance of multiculturalism among children are very high and increasing, and three quarters of sexually and gender diverse young people say they feel ‘pretty good’ or ‘great’ about their identity.

However, just one in five 15-24-year-olds feel empowered to have a say in the community on important political issues. The report card suggests they are “unconvinced that their participation is meaningful”.

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