Introduction

There were approximately 1.6 million children (aged 0-17) in NSW in 2011 and that number is growing.  These children are diverse in terms of age, gender, location, religion, languages spoken, family type, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and other aspects of their lives.

The diversity and complexity of children’s lives needs to be taken into account when designing policy and advocating for children and young people. While children and young people in NSW are generally faring well, there are some big challenges facing all children in terms of health, education and employment and there are some children who face overlapping and compounding disadvantage in various aspects of their lives.

The NSW Commission for Children and Young People (the Commission) is an independent statutory body within government established in 1998 to advocate on behalf of children in NSW.  As part of its functions the Commission reports on the safety and well-being of these children. The databook A picture of NSW children helps the Commission fulfil this function.

The online databook is the product of a collaboration between the Commission and the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW.

The data is provided as a resource for policy and service delivery professionals working in both government and non-government settings to enhance knowledge about children’s lives. The book draws together data from many existing collections to meet the growing information needs of these groups about the children of NSW and their families. However, it should be noted that the book does not provide an exhaustive analysis of key topic areas relevant to children or information on the full range of policy initiatives that exist in NSW. Further, the book does not provide comment on the effectiveness of policy implementation in NSW.

This book has been designed for a range of audiences and with those less familiar with statistics in mind. However, some readers may want additional information on the statistical terms and measures used. The Australian Bureau Statistics (ABS) provides a variety of tools and resources to assist understanding, interpretation and evaluation of statistical information. This information can be found at ABS: Understanding statistics.

The information contained in this book is correct at the time of preparation and will be subject to revision and updates when new information becomes available.

Data sources

The data in this book is sourced from a number of administrative and survey collections. All the collections are detailed at Appendix 1 Key survey sources and data reports. The ABS and NSW Health collections are key sources and are used extensively.  Data are reported against established state and national indicators where relevant.

Population characteristics

Where appropriate or possible, data are presented around the three developmental stages of early childhood (0-8 years); middle childhood (9-14 years); and adolescence (15-17 years). These groups were chosen to support the policy work that occurs in NSW, for and within these age groups.

In recognition that geographic locations across NSW are not homogeneous and that policy and planning responses can occur within particular communities or locations the data are provided at the lowest geographic level possible.

Differences by age, sex, and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children are provided where possible.

Context: how we shape childhood through data

The picture presented here is seen through a particular lens. This lens has been chosen because it supports the purpose of the book; to inform legislative, policy, and program development and service provision in NSW. The result is a book that largely covers issues that are thought important to address because they impact on future outcomes for children.

While data provides an important tool to assist us to develop appropriate legislation, policies and services for children, data also carries powerful ideas and attitudes about the nature of childhood and our part in it. Whatever our reasons for reporting the data we do, through our reporting we transmit contemporary social, cultural and moral attitudes about childhood, which in turn is powerful in shaping these attitudes. In this regard data is no less powerful than the images created through artistic mediums such as painting and photography or through the media.

Childhood constructed through children’s eyes

What is reported in this book is a subset of what is known about children or what could be known. The data supports reporting against agreed national frameworks and indicators which were developed with reference to expert and practitioner views (AIHW, 2010 and DHS, 2008) and reflect what these experts know and value about childhood and children’s experiences.

The findings of research undertaken to better understand what children identify as well-being, what it looks like and the factors that affect their sense of it suggests that children were not central to the development of state and national frameworks and directions.

The inclusion of children would most likely have resulted in a different framework with indicators that capture the complexity of their lives, including their emotional lives. For example, measures that consider the views of children would generally preference their opportunity to act independently and have some control over their lives, their emotional security, positive feelings about themselves, their responses to adversity, their feelings about and use of material resources, their interactions with their environment, and their moral lives (Fattore et. al., 2010).

Children have legitimate views on their lives and their views need to be considered in developing monitoring frameworks and indicators. Ironically, the absence of children’s views may result in inadequate legislation, policy, and services that aim to promote their well-being. The inclusion of children’s views as a criteria against which the suitability of measures can be evaluated could assist progress on this issue.

Report structure

There are many ways of organising information. This report draws on an ecological model which recognises that family, community and society are important influences on children. The report covers the areas of economic well-being, child care and education, health and well-being, safety, children and crime and childhood injury. Where relevant, a summary of national and state initiatives are provided.

There are six sections of this report.

Section 1 provides information on the demographic characteristics of children and their family in three chapters.

  • Introduction to NSW children (Chapter 1) provides information on the number of children including their age and gender and geographic location, and population growth including the number of children that the ABS have projected into the future and birth rates over the past 10 years.
  • Diversity of NSW children (Chapter 2) examines the diverse nature of children in NSW. Specifically it provides information on Aboriginal children, where children were born, children for whom the main language spoken at home is not English, children’s religious affiliation and its importance in their lives, migrant children, and children who have a disability.
  • Family diversity (Chapter 3) provides information on the type of household children live in, children living away from their parents in out-of-home care, the type of accommodation children live in, the education and employment of their parents, how their families function, and the activities they do together.

Section 2 provides information on the health and well-being of children in three chapters.

  • Physical health (Chapter 4) examines the health of newborn babies and infant mortality, the general health of children, immunisation and vaccine preventable disease and illness for both younger and older children, death, dental health, and access to health care.
  • Mental health (Chapter 5) explores feelings of well-being among children, psychological distress, behavioural difficulties, self harming behaviour, and deaths by suicide.
  • Health behaviours (Chapter 6) examines the extent to which NSW children adopt healthy behaviours. It examines nutrition and weight, physical exercise including participation in sport or physical activity, sleeping patterns in young children, sexual health and teenage pregnancy, alcohol use and risky drinking, illicit drug use and tobacco use.

Section 3 provides information on children who come into contact with the criminal justice system in one chapter. Children and crime (Chapter 7) explores the characteristics of offenders, trends, the offences committed and where they occur, and what happens including appearances at criminal courts and the penalties given.

Section 4 provides information on the economic well-being of children in two chapters.

  • Economic well-being of families (Chapter 8) focuses on a families’ household income, experiences of food insecurity and access to adequate housing, including overcrowding and homelessness.
  • Work and income of children (Chapter 9) considers the work and income of children and includes information about children who are combining work with their education, children who have left school, unemployment, and children’s incomes.

Section 5 provides information on child care and education in two chapters.

  • Early childhood education and care (Chapter 10) examines the use of formal and informal child care for children, the cost of child care to parents and the difficulties parents have with child care. The quality of child care and the experiences that children have in care settings are not reported.
  • Education and learning (Chapter 11) explores young children’s transition to primary school, school enrolment, attendance and engagement in education; school suspension, academic achievement, educational deprivation, quality of school life, subjects studied, and pathways after leaving school.

Section 6 provides information on the harm and injury to children in two chapters.

  • Unintentional injury and death (Chapter 12) provides information about serious childhood injury.
  • Harm to children (Chapter 13) examines abuse against children including abuse in workplaces, domestic and family violence, bullying, and crimes against children.

The appendices comprise a glossary describing the key terms used in the databook, a description of each key survey and data source, and maps of the geographic regions used in databook.

References

AIHW. (2009). Key national indicators of children’s health and well-being: technical report on the operational definitions and data issues for A Picture of Australia’s Children 2009. Cat no. AUS100. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

AIHW. (2010). Health and Well-being of Young Australians: Technical paper on operational definitions and data issues for key national indicators Preliminary Report. Cat no. CWS 63. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

BOCSAR. (2010, unpublished). A picture of NSW children: Children who offend.

Department of Human Services. (2008). Headline Indicators for Children’s Health, Development and Wellbeing. Victoria: Department of Human Services.

Fattore. T., Mason. J., & Watson. L., (2010) Overview of Children's Understandings of Well-being. Sydney: NSW Commission for Children and Young People.