Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Teen pregnancy, suicide rates a 'wake-up-call'

A report that shows Australia is not the lucky country for its youth should act as a policy wake-up call, the federal government says.

The Research Alliance for Children and Youth compared health, education, employment and family relationships of Australians aged up to 24 with those in other developed nations.

Overall, non-indigenous Australian youths fared relatively well in each category but not compared with youngsters from the best performing countries. And indigenous young people compared miserably on every indicator.

"Despite our economic prosperity, Australian children do not perform as well as modern society would like to think," the report said.

Federal Families and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said the report would be a "shock" to many people.

"We are falling far behind many, many comparable countries ... where we would have thought we were doing so much better," Ms Macklin said.

"We all know the shocking gap that exists between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians but ... I don't think that people are aware of the extraordinary differences between our children and children in other developed countries."

Pregnancy rates were much higher than the OECD average, and rates for indigenous Australians were the highest, the report found.

Youth road deaths are the third highest in the OECD and indigenous young people have the second highest suicide rate behind Finland.

Children of indigenous youths have the second highest infant mortality rate and recorded the lowest birth weights.

More than 15 per cent of Australians aged 18-24 years claim to experience high or very high levels of psychological distress.

Australia also performed poorly in the transition between education and employment, and family relationships.

Head of the study, Professor Fiona Stanley, said the findings suggested government policy had failed children for many years.

"If this was the Olympics, Australian's would be horrified that we've failed to bring home a single gold," she said.

Prof Stanley said Australia can do better and the indicator levels were "very policy sensitive and responsive".

Ms Macklin agreed, saying paid parental leave and a focus on early childhood education would help boost Australia's performance.

"It does need to be a wake up call ... as a nation we have to do better," she said.

Eleven-year-old Isha Menon, selected to be acting Children's Commissioner for the day, said one area of focus should be better work-life balance for families.

"Many children in my class have to go home alone and sometimes around 4.30 they are still hanging around and playing with friends," she said.

"They probably never see their parents because they work long hours.

"We must support parents to spend more time with their children."

The wellbeing of Australian youth compared to other Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations

Infant mortality: Australians 20/27

Indigenous Australians 26/28

Low birth rate: Australians 7/18

Indigenous Australians 19/19

Mental health: Australians 13/23

Indigenous Australians 23/24

Accidental injury: Australia 7/8


Reading: Australians 6/29

Indigenous Australians 29/31

Maths: Australians 29/31

Indigenous Australians 29/31

Science: Australians 5/30

Indigenous Australians 29/31

Transition to employment: Australia 17/25

Peer and family relationships

Parents "just talking" with children: Australians 18/27

Indigenous Australians 17/28

Sense of belonging: Australians 11/29 Indigenous Australians 29/30

Teenage fertility: Australians 21/30 Indigenous Australians 31/31

Road deaths: Australia 20/23

Source: The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).


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