Gap growing for deprived kids in rural communities

CHILDCARE services must be boosted in rural areas and towns with high numbers of disadvantaged people, but quality must remain the watchword, two researchers say.

The third triennial Australian Early Development Census was released this week and showed most children were on track in their development.

It measured the development of thousands of children, as they entered their first year of school, in five key areas - physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills, and communication skills and general knowledge.

The report showed gains across all areas for most children, but found the "development" gap between children in the most disadvantaged areas and those in the least disadvantaged areas was still growing.

It showed the gap had begun closing between indigenous and non-indigenous child development, but the gap between all children in very remote regions, relative to those in major cities, was increasing.

Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy fellow Bronwyn Hinz and program director Megan O'Connell told ARM Newsdesk the report still showed about one in five children had "vulnerabilities", and those who attended childcare were about half as likely to be vulnerable.

The pair said most children were doing better those in the first census on language and cognitive skills, in 2009, but often that was found at the expense of emotional maturity.

"There has been an increased emphasis on pre-school to focus on a narrow set of school preparation skills, but there are many other skills that aren't recognised as important by many childhood educators," Ms Hinz said.

She said "protective factors", such as wider community services for families, were helping reduce childhood vulnerability.

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