Overarching data gaps

Some data gaps do not relate to a specific topic, and can be relevant to a range of subject areas. Three major data gaps identified in this report relate to all or several domains of children’s wellbeing.

Priority groups

Reporting data for various population groups is critical to informing matters of equity (providing services and resources based on need). However, data are often unable to be reported by population groups, particularly 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:

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

Pathways, transitions and outcomes

There are currently no national indicators to measure how children transition through major development stages, or how children interact with services and move through different systems. While data may be available for specific services or stages of a child’s life; for example data from hospitals, education or early childhood assessments, there is limited ability to track children through different data sources to assess their outcomes. This makes it difficult for governments and others to effectively evaluate services.

Data linkage, or the joining of data sets, may provide the information needed to track the pathways of children through different systems and determine how this impacts their outcomes.

Data linkage is discussed in more detail later in this section.

Voice of the child

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

  • administrative (information collected as part of service delivery)
  • surveys (which are generally administered only to adults).

This means that measures of children’s subjective wellbeing, including their cultural and racial identity, are very limited among these sources (see 'Children’s perspective of wellbeing' in Introduction). It also means data are limited for monitoring children’s subjective wellbeing over time.

While a number of studies provide useful insight into children’s experiences through the ‘voice of the child’, such as the work of the National Children’s Commissioner, state and territory children’s commissioners, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children and the Australian Child Wellbeing Project, there are many areas where children’s opinions or experiences are not collected. For example, the:

  • Australian Bureau of Statistic’ (ABS) Personal Safety Survey asks adults aged 15 and over about whether children had seen or heard violence in the home but information is not collected from children about experiencing or witnessing violence.
  • Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey can be used to measure material deprivation (when people do not have and cannot afford items or activities widely regarded as essential for participating fully in a society); however it only reflects what adults aged 15 and over consider to be essential resources and services, which may differ from children’s perspectives.

Collecting information directly from children more regularly and on a broader range of topics gives them a voice on what matters to them. However, there are challenges to collecting these data, including parental consent and issues relating to child disclosure of sensitive or criminal behaviour, such as instances of child abuse or neglect.

Other overarching gaps

Australia’s children provides information on a range of established indicators at national level. Future reports in this series could explore the reporting of data by lower geographic areas, and/or service use by children across Australia. However, nationally, some data gaps also exist in these areas.

Geographic areas

The quality and consistency of geographic units (such as postcode or ABS Statistical Area Level 2) varies between data sets. Where geographic data are available, it may not be able to be presented due to concerns about confidentiality and statistical validity of reporting data from small populations, or it may be based on service location rather than child’s location. High-quality data reported by geographical areas would provide information such as how far children travel to access certain services, or identify areas with higher rates of disease where services should be targeted.

Community services, including maternal and child health

A range of organisations provide health and community services to children and their families, such as:

  • allied health care services
  • family support services
  • dental services
  • family, domestic and sexual violence services.

These services may be delivered by governments, or by non-government organisations (for-profit and not-for-profit). Many services collect data in their daily operations. While some services have data collated and routinely reported at national level (such as specialist homelessness services and child protection services), 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.

Greater reporting of community services, including maternal and child health data, could provide a more complete picture of service use by children across Australia. It could also help inform service planning by identifying the most in-demand services and the key needs of children accessing the services, and using this with other data on prevalence and experiences, to predict demand and needs.