Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Australia's children, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 27 November 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Australia's children. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
Australia's children. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 February 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia's children [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2022 Nov. 27]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Australia's children, viewed 27 November 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
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Healthy neighbourhoods generally involve quality housing, services, green spaces, and strong social connections. High neighbourhood quality is associated with a wide range of positive child outcomes, including positive physical and mental health, higher educational attainment, and lower rates of child maltreatment and youth justice involvement (Dupere et al. 2010; Edwards & Bromfield 2010; Mingh et al. 2017; Webb et al. 2017; White & Cunneen 2015).
One commonly used indicator of neighbourhood quality is neighbourhood safety, with measures of perceived safety and victimisation regularly used (Berglund et al. 2017; Ferguson 2006) (Box 1).
Neighbourhood safety is a broad term comprising many physical and non-physical aspects. It includes, but is not necessarily limited to:
Perceived neighbourhood safety is often measured by surveying how safe and/or vulnerable people feel during different times of the day under varying circumstances, for example home alone at night (Ferguson 2006).
Both household experiences with crime and parental perception of neighbourhood safety have been found to impact a child’s daily life by shaping the activities parents allow children to be involved in outside the home (Glaster & Santiago 2006; Goldfeld et al. 2017; Molnar et al. 2004). For example, negatively perceived neighbourhood safety is associated with increased sedentary behaviour among adolescents and increased risk of poor future health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease and obesity (Lenhart et al. 2017). Children’s personal perceptions of safety and their behaviour can also be influenced by neighbourhood safety, a sentiment explored in This place I call home: the views of children and young people growing up in Queensland (Goldfeld et al. 2017; Queensland Child and Family Commission 2018).
Data on children’s perspectives of safety in their environment are presented in this section. Self-reported perceptions of neighbourhood safety are also reported; specifically, the perception of adults who live in households with children aged 0–14, and the perception of Year 4 teachers on the safety of their school and its neighbourhood (Box 2).
Children’s perspectives of bullying are discussed in Bullying.
The LSAC measures perceived safety in a number of ways, including directly asking children if they feel safe in their neighbourhood. Data included are for children aged 10–11 in 2009–10, and aged 12–13 in either 2011–12 or 2015–16.
The ABS General Social Survey (GSS) measures perceived neighbourhood safety by asking respondents how safe they felt alone at home during the night and walking in the local area during the night on their own. In previous years, the GSS also reported on individual perceptions of safety while at home during the day. These data were not available for 2014.
Updated GSS data are not expected until 2020. In the interim, the ABS 2016 Personal Safety Survey (PSS), which uses the same measure, has been used. While not reported here, the GSS also includes a measure of experienced crime, and results indicated some similarities between perceived and experienced crime.
The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) measures how safe and orderly a school is by asking teachers of those Year 4 students completing PIRLS to rate their agreement on a series of 8 statements which combine to form the Safe and Orderly School scale. This scale includes 3 statements which relate directly to safety:
All other questions focus on student conduct and school rules relating to conduct. This measure is used here as a proxy for neighbourhood safety.
According to data collected as part of LSAC in 2015–16, most (91%) children aged 12–13 felt safe in their neighbourhood. Very few (<1%) did not feel safe and less than one-tenth (8%) indicated they sometimes felt safe but not all the time. This aligns relatively well with their parents’ perceptions of the neighbourhood, with 95% of their parents agreeing with the statement ‘this is a safe neighbourhood’. These results are also consistent with results from 2011–12 which found that 89% of children aged 12–13 felt safe in their neighbourhood.
According to the ABS 2014 GSS, the majority (89%) of respondents (aged 18 and over) living in households with at least 1 child aged 0–14 at home alone during the night, felt safe/very safe. Of those who walked alone in the local area during the night on their own, 65% felt safe/very safe. This pattern was similar regardless of the youngest age of the child in the household.
The proportion of respondents that felt safe/very safe at home alone during the night or walking in the local area during the night increased slightly between 2006 and 2014 (Figure 1) (ABS 2015).
Chart: AIHW. Source: ABS 2015.
Similar to these findings, the 2016 PSS found that 92% respondents home alone after dark said they felt safe. Of those respondents who walked in the local area during the night on their own, 86% felt safe. However, 45% of all respondents indicated they did not walk in the local area alone after dark—one-third of these said it was because they did not feel safe.
Respondents living in the highest socioeconomic areas were more likely to feel safe/very safe at home alone at night and walking in their local area at night compared with those living in the lowest socioeconomic areas (94% and 69% compared with 81% and 49%, respectively) (Figure 2).
Respondents born in Australia or other mainly English-speaking countries were more likely to feel safe/very safe at home at night than other respondents (90% compared with 84%). They were also more likely to feel safe/very safe walking in the local area at night (66% compared with 60%).
Note: Mainly English-speaking background (MESB) countries include Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States of America.
The PIRLS 2016 found that more than three-quarters (78%) of participating Year 4 students attended schools judged by their teachers as Very safe and orderly (Figure 3). This was higher than the international average (62%).
Schools categorised as more affluent (Box 3) were more likely perceived as Very safe and orderly than schools categorised as more disadvantaged (86% compared with 61%).
Chart: AIHW. Source: Thomson et al. 2017.
School principals were asked to report on the socioeconomic composition of their school by indicating what percentage of students came from economically affluent homes and what percentage came from economically disadvantaged homes. Responses were then used to create 3 categories of school socioeconomic composition:
National data on neighbourhood safety for children is currently limited to perceived safety reported by adults. The integration of a number of measures (perceived and/or otherwise) into an index of neighbourhood safety specifically applicable to children could provide a more complete picture. The types of measures that could be considered include access to pedestrian crossings, traffic exposure and crime statistics. A broader view of neighbourhood safety was incorporated in the Kids in Communities Study which looked at the relationship between the environment children live in and its impact on early childhood development (Goldfeld et al. 2017).
For more information on:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2015. Microdata: General Social Survey, Australia, 2014. ABS cat. no. 4159.0.30.004. Findings based on Tablebuilder analysis. Canberra: ABS.
Berglund E, Westerling R & Lytsy P 2017. Housing type and neighbourhood safety behaviour predicts self-rated health, psychological well-being and frequency of recent unhealthy days: a comparative cross-sectional study of the general population in Sweden. Planning Practice and Research 32(4):444–465.
Dupere V, Leventhal T, Crosnoe R & Dion E 2010. Understanding the positive role of neighborhood socioeconomic advantage in achievement: the contribution of the home, child care, and school environments. Developmental Psychology 46(5):1227–1244.
Edwards B & Bromfield L 2010. Neighbourhood influences on young children’s emotional and behavioural problems. Family Matters 84:7–19.
Ferguson KM 2006. Social capital and children’s wellbeing: critical synthesis of the international social capital literature. International Journal of Social Welfare 15(1):2–18.
Galster CG & Santiago MA 2006. What’s the ’Hood got to do with it? Parental perceptions about how neighbourhood mechanisms affect their children. Journal of Urban Affairs 28(3):201–26.
Goldfeld S, Villanueva K, Lee JL, Robinson R, Moriarty A, Peel D et al. 2017. Foundational community factors (FCFs) for early childhood development: a report on the Kids in Communities Study. Viewed 20 March 2019.
Lenhart CM, Wiemken A, Hanlon A, Perkett M & Patterson F 2017. Perceived neighbourhood safety related to physical activity but not recreational screen-based sedentary behaviour in adolescents. BMC Public Health 17:722. Viewed 20 March 2019.
Minh A, Muhajarine N, Janus M, Brownell M & Guhn M 2017. A review of neighborhood effects and early child development: how, where, and for whom, do neighborhoods matter? Health Place 46:155–174.
Molnar BE, Gortmaker SL, Bull FC & Buka SL 2004. Unsafe to play? Neighborhood disorder and lack of safety predict reduced physical activity among urban children and adolescents. American Journal of Health Promotion 18(5):378–86.
Queensland Family and Child Commission 2018. This place I call home—The views of children and young people on growing up in Queensland. Brisbane: Queensland Family and Child Commission.
Thomson S, Hillman K, Schmid M Rodrigues S & Fullarton J 2017 Reporting Australia’s results: PIRLS 2016. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research.
Webb S, Janus M, Duku E, Raos R, Brownell M, Forer B et al. 2017. Neighbourhood socioeconomic status indices and early childhood development. SSM—Population Health 3:48–56.
White R & Cunneen C 2015. Social class, youth crime and justice. In Goldson B & Muncie J (eds). Youth, crime and justice (2nd edn). London: Sage 17–30.
For more information, see Methods.
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