Launch of The social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal children and young people

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Published in the HealthBulletin Journal
Posted on:
1 July, 2005
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The following summary has been adapted from media releases and information provided by the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research)

The social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal children and young people was launched in April 2005 at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Perth, Western Australia (WA). It is the second volume of findings from the Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey (WAACHS), with three more volumes to follow (view media backgrounder – HTML). This report presents data collected on the social and emotional wellbeing of 3,993 children aged 4-17 years. Other volumes cover the topics of health(view previous HealthInfoNet current topic), education, family, and community and justice .

The report details the complexity of factors that contribute to significantly higher rates of social and emotional difficulties experienced by Aboriginal children compared with other Australian children. Findings reveal that nearly a quarter (24%) of Aboriginal children are at high risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties.

WAACHS Steering Committee Chairman, Associate Professor Ted Wilkes said that ‘what this report quantifies is the level of suffering faced by too many Aboriginal children and young people…a burden that affects their long term social and emotional development’. The survey found that over 70% of Aboriginal children were living in families which had experienced three or more major life stress events, such as death in the family, serious illness, family breakdown, financial problems, or arrest, and that 22% of Aboriginal children had experienced seven or more of these serious events in the past 12 months (view media release – HTML).

Report co-author Professor Sven Silburn said that ‘stress levels experienced by Aboriginal children and families are a reflection of their economic and social disadvantage, their comparatively poor health and how these factors impact on family and community functioning’. The cumulative impact of chronic stress affects development of the nervous, endocrine and immune systems, placing children at an increased risk of acquiring chronic diseases later in life, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and mental health problems. Professor Silburn emphasised the need for urgent action ‘to buffer children from the effects of these stresses as well as longer-term measures to reduce their underlying causes’ (view media release – HTML).

The report provides the first scientific evidence of the long-term effects on the health and wellbeing of children cared for by Aboriginal Australians who were forcibly separated from their natural families by missions, the government or welfare. The report found that children of Aboriginal carers who were forcibly separated from their families were 2.3 times more likely to be high risk for clinically significant emotional and behavioural difficulties, and had double the proportion of both alcohol and other drug use than other Aboriginal children. Professor Wilkes said the findings were of national significance because they prove that the legacy of past government policies is still a real issue for Aboriginal communities today (view media release – HTML).

The report’s findings highlight the extent and urgency of the emotional and behavioural difficulties faced by many Aboriginal communities and families. Importantly, the findings also include information on those children and young people who, despite past or current adversity, are living healthy and resilient lives. Professor Wilkes said that ‘understanding how they achieved these good outcomes will guide us in helping more individuals and families have better outcomes’ (view media release – HTML).

The social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal children and young people (view HealthInfoNet abstract; view report) is available on the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research website. For information regarding reproduction of the report contact: Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, PO Box 855, West Perth WA 6872, Ph: (08) 94897777, Fax: (08) 9489 7700, Email:

For further information:

  • WA Aboriginal Child Health Survey
    View media release (HTML) (released 13 April)
  • High stress burden takes toll on Aboriginal children
    View media release (HTML) (released 13 April)
  • Pain of forced separation affecting a new generation
    View media release (HTML) (released 13 April)

Or contact:
Elizabeth Chester
Ph: 0409 988 530 (mobile)
Tammy Gibbs
Telethon Institute for Child Health Research
Ph: 08 9489 7963