New index to gauge children's wellbeing

Research news
31 July 2016

The Deakin-Australian Unity Wellbeing Index is preparing to target Australian children.

The Deakin University – Australian Unity Wellbeing Index has become an institution, since it was introduced in the year 2000.

It provides regular snapshots of how Australians are faring across differences of class, gender, marital status, racial background, abilities and a myriad of criteria designed to identify and support those not doing so well.

It is the most influential wellbeing dataset in Australia, shaping understanding of life quality, especially subjective wellbeing – revealing how people feel about themselves and their lives.

Researchers at Deakin University are preparing to develop a new version of the Index, designed to be a national tool that measures the wellbeing of Australian children.

They believe the new Index will provide the missing piece of the puzzle – identifying people at risk at the most crucial time in their development.

Project manager of the current Index, Dr Delyse Hutchinson, from the Australian Centre for Quality of Life (ACQL), said she hopes the new Index will be ready for use within five years.

“There is a lot of research knowledge about how to identify children with deficits, disorders or problems, but there is a gap in our knowledge about children’s wellbeing and what makes them fare well and thrive,” she said.

“We know that positive experiences and healthy development in early life make us all more robust and better able to cope with stressors for our whole life.

"Just because a child doesn’t have a problem, a disorder or is not doing poorly at school, doesn’t mean they are thriving as well as they could be.”

She added that, like the adult Index, the new Index could play a significant role in guiding policy development and allocation of government resources.

It will also provide national data that clinicians can use as a best practice “go to” resource and help researchers to determine the most needed types of intervention.

Preliminary research has already shown that young people who have siblings with a developmental or mental health difficulty are particularly at risk because of the informal care they are often required to provide. The ACQL research team has recently developed an app, called “Stress Less,” to support young people.

“There are many thousands of young people who play this role, but typically they don’t receive support,” said Dr Hutchinson. “The app is free and can be done in the youth’s own time in their own home.

"This will be ideal, as many of them live in regional or remote locations, and it avoids stigma.”

Founder of the adult Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, Professor Bob Cummins, Director of ACQL, within Deakin’s Centre for Social and Early Emotional Development, said that the relationship with Australian Unity was one of the longest running industry partnerships at Deakin and he is delighted to be involved in extending the Index to children.

“Adults manage their sense of life quality very determinedly,” said Professor Cummins. “Most adults have strong psychological devices to keep themselves feeling good, which is really important. If we didn’t, we would make ourselves liable to be depressed.”

“We understand the strategies that children over 12 are likely to use. Below this age, researchers currently have a poor understanding of the strategies children use to feel good about themselves, especially controlling their emotions.”

“For children, the Index measurement process will be very simple.

"We hope that in the future it could be a routine screening method, only taking a minute or so, used in every Australian primary school.

“When we can identify children who are vulnerable, we can provide resources and, once adults are made aware of issues going on, we can make a difference to the whole psychological environment.”

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New 'Wellbeing Index' project manager, Dr Delyse Hutchinson, and Professor Bob Cummins, Director, Australian Centre for Quality of Life.

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New 'Wellbeing Index' project manager, Dr Delyse Hutchinson, and Professor Bob Cummins, Director, Australian Centre for Quality of Life.

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