This study reports encouraging trends for WA children, overall, but also confirms the ongoing disadvantage of Aboriginal children and young people across a range of wellbeing measures.
The inaugural The State of Western Australia’s Children and Young People report demonstrates that the majority of Western Australian (WA) children and young people are faring well and on most measures are similar to children and young people in other Australian states.
On a global perspective, WA children live in a strong, developed economy, supported by modern infrastructure. for many children, their material and physical needs are fully met as a matter of course. for example, all children and young people have access to universal health care and to full secondary education.
There are several areas of wellbeing where WA children and young people compare well against national and international standards.
The rate of smoking during pregnancy in WA declined in the period from 2003 to 2008, falling below the national average to 15.4 per cent. The proportion of mothers who abstain from alcohol entirely during pregnancy has increased in Wa (and nationally).
WA has the lowest rate of infant mortality in Australia, at 3.0 per 1,000 births.
Over 97 per cent of eligible children are enrolled in Kindergarten, and practically 100 per cent in pre-primary education. at the other end of the education spectrum, around 92 per cent of young people over 15 years are engaged in education, employment or training.
Overall, a low number of Wa children and young people have contact with the justice system.
The rates of children and young people living in low-income households and in families where parents are jobless are below or similar to national averages. In WA, the percentage of people in couple families with dependent children that live in low-income households decreased from 17.6 per cent to 12.6 per cent, which is considerably lower than the national average of 19.4 per cent. a decrease was also recorded in the percentage of jobless single-parent families.
WA children and young people rate their families as a critical factor to their wellbeing; 81.7 per cent of 11 to 14 year-olds and 72.5 per cent of 15 to 19 year-olds said they would seek out their parents for advice and support. a key issue is how we can better support families to undertake this important role.
WA also has one of the highest national rates of participation by children and young people in physical and cultural activities, both formal and informal. for example, surveys in 2009 show for WA children aged 5 to 14 years:
• nearly two-thirds (64.0%) rode a bike in the two weeks prior to the survey (more than the 60.4% nationally)
• over 60 per cent (63.1%) had played a sport outside of school hours which had been organised by a school, club or association
• over 70 per cent (71.9%) attended at least one cultural venue or event (a public library, a museum or art gallery, or a performing arts event).
The prevalence of tobacco smoking among WA teenagers has been decreasing significantly since 1999. A 2008 survey showed that the proportion of WA 12 to 17 year-olds who were current smokers (i.e. smoked in the week prior to the survey) was 4.8 per cent (compared to 16.6% in 1999). The proportion of WA teenagers who had ever smoked even part of a cigarette is also decreasing and currently sits at 25.8 per cent, which is slightly less than the national figure of 27.2 per cent.
These are all encouraging findings; however, this report also identifies several areas where the status of WA children and young people’s wellbeing is cause for some concern.