The first 2,000 days of a child’s life is a critical window of opportunity for establishing a strong foundation for their futures, and the universal child health and early education services are regarded as one of the best investments that governments can make to support caregivers in providing for their children’s health, development and learning.

However, although universal health and education services are available to all young children, they are not necessarily being accessed and used equally by everyone. To improve the situation, we need to gain a greater understanding about how these services are currently being used. The health and education sectors provide complementary universal services for the same population of children and their caregivers, yet research has largely focused on service use within the health or education sector and not across both sectors, effectively dividing early childhood into silos.

To bridge this gap in our understanding, a new study conducted by Professor Cate Taylor at the Telethon Kids Institute, set out to produce evidence about children’s service use across the health and education sectors with the aim of supporting cross-sectoral collaboration and coordination of core universal early childhood services.

To achieve this, Professor Taylor’s team were given access to health and education administrative data records for 5,440 children, and a Tasmanian 2015 Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) record of children born in Tasmania between 2008 and 2010. These data were combined and analysed using a method known as data linkage.

The results showed a clear pattern of children’s developmental vulnerability depending upon whether or not they used the services regularly. In fact, the odds of developmental vulnerability in the first year of full-time school were higher for those who used the services far less compared with regular users.

The study identified particular population groups who may benefit from outreach strategies to help them access and use universal child health and early education services.

What also emerged from the data was that it is less than half of children use the services regularly. With regular use of universal health and education services from birth through Kindergarten, there is a higher level of protection from developmental vulnerability in the first year of full-time school.

Professor Taylor explained that “Knowledge about the complex risk circumstances associated with different levels of service use, and service use and developmental outcomes can be used to guide service provision proportionate to the needs of different population groups.”

“The associations between lower uptake of services over time for groups of children with complex risk circumstances is likely to translate to missed developmental opportunities and widening inequalities in child development over time.”

This cross-sectoral view of universal child health and early education service coverage shows the potential for the health and education sectors to share their service data to better understand service users and to develop strategies to support the participation of all children in coordinated service pathways.


Click here to read the full open access article

Cate Taylor, Telethon Kids Institute

Taylor, C. L., Christensen, D., Venn, A., Preen, D., Stafford, J., Hansen, E., Jose, K. and Zubrick, S. (no date) “The Use of administrative record linkage to examine patterns of universal early childhood health and education service use from birth to Kindergarten (age 4 years) and developmental vulnerability in the Preparatory Year (age 5 years) in Tasmania, Australia.: Patterns of universal early childhood health and education service use”, International Journal of Population Data Science, 7(1). doi: 10.23889/ijpds.v7i1.1681.