Australian children who are experiencing adversity: risk and protective factors influencing language development with and without intervention

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Copyright: Short, Katherine
Children experiencing social and environmental adversity are at greater risk of language difficulties and the related long-term educational and social life challenges. Early years interventions such as home visiting are designed for this vulnerable group and target a range of factors that may influence language outcomes. Many fixed, less modifiable and more modifiable risk and protective factors are known to influence language development. However, it is not clear which factors influence language outcomes in children experiencing adversity nor how these factors combine, especially in the context of intervention. This thesis used qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate the influence of: i) 16 different risk and protective factors and ii) a home visiting intervention on the language outcomes of two groups of children experiencing adversity (n=234). Data were extracted from three longitudinal studies: the Gudaga birth cohort, the Bulundidi Gudaga study and the Maternal Early Childhood Sustained Home-visiting randomised control trial. Several factors influenced language outcomes in urban Aboriginal children. Receptive vocabulary at 3 years was predicted by the child’s gender, non-verbal cognition, number of children in the home and maternal education, and at 4 years by mothers’ emotional well-being, home visiting intervention and daily book reading. In a low socioeconomic status culturally and linguistically diverse cohort, multiple combinations of cumulative risk and protective factors resulted in ‘good’ and ‘poor’ language development, with and without home visiting intervention. While all factors explored, including toddler development, maternal education, early childhood education, number of children in the home and language spoken, impacted on children’s language outcomes, the pervasive influence of two modifiable factors – maternal psychological resources and responsivity – were key. This thesis details the impact of varying combinations of risk and protective factors and a home visiting intervention on language development in two cohorts of children experiencing adversity. Children’s environments made a difference to their learning. Maternal psychological resources, responsivity, home visiting, book reading, the number of children at home and early childhood education were all important, in varied combinations, in children’s language outcomes. These findings have the potential to inform more precise home visiting early interventions so they can respond to the individual characteristics of children and families.
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty