Improving the learning and development of children raised in adversity


Project Details

By the time children start school, those raised in social adversity (by parents experiencing risk factors such as poverty or low education), have poorer learning and development than children who are not. Children who begin school as poor performers tend to continue on this trajectory, achieving lower education, income and poorer health as adults. Given that some risk factors for social adversity are modifiable, the relationship between social status and population health – known as the social gradient – is inequitable, and therefore unfair and avoidable. Rather than just being a concern for the individual, the degree of equity within a nation (rather than its overall wealth) determines the health and social outcomes of the population. In other words, inequity is bad for everyone.

Intervening early offers a window of opportunity to redress these inequities. However, for families experiencing adversity, one intervention alone is unlikely to make the difference. Instead, sustained, sequential, and mutually-reinforcing approaches from birth to the start of school – from health and education platforms – appear necessary to tackle the entrenched social gradient. In Australia, the policy focus on the importance of early childhood development has led to increasing interest by governments in how to deliver good quality services to all children. Whether these efforts are effective for families experiencing adversity is still unknown. Two popular models of service delivery that have potential for reducing inequities in children’s outcomes are sustained nurse home visiting and early childhood education and care, delivered by health and education platforms respectively.

This PhD project offers a unique opportunity to investigate whether there is cumulative benefit to children’s learning and development when families experiencing adversity receive these consecutive, good quality, health and education services. The findings of this research will be well-positioned to influence health and education policies in Australia.

Research Opportunities

This research project is available to PhD students to join as part of their thesis.
Please contact the Research Group Leader to discuss your options.

Research Group


Faculty Research Themes

Child Health

School Research Themes

Child Health in Medicine

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact the research group leader.

Department / Centre



Royal Children’s Hospital/Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

Unit / Centre


MDHS Research library
Explore by researcher, school, project or topic.